Domestic violence cases peak in state
and John Pirro
One was an illegal immigrant from Ecuador, the other a wealthy lawyer who had worked for two U.S. presidents.
But the crimes that brought Julio Morquecho of Danbury and John Farren of New Canaan into separate Connecticut courtrooms earlier this month know no economic or social barrier. They are crimes that victimized more than 56,000 people across the state, most of them women, last year.
Morquecho, a 37-year-old construction laborer from Danbury, was sentenced to 55 years behind bars on Jan. 8 for the 2006 murder of the mother of his two children, who'd left him a year earlier because he was abusive. The judge who sentenced Morquecho called the crime the worst case of domestic violence he'd ever seen.
The day before Morquecho was sent to prison, 57-year-old Farren, who'd served in the administrations of both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, was arraigned in Norwalk Superior Court, accused of attempting to murder his wife in their New Canaan home. Police said Farren beat his wife into unconsciousness the previous evening after she filed for divorce.
"Where is the outrage?"
That's what Erika Tindill wants to know. Tindill is executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which oversees 18 domestic violence programs throughout the state. Between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2009, she saw the number of people served by the coalition's member organizations -- which include Bridgeport-based Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County and The Umbrella in Ansonia -- increase from 47,471 to 56,636.
Nationally, numbers are also rising. A survey released in May by the cosmetics company Mary Kay showed that three out of four domestic violence shelters in the country reported an increase in women seeking assistance since September 2008. The survey polled more than 600 shelters.
Tindill said these incidents, disturbing though they are, represent just a fraction of the violence being wrought every day, in both Connecticut and the country. "Right this second, someone is being severely injured by someone who is supposed to love them," she said.
"We can not ignore the statistics at the federal level and believe that the same template, those numbers, somehow do not rest within New Canaan and Darien," she said. "So those national averages, the 30 percent of police calls, 27 percent of people in emergency rooms and the No. 1 public health issue from women in this country between the ages of 18 and 45 is domestic violence, according to the Center for Disease Control. That's happening here. No community is exempt from domestic violence."
In 2009, the New Canaan Police Department handled 94 family disputes, of which 35 percent resulted in a domestic violence arrest. Among the total number of incidents last year, 45 involved spouses, 29 involved a parent-child relationship, 15 involved a boyfriend and girlfriend and seven involved siblings.
"They walk in all the time in our lobby, because they don't want us at their homes because they don't want their neighbors to know that it's going on," said NCPD officer Ron Bentley. "So they come in and they'll have black eyes or they'll have scratches. I have yet, in the five years that I've been here, had a male walk in and file a domestic report. I'm not saying it doesn't happen," he said, adding that in the majority of domestic abuse cases, men are the aggressors.
Yet even as one of the most brutal domestic violence incidents in memory shook New Canaan two weeks ago, the total number of incidences in town is dropping. Last year marked the first time since 2002 that the annual number of family dispute incidents in New Canaan dropped below 100. The number of domestic violence arrests also fell to an all-time low in 2009.
NCPD Sgt. Carol Ogrinc offers one possible reason for New Canaan's eight-year low in domestic violence incidents: "A lot of couples, because of the economic times, are either divorced or in the process of getting divorced but still living together and I think that some [victims of] domestic violence might say that they don't want to report it because they are afraid they won't have anywhere to go."
Like the NCPD, the Women's Center of Greater Danbury hasn't seen an increase in the number of domestic abuse cases, according to the center's director of community education, Melanie Danyliw. But she noted the most dramatic effects of the current recession didn't really hit home for many people until the fall.
New Canaanites are doing a lot to raise awareness of domestic violence, according to Kucera Mehra.
"New Canaan in particular has worked and sought to raise awareness on this issue," she said. "Within New Canaan, from your legislators to the task force, your community leaders, with your foundations and your private philanthropic group... they are committed to bringing change. ... There's a synergy and a commitment to raising awareness, educating and working to eliminate domestic violence."
A recent report by the National Institute of Justice, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department, indicated a strong relationship between feelings of financial strain and the likelihood of what was termed "intimate partner violence."
Like gambling and substance abuse, job loss can strain any relationship, Danyliw said. But it would be wrong to make any of those problems an excuse for violence.
Ultimately, the root cause is the same: one person in a relationship wishes to retain control over the other, by force if necessary.
"I don't think that problems like that make a person a batterer if they are in a relationship where they have respect for their partner," she said.
Tindill agreed it would be wrong to blame incidents of domestic violence on the poor economy.
"It's not like someone decides, `I lost my job so I'm going to be an abuser.' But where a situation already exists, it's going to be a catalyst, because there is more opportunity and more stress," she said.
Maggie Gordon and Brittany Lyte contributed to this story.