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Startling trend shows rise in domestic violence

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

The stories are horrifying.

On January 7, 2007, Julie Nieves of Springfield was sprayed with gasoline and set ablaze by her daughter's ex-boyfriend who had threatened her entire family.

On Jan. 12, 2007, Lorie Avery of Ludlow was run over by her boyfriend during the course of an argument.

On March 6, 2007, two children in Springfield were killed when their father, Hipolito Ortiz, took them out of day care, drove them to his girlfriend's place of work and set himself and the children on fire in the locked car.

On June 1, 2007, Evelyn Tavarez of Springfield was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend.

So far this year there have been 26 homicide cases in Massachusetts linked to domestic violence and Karen Cavanaugh, the executive director of Womanshelter/Companeras in Holyoke, said if the trend continues there would be a 200 percent increase over 2005.

The shelter serves women and their children from throughout Hampden County.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and in the past the shelter has sponsored a rally to call attention to the on-going problem. This year, though, there will be a ceremony at City Hall with Holyoke Mayor Michael Sullivan.

"This year is, for some reason, more subdued because of the dramatic increase of murders and the brutality of them," she told Reminder Publications last week.

When asked if there are conditions that are causing the increase, Cavanaugh said the incidences don't follow a trend.

She said the increased violence can't be blamed on economic conditions or other social factors.

"You can't attach those kind of motivations to explain why someone has murdered their partner," she said.

Domestic violence cuts across the demographics of age, race and economics. One thing experts are sure, she noted, is that people who have experienced abuse as a child are more likely to become abusers as adults.

"[Domestic violence] is simply a matter of power and control," she explained.

She said the shelter has seen an increase for its services, but no one can tell if that is because there is actually an increase in violence or if the shelter's outreach services are giving women the information they need to leave their batterer and seek shelter.

"Our job is not to figure out why he [a batterer] did what he did, but to try to save her life," she said.

The staff at Womanshelter offers the following advice if you know someone who is suffering domestic violence:

Listen without judging. Don't focus on what you would do in her situation or how you would "fix" things. Don't blame her for the abuse. Respect her decisions, including the decision to remain in the relationship.

Believe what she says. Never minimize the abuse. Do not try to erase her fear by downplaying the danger with comments like "I'm sure he wouldn't carry out his threat." Believe that she is in fear. Believe she is doing the best she can.

Be a good source of information. Sharing info about community resources like Womanshelter/Companeras lets her know her options exist and she is not alone. Give these important hotline numbers:

Womanshelter/Companeras Hotline (413) 536-1628

Toll Free: 1-877-536-1628

Palmer: (413) 536-1628