HARTFORD ——The new domestic-violence laws rolling out this month and in October — born of a string of assaults and murders and the media attention that followed — represent the most concentrated attack on these crimes in 24 years, say prosecutors and advocates.
Nancy Tyler appreciates the reach of the laws, which touch the police, the courts, landlords, emergency shelters, schools, protective-order violators and victims.
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In fact, a new monitoring program for offenders that starts Oct. 1 — a GPS system that tracks protective-order violators and alerts the victim when the offender comes within a certain distance — might have prevented the crime that has changed Tyler's life.
Tyler's estranged husband, Richard Shenkman, was charged with kidnapping her at her workplace downtown, assaulting her, handcuffing her in her home in South Windsor, pressing a pistol to her head and later burning down the house. Tyler, cuffed at one point to a hook in the basement wall, yanked herself free and escaped before the fire.
"They acted, and just in time," Tyler said of the legislators. "My hope is the legislation will make a difference in the long-term for the next generation, and in the short-term for women out there who are in danger and suffering."
Tyler is talking on the phone from work, 16 floors above the darkened parking garage from which she was abducted. It is the afternoon of July 6, one day before the first anniversary of her abduction.
She pauses midstream, and seems to struggle to speak.
"I'm having constant flashbacks, non-stop" Tyler says after a moment. "I keep putting myself back inside that morning, running it over and over in my head."
A Complex Crime
Tyler has revealed a place inside her where the new legislation and new initiatives can't reach. It is the lonely place that only victims and family members know.
Advocates, prosecutors and judges know domestic violence to be one of the most complex and elusive crimes there is.
Despite the stirrings over the past year of a grass-roots movement that reminds some of the beginning of the drunken-driving awareness campaigns, domestic violence remains a grossly underreported crime, where victims are often hesitant to call police or to cooperate with prosecutors.
But there have been some good signs from the front lines in the past year — more victims appear to be coming forward to report abuse and more offenders are being placed in, and successfully finishing, either of the state's two intensive 26-week batterer-prevention programs.
"To my surprise, they work," said Tony Basilica, one of the busiest criminal defense lawyers in the New London courthouses. "When I thought my clients were going to say the programs were a waste of time, it was just the opposite.
"One guy told me he'd grown up in a household dominated by the father. The father said 'jump' and the children and the mom said, 'how high?' He said he realized from the program that you don't treat people that way."
And judges are more apt to hold jail time over the heads of offenders to encourage them to complete the counseling, which can be as many as 52 sessions.
Several factors came together over the last year to heighten the public's focus on family and dating violence. These included a recession that hit Connecticut hard, advocacy work by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, initiatives by area high school students and teachers and a legislative task force formed by House Speaker Chris Donovan in November 2009.
The Courant and Fox CT began their Battered Lives series in August 2009 after former Fox assignment editor Alice Morrin was murdered by her husband in her home in Vernon on June 28, and after Tyler was abducted in July.