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More Funding Needed For Domestic Violence Shelters, Groups Say At Capitol Hearing

JENNA CARLESSO

January 26, 2010

HARTFORD - On any given day, more than 225 domestic violence victims in the state find refuge in emergency shelters or in transitional housing provided by local programs.

That number, up from 161 victims in 2008, underscores the growing need for more funding for shelters and support programs, according to officials at the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Members of a bipartisan domestic violence task force heard testimony and proposals Monday from representatives of nonprofit groups and state agencies hoping to drive down household violence in Connecticut. Their recommendations followed a murder-suicide in West Haven in which the 25-year-old victim had a protective order against her husband.

Police say that Selami Ozdemir fatally shot his wife, Shengyl Rasim, on Jan. 17 and then turned the gun on himself. Both were found dead at Rasim's Blohm Street home after officers forced their way in. Ozdemir had twice been arrested previously on domestic violence charges.

The task force announced that it would hold off on examining the case as state prosecutors in Milford conduct their own investigation, which could take two to three weeks. Once that is complete, the group will decide if it will launch its own investigation.

During Monday's hearing at the state Capitol, the task force heard proposals that included tougher laws against threatening, more money for shelters and protection for employees who take leave from their jobs to attend court hearings or get medical attention for domestic abuse.

"There's a lot of stuff that gets in the way of people getting help," said Barbara Spiegel, executive director of the nonprofit Susan B. Anthony Project in Torrington, which operates a 12-bed shelter. "If you want to keep your job and stay out of the papers ... some people would rather stay there and take it."

Spiegel said her staff is already stretched thin on weekdays, and she worries that she won't be able to maintain the 24-hour support her workers provide once federal stimulus money runs out.

Linda Blozie, director of public affairs for the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that last summer the organization had to make arrangements for people to stay overnight in hotels after being turned away from shelters that were too crowded.

"The costs are really adding up, and we're already underfunded," she said.

Blozie attributes the cramped conditions to a rise in violence due in part to the economy. Job loss and other factors have increased stress in some households, she said.

In addition to more funding, Spiegel suggested elevating the charge of second-degree threatening from a misdemeanor to a felony so that offenders won't qualify for the Family Violence Education Program, an alternative to formal prosecution.

"They get a slap on the wrist and go on their way," she said. "We want to change that."

Alvin Notice, whose daughter, Tiana, was fatally stabbed outside her Plainville apartment in February, said he would support a bill requiring those who violate protective orders to wear a global positioning device to track their movements. Tiana's former boyfriend, James P. Carter II, whom she had a restraining order against, is charged with stabbing her to death.

"Had Tiana had this system available, she would have known he was in town and near her apartment," Notice said Monday at the Capitol.

He said he also hopes the task force will consider providing domestic abuse victims with video surveillance systems to record attacks.

The task force will decide on Feb. 8 which recommendations it will present to the legislature when the regular session begins next month.

estimated family violence incidents in Connecticut year-to-date, based on 2007 data.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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