Advice, advocacy at Tupper Lake forum on domestic violence
TUPPER LAKE — “When is enough enough?” That was the question Diane Martin asked a panel of experts on domestic violence last week.
It has been five years since her daughter, Jamie Rose Martin, was killed by an ex-boyfriend in a murder-suicide and she is still looking for an answer. Martin wants a better system and society to stop domestic violence before it becomes fatal.
A few days before the Jamie Rose Power Walk for domestic violence awareness this past Saturday, Tupper Lake resident and Franklin County Republican election Commissioner Tracy Sparks organized a forum at the Tupper Lake High School where domestic violence experts, law enforcement and school administrators spoke with the Martin family and a few members of the public about a variety of issues.
A failure in the system
Franklin County Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill thanked Diane for her question and applauded her for her efforts to intervene in Jamie’s relationship when it became violent. But he said several systems failed Jamie and her family.
“Did your daughter receive adequate domestic violence resources?” Mulverhill asked.
“No,” Diane said.
“That’s a failure of the system,” he said. “The system let your daughter down. There are no two ways about it.”
Diane said domestic violence services, attorneys and courts failed her daughter. Mulverhill said they all have to look back and see where the holes in their responses were.
Franklin County Family Court Principal Court Attorney Elizabeth Crawford said acknowledging a failure is hard, but is important to do.
“Sometimes the court system fails,” she said.
Franklin County Chief Assistant District Attorney Kelly Poupore said there is a tendency for people to say “not my business” and not want to “interfere.” They should, she said. It is a safety issue, and people should be comfortable discussing it, she said.
Poupore said secrecy gives abusers power.
“If you see something, say something,” she said. “If it seems weird, it’s probably weird.”
She gave her office number — 518-481-1544 — and said her office can help people in domestic violence.
Mulverhill is a member of the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence’s regional committee. He shared numbers for the local and state offices — 888-563-6904 for the local office and 1-800-942-6906 for the state office.
Diane has been asked the question — “Why didn’t Jamie just leave?” — many times.
Poupore said people often find it hard to empathize with someone who has not left a violent relationship, but they need to understand that isolation rewires victims’ brains.
Mulverhill said it takes a lot of strength to leave and said sometimes it is like mental deprogramming from a cult.
Poupore said asking “What’s wrong with you?” when someone stays in a bad relationship is not the best thing to do. She said friends and family should just be there for them, be an ear and believe them.
Diane said people in violent relationships oftentimes don’t leave until they’re ready. She spent a long time trying to get Jamie to leave her relationship.
Crawford said statistics show that people try to leave on average 10 times before they successfully get out, so persistence is key. Jamie had been separated from her ex-boyfriend for 19 months when he killed her. Crawford said leaving can sometimes be the most dangerous thing — it can be “unthinkable” to an abuser.
That is why, Mulverhill said, the state and county need to provide adequate, certified domestic violence counselors and resources to make victims feel safe when they want to leave.
Danielle Carr, a local mental health counselor, said there’s a stigma to accessing resources. Sometimes, she said, people don’t see themselves as a victim, or they say “I can manage this myself.”
Crawford said the government needs to educate families on what to look for and how to seek help, to handle domestic violence before it gets to the courts, where she works.
“Put information in so many places it can’t be ignored,” Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Russ Bartlett said.
He said TLCSD is talking about making domestic violence awareness an educational topic.
There are presentations about drugs and sex in school, Diane said. There should also be presentations on mental health and domestic violence, she added.
Panelists were asked about signs of emotional abuse, which they said can be a precursor to physical abuse.
The core of emotional abuse is taking away a person’s self-worth, Sparks said.
Jamie’s father, Dick, said to look for signs of narcissism.
Sparks said emotional abuse is harder to see than physical abuse. Poupore said recognizing emotional abuse is about examining how another person makes you feel. If someone feels drained, knocked down or belittled by their partner, that probably means they are not good for them, she said.
If someone takes away your self-esteem, they are trying to take control of you, she added.
That’s not love, she said.
Sparks asked if New York’s bail reforms, which were adopted in 2019, have “tied the hands” of judges, courts and law enforcement when it comes to keeping domestic violence victims safe.
Mulverhill believes bail reform set domestic violence work back by years. He said the legislation did not address concerns from domestic violence advocates and law enforcement that it would remove discretion from judges.
“We need judges to have the ability to put offenders in jail and get them off the street and away from their family, when necessary. Not in every case, because every case is different. But the judges should have the decision,” Mulverhill said. “We need to make the victim safe.”
Stephen Chilton, who is running for office in New York’s 115th Assembly District on the Republican and Conservative lines, said bail reform from the state Legislature eliminated judicial discretion, which he believes is “unconstitutional.”
Poupore said many domestic violent offenses are still eligible for bail, and it is the least restrictive way to make a defendant reappear in court. The trouble comes because the law is complicated, she said, and local judges interpret what is a bailable offense in different ways.
She said orders of protection have power — if violated, the violator will be charged with a more serious crime. But she said the immediate safety of someone being put in jail is gone, and this system puts it on the victim to report another crime.
Crawford said she believes there needs to be stiffer penalties for criminal contempt — the charge for violating an order of protection. She suggested asking legislators to increase the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony to keep people from violating them over and over.
“We have to come up with bigger consequences, because people are potentially laughing at what we currently have in place,” Crawford said.
Poupore said victims of domestic violence and their families should not be afraid to tell representatives about how the laws they make and amend have failed them.
She said these legislators might not know all the outcomes of the laws they pass, but it is victims who know their effects best.
For the past few years, TLCSD has contracted with the Tupper Lake Village Police for two police officers to be stationed as school resource officers in both school buildings during school hours.
Bartlett said kids will talk to SROs and tell them things about home life they won’t tell others — even their counselors. These SROs spend a surprising amount of time talking with kids about mental health, he said. He’s scared that with the lack of local police officers, that the SRO program the school district has with the village police will go away.
Joe Roscoe, who attended the forum with Chilton as part of his campaign, asked if the district could get former members of the military to volunteer as SROs.
“We may be there shortly,” Bartlett said.
He added that they may need creative ways to fill a hole, if one appears.
Sparks suggested an idea of the county sheriff offering SROs of its own. She also suggested an idea of an “umbrella” network to connect agencies around the county through law enforcement departments.
“When we need to make things happen financially, we find a way to make them happen,” Bartlett said.
But Mulverhill was unsure if the sheriff’s department could lead an umbrella group like this. He said hiring in law enforcement has been difficult and his department currently has a small staff of young deputies.
Several panelists said opposing domestic violence will take a societal shift.
Carr said she thinks American culture and media is violent. She sees it more in movies and television than in video games. She has a young son and said it’s hard to find something not violent for him to watch on Netflix.
Media often shows conflict, rather than conflict management, Carr said, and tells messages of violence being a way to deal with issues.
Panelists also said men can take the lead on societal changes.
“We need men to stand up,” Poupore said.
Carr said men need to model good masculinity, call out toxic masculinity when they see it and not let it happen around them.
They also said this applies to women, though men are the most common example of domestic violence perpetrators.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence nonprofit organization, one in four women and one in nine men experience severe intimate partner physical violence.
Sparks said men and boys also have a stigma about being abused that needs to be overcome. She said the discussion on domestic violence should be nongendered. Violence and abuse affects everyone, she said.