If you know about the societal factors that play into domestic violence, you would expect the crime rate to rise during the most severe economic crisis in generations.
You would expect local reports of domestic violence to be through the roof.
You would be wrong. And that is what scares the executive director of Pittsfield's Elizabeth Freeman Center.
"We've seen a 20 percent drop in calls to us, and that has us all extremely worried," Janis Broderick said last week. "We've been hearing across the state and the country that everyone has been seeing some drop in calls like that, but at some point in time, the dam is going to break and people are going to be coming forth.
"The rate of protection orders we've been seeing is 50 percent less."
That — like the call volume numbers — covers the period from March 7 to April 6, a period that coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting home in Berkshire County and the closure of "non-essential" businesses, per an executive order from Gov. Charlie Baker.
It is a one-month period when Bay Staters and people across the country have been told to stay home and stay safe.
But what if home is not safe?
"The necessary response we're taking as a community to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus are also the very same conditions that create increased domestic violence and sexual violence in our communities — the closing of schools, the closing of workplaces, isolation within the home, the lack of access to supports," Broderick said.
"So many places are closed. The courts are trying to stay open for emergency protection orders and other emergencies. Police are responding to emergencies. But both of those systems are overloaded. Access to help is difficult."
Broderick wants Berkshire County victims and survivors to know that the Freeman Center's 24-hour toll-free hotline remains operational throughout the pandemic. The center can be reached at (866) 401-2425.
Everything about the Freeman Center and its work is "essential," and perhaps never more so than now.
"We're trying very hard, and we are keeping our services up and running," Broderick said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "We consider this a very dangerous time. These are the conditions that create explosions of violence. Everyone is supposed to be staying home to keep themselves safe and their neighbors safe, but homes are not safe for so many in our communities."
Thursday afternoon, at the other end of the commonwealth, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito echoed Broderick in pleading with victims to seek help.
"In some instances, these necessary steps of social distancing and staying home have left survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence particularly vulnerable and at an increased risk," Polito said. "Think of that for just a moment. Being home, isolating or quarantining or working from home and living with an abuser and the impact that has on your mental and physical abilities.
"This is a critical time, especially for survivors. For any who might be watching, know that you are not alone and that there are resources available to help you."
Polito promoted several other hotlines, including: SafeLink, 877-785-2020; SafeLink's TTY number for the hearing impaired at 877-521-2601; and the commonwealth's trial court hotline, 833-91-COURT.
And since stay-at-home advisories make it difficult for victims to even get a few minutes of privacy to make a phone call, Polito directed anyone who needs help to chat live with a trained advocate via instant messaging through www.loveisrespect.org, a confidential service of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Those toll free hotlines are not only for the victims themselves, Polito said.
"Friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers all have a role to play, too," she said. "You can make a difference. And in this time of physical distancing, it is critical that we maintain social connection, especially for people who have experienced sexual and domestic violence who are at greater risk when they are isolated from support.
"If you know someone struggling with issues of sexual or domestic violence or assault, let them know that they are not alone. Call, email, text and get them connected to a local program. You can call to ask for advice as well and find creative ways to support them."
There is ample evidence that times like these, when jobless claims are at historic levels in the commonwealth, domestic violence will rise as well.
"Unemployment and economic hardship at the household level were positively related to abusive behavior," according to a 2017 study on the Great Recession published in the scholarly journal Demography. "Further, rapid increases in the unemployment rate increased men's controlling behavior toward romantic partners even after we adjust for unemployment and economic distress at the household level."
The economic distress and social isolation brought on by the global pandemic already is having ripple effects in other parts of the globe.
"In Malaysia, [domestic violence] calls have doubled and in France they are up 32 percent," reads an article on the United Nations' website. "In Lebanon, calls to the helpline were double in March of this year as they were in the same month last year."
Broderick knows Berkshire County is particularly prone to the problem, and that is another reason why the slowdown in reporting is so troubling.
"We know there are high levels of domestic violence in Berkshire County," she said. "We've had nine murders in three years. Protection orders are 33 percent higher than the state average. We have high rates of rape. We know there's a crisis here."
For nearly five decades, the non-profits that merged to form the Elizabeth Freeman Center in 1997 have been working to address the crisis. The center has offices in North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington and offers counseling, education, advocacy and emergency shelter services for people experiencing or affected by domestic abuse and sexual assault.
The Freeman Center continues to provide shelter services during the pandemic, but not without some adjustments, according to shelter director Jennifer Goewey.
"It's been challenging to navigate," she said. "Our priority is keeping our guests in our shelter as safe as possible, along with our staff. I think one of the hardest things is, even in a shelter setting, having to follow different guidelines and go through isolation. It's very triggering to the very violence they recently fled from. That's been difficult to manage."
Goewey said the things the center usually promotes to help victims rebuild their lives — like going to work, going to school, getting therapy — might not be an option.
"All of their supports and resources have shut down, which it needs to for their safety," she said. "But that means we have to work to provide that even more in-house."
Broderick emphasized that victims should always feel free to talk to a counselor from the Elizabeth Freeman Center, whether or not they are ready to take steps to get out of their current home or report an abuser to authorities.
"People can call us 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we can provide lots of different support," she said. "We can work with folks to feel safer, whether they are leaving a bad situation or they are staying in it. We can work with people in all kinds of situations.
"People who call us make the decision about what they're going to do, and we try to support that and develop as many safety features as we can."
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Mount Greylock Superintendent Succession Topic in Exec Session
By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Executive session minutes from the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee show that the panel did discuss a succession plan for the district's superintendent behind closed doors, and the minutes shed light on the reason for the superintendent's subsequent departure.
In mid-July, iBerkshires.com filed an Open Meeting Law complaint against the committee alleging that, "at the very least, the School Committee's deliberations on July 1 strayed into territory not covered by the stated exception to the Open Meeting Law."
That meeting was one of four held in executive session for the stated purpose of conducting contract negotiations with nonunion personnel, specifically the superintendent.
An extemporaneous statement by committee member Al Terranova at a July 13 public meeting indicated that the panel did more behind closed doors than simply discuss contract negotiations.
Since that time, the state's Cannabis Control Commission has defined ground rules for production in Massachusetts, and the town has seen one submission for a special permit under the 2017 bylaw to establish an indoor/outdoor grow facility on Blair Road.
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Andrew Wells called in to the virtual meeting of the Diversity Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee to talk about the 2013 death of his daughter at the hands of a drunk driver in Plymouth.
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The issue came up recently when residents asked questions about candidates signs and "issues" signs on town-owned property, like the town green, which runs along both sides of Main Street (Route 2) from the curb to the sidewalk from Field Park east to Cole Avenue.
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The DEI Working Group of the Mount Greylock School Council hosted a 90-minute virtual conference on Tuesday attended by more than a dozen community residents, including several with ties to other groups addressing the same issues.
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