The history and growth of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center parallels and responds to the growing recognition over the last 30 years that domestic violence is a problem of staggering proportions that affects every segment of society. Directly and indirectly it affects women, children and men, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, hospitals, businesses and schools. It is women and children, however, who bear the brunt of most domestic violence.
While legal records indicate the courts attended to the problems of many abused women, it was not until the mid-1970’s that wife abuse began to be recognized as a social problem deserving national attention. By 1980, the issue of battered wives had reached the stage the child abuse issue was at in 1968. Laws were being written and rewritten and experiments with prevention and treatment programs were being initiated.
In Fairfield County virtually no organized services were available to battered women and their children prior to 1979, when the Greater Norwalk Community Council Board of Directors voted to create the Women’s Crisis Service, which later became the Women’s Crisis Center (WCC). A shoestring budget allowed for a part-time director and free office space provided by the Norwalk Housing Commission.
During the same year that WCC was in the early stages of development, Domestic Violence Services (DVS) became a program of the YWCA of Stamford, providing information and referrals. WCC initiated a Hotline and a battered women’s support group.
The WCC Board of Directors voted in 1985 to begin a capital campaign to raise funds to establish a local domestic violence shelter after two of its clients, Patty Walls and Mabel Grace, were killed by their abusers. Over the next 12 years, the two agencies continued to exist side by side, opening shelters, hiring victim advocates and establishing community education programs.
In 1997 the Boards of Directors of both agencies voted to merge, giving rise to the birth of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center on January 1, 1998.
A strategic planning process to guide the agency into the next century was put into place, and DVCC began collaboration with the Stamford Police Department, social services agencies, Superior Court personnel, community leaders and local legislators to form the Domestic Violence Task Force in Stamford. The intent was to provide enhanced services to victims of domestic violence and ensure greater offender accountability. As a result, the Stamford Police Department created the position of Domestic Violence Liaison Officer. Five years later, the city of Stamford received a federal Grant to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders Program. Through this grant, the Stamford Police Department created a separate unit (the Special Victims Unit) to handle domestic violence cases and partnered with the DVCC to provide community-based services for victims of domestic violence.
From 2000 to 2007, the agency significantly increased its presence in the courts and the community. During that period, DVCC expanded its community education programs, bilingual programs and counseling services, formed Task Forces to raise awareness about domestic violence in all the towns it serves, saw the creation of Domestic Violence Liaison Units in two other police departments and, with the collaborative help of numerous community leaders, established dedicated Domestic Violence Docket Courts in both Stamford and Norwalk.
Since 2007, the agency has continued to expand its outreach with exciting new programs in the medical, legal, housing and educational communities. The Medical Advocacy Project combines advocacy, counseling and training to galvanize the healthcare community in the movement to end domestic violence and to help ensure direct and effective screening and response for victims. A civil advocate was added to the legal program to assist with restraining orders and other related civil matters, such as divorce and custody. A housing advocate provides supportive services to victims who need to find affordable housing. Financial and education workshops offer clients substantive information to help them become more self-sufficient and independent. Prevention educators created PeaceWorks, a mammoth undertaking to expand, update and refocus the educational programs offered to schools and community groups. And the addition of an online newsletter, DVCC eVoices, has given the agency a faster and more cost-effective way to communicate with a greater number of people.