District Attorney Harrington establishes task force to combat domestic violence, sexual assaultMore Info
Pittsfield — Against the backdrop of a leading anti-domestic violence agency, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington on Tuesday launched a communitywide initiative and announced new systems in her office to prevent and prosecute domestic and sexual violence.
Harrington said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon that domestic and sexual violence had “reached a crisis point with the murders of several Berkshire County women, significant increases in restraining order filings and high rates of reported rapes.”
Speaking at the Elizabeth Freeman Center in Pittsfield, Harrington announced the formation of the Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force and an 18-member Steering Committee.
Led by the DA’s Office, the task force, Harrington said, will facilitate a strategic plan to address domestic and sexual violence across Berkshire County and engage community action across multiple disciplines.
Stakeholders will identify and secure needed resources, raise awareness through outreach, education and training, and develop innovative techniques to confront these problems. The team of community leaders will work together to hold abusers accountable, protect victims and sponsor supportive legislation.
“Together, we will confront this growing public health crisis by building a healthy Berkshire County, where all can live safely and secure,” Harrington said at the announcement. “By collaborating with local stakeholders, we will create a robust, trauma-informed approach to identifying and ending domestic abuse, sexual violence and sex trafficking.”
In addition to Harrington herself, serving on the steering committee are: state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield; Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer; North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard; Meg Bossong, director of sexual assault prevention and response at Williams College; Pittsfield Police Officer Cheryl Callahan, the department’s liaison to the Elizabeth Freeman Center; William Ballen, executive secretary of the Berkshire County Superintendents’ Roundtable; Ann Marie Carpenter, director of social emotional learning and student support in the Pittsfield Public Schools; Janis Broderick, executive director of the Elizabeth Freeman Center; Jennifer Goewey, shelter director at the Elizabeth Freeman Center; Benjamin Lamb, North Adams city councilor and economic development projects manager at 1Berkshire; Ananda Timpane, executive director of the Railroad Street Youth Project; Helen Moon, director of special projects at the DA’s office; Assistant District Attorney Megan Tesoniero; Lisa McCue, director of victim assistance advocates in the DA’s office; Karran Larson, children’s specialist and deaf recovery coach supervisor at the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Kerri Hallas, director of emergency services at Berkshire Medical Center; and North Adams City Councilor Marie Harpin.
Harrington said she is is implementing new systems in the DA’s office to track sexual assault cases starting when complaints are filed, instead of when charges are filed. On-call advocates and prosecutors from the DA’s office will now support police and medical providers in assisting victims.
Harrington says she has fulfilled a campaign promise she made before her election in November to form an internal team to investigate unindicted cases of sexual assaults from the past. She said she will soon introduce training so that law enforcement officials and victim advocates can better recognize the signs of human trafficking and exploitation.
Harrington added that her office and that of the Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin “are bringing services to Berkshire County that weren’t fully utilized in the past.”
Next month, several members of the DA’s staff will attend training in Pittsfield to be certified as application assistants for the address confidentiality program, or ACP. The ACP provides a means by which survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape or stalking may use a confidential address in order to stay safe from a perpetrator.
According to Harrington, her office also plans to develop domestic violence fatality reviews, with the goal of preventing domestic violence homicides, and introduce a “high-risk” team staffed with prosecutors and victim-assistance advocates that are trained to assist victims and handle their cases. “These comprehensive approaches will be more effective and supportive of victims, who should never be blamed,” Harrington said.
The Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force is modeled, in part, after the Gov. Charlie Baker’s 30-member Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. The council works to improve prevention and support for victims, and hold perpetrators accountable.
“I commend DA Harrington for her efforts to combat domestic and sexual violence,” state Attorney General Maura Healey said. “This task force will provide important and needed services and attention to Berkshire County, and it is great to see the district attorney’s office taking this action.”
Tyer added that the devastating reality is that each case of domestic and sexual violence in Pittsfield and Berkshire County leaves a lasting and painful impact on those affected, their loved ones, and the entire community.
“These traumas cannot be ignored,” Tyer said. “That’s why the creation of the Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force is a pivotal and collaborative resource in this fight. I commend the District Attorney for her leadership in establishing this Task Force. I look forward to joining my colleagues and thought leaders across the county as we work together to combat this violence in our communities.”
Bernard said he was honored to join the Domestic and Sexual Violence Steering Committee:
“The victim-centered, advocacy-based, progressive and collaborative approach the DA and her team are taking will help advance and strengthen our shared commitment to respond more effectively to the epidemic of domestic and sexual violence in our cities and towns across the Berkshires,” Bernard said.
Berkshire County’s poverty, lack of transportation, rural isolation and other factors contribute to high rates of domestic and sexual violence, according to Janis Broderick, executive director of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which provides services to nearly 2,000 domestic and sexual violence survivors and their families each year in Berkshire County.
Domestic violence is blamed in the deaths of six Berkshire County women between 2015 and 2018, according to the Elizabeth Freeman Center. The last domestic violence murder in Berkshire County to take place prior to that was 2009, Broderick said. According to FBI crime data, Pittsfield had the fifth highest rate of rape by population in Massachusetts in 2017, with 50 rapes reported, almost four times the state average.
The number of restraining order filings, a primary indicator of domestic violence, has increased each year in Berkshire County since 2015. There were 1,107 filings in 2018, a five percent increase over 2017, and 15 percent above 2015.
Berkshire County’s rate of filing restraining orders by population was an estimated 36 percent higher than the state average last year, a statistic that represents a call for action, Broderick added.
Last month, a murder-suicide that resulted in the deaths of a family of five in Sheffield shocked the community and the nation, drawing further attention to the subjects of domestic discord and violence.
“I’m very grateful to District Attorney Andrea Harrington for bringing this task force together because it centralizes efforts to build a multi-disciplined response to the widespread problem of domestic and sexual violence in Berkshire County,” Broderick said. “Prevention through early intervention is vitally important to building a community free of domestic and sexual violence.”
Harrington campaigned on reforming the criminal justice system and modernizing the office that was then led by longtime DA David Capeless, who resigned abruptly last year after serving as DA since 2014. She made addressing domestic and sexual violence a signature issue. Upon taking office in January, Harrington met with Moon, Broderick and Meg Bossong to assemble the Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force and identify Steering Committee members.
Harrington noted that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and that the task force will continue to build relationships and identify stakeholders, agencies and institutions to increase capacity.
To reach the Berkshire DA’s Victim Assistance Advocates, call (413) 443-5951. The Elizabeth Freeman Center has a 24-hour, toll-free hotline for domestic and sexual violence victims at (866) 401-2425.