Long Island has seen increases in domestic violence reports and arrests, and assaults on children over the past year - a trend that reflects rising figures statewide and has officials vowing to combat the abuse.
In Nassau, a report prepared by the county's Task Force on Family Violence documented a 25 percent increase from 2008 to 2009 in domestic violence reports by police, a 4 percent increase in physical abuse reported by children, and a 58 percent increase in domestic violence arrests.
"These numbers are shocking, and today I am declaring this a 'public health emergency,' " said Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, after reviewing the report released Wednesday.
In Suffolk, Gregory Blass, chairman of the Suffolk County Task Force to Prevent Family Violence, said reported domestic violence incidents increased 2 percent while there was a 24.2 percent increase in arrests and a 5 percent increase in physical abuse reported on behalf of children.
"We are convinced that the causes of these trends cannot be broken down to an exact science by any means," said Blass, who is also commissioner of the Suffolk Department of Social Services. "This is an insidious issue. We think if we continue to cry out for attention to it we can break the culture of domestic violence and through public awareness we can get at the heart of it."
Experts were divided on the reasons for the uptick. Some said that the sharp downturn in the economy, leading to unemployment and stress and strain on families, is a likely factor. Others said that more people are prompted to report abuse because of effective outreach efforts.
Nassau's figures come on the heels of three reports released by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, which outlined increases in the number of violent incidents reported, in the number of orders of protection issued by state courts, and in calls to domestic violence hotlines by people seeking help.
State courts issued 21 percent more orders of protection in 2009 when compared with 2008, from 172,290 to 207,726.
In 2009, the state's nearly 100 local domestic violence hotlines received 186,046 calls. In 2008, there were 177,000.
"We think the upward trend means there has been an increase in some domestic violence," said Amy Barasch, director of the state office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, in Albany.
John Imhoff, Nassau County's commissioner of social services, said that reading through the statistics was "a tremendous awakening experience."
Barasch cautioned that because of outreach campaigns and encouragement from law enforcement and social services agencies, victims may be more likely to report the instances, so it was unclear how many of the higher numbers reflect more incidents.
Nassau Police Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki said greater reporting by victims is probably driving the numbers on Long Island, too. "We're very active in encouraging individuals to bring these incidents to our attention," he said.
Jo Anne Sanders, executive director of Suffolk County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the sagging economy plays a role. "If people are out of work, they are in despair," she said. "They may turn to alcohol and drugs and that might add to the stress and the person feeling like they've lost control so they become more violent."
Mangano's task force listed 10 recommendations in the report, most revolving around raising awareness.
"We must reach out to the victims of domestic abuse so they have the resources and help they need to get out of a dangerous situation," Mangano said.With Yamiche Alcindor
and William Murphy
Groups that offer help
The following groups offer confidential, specialized services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, and/or children who witness domestic violence.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
24-Hour Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence
24-Hour Hotline: 516-465-4700
Long Island Crisis Center
Suffolk County Coalition Against Domestic Violence
24-Hour Hotline: 631-666-8833
VIBS Family Violence and Rape Crisis Center