NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – Domestic violence occurs in North Salem, just as it does in every Westchester town – just not as often.
The most recently available information, compiled by the Westchester County Office for Women (OFW) in 2010, shows five reported cases of domestic violence in North Salem. With a population of 5,173, the figure makes it the lowest per capita percentage in the county. Officials say the countywide statistics don't take into account the many rape cases that go unreported.
“We handle a limited number of cases,” said Sgt. Andrew Brown of the North Salem Police Department. “Although there aren’t a lot of reports, it doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of incidents. Around here, houses are far apart, so it’s easy for things to stay behind closed doors. It often happens that incidents occur five or six times before someone finally calls the police.”
Figures from the OFW show the highest number of domestic incidents are reported in the county’s cities. Mount Vernon had the highest number of reported cases per capita, followed by New Rochelle, White Plains, Peekskill and Buchanan. Buchanan is the lone small village on that list, with 2,189 residents.
Nancy Levin, chief development officer at My Sister's Place, says many Westchester residents do not have a clear understanding that domestic violence is happening “right in our backyard. It's not a trend or a difference in incidence from year to year. It's a public health issue,” she said.
Approximately one in five women across the nation has been beaten, coerced into sex or involved in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship in her lifetime, according to Jennifer Ryan Safsel. Safsel is Director of Development and Community Relations for Hope's Door, a domestic violence shelter in northern Westchester.
Westchester has seen several high-profile domestic violence deaths in the news in recent years. Theresa Gorski, a Sleepy Hollow mother of two, died in January after reportedly being choked her to death. Gorski's husband, Christopher Howson, is facing murder charges.
Places such as Hope's Door and My Sister's Place provide counseling, outreach programs and emergency support to victims of domestic violence. Hope's Door provides a 24-hour, confidential emergency hotline at 888-438-8700.
They also help teenagers recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship, something that's especially important because a growing number of young women are affected, Safsel said.
“Whether you are living in a housing project or an affluent community, domestic violence reaches across gender, race and socioeconomic status,” Levin said. “We are trying to change the way society thinks about intimate partner abuse and the culture that allows for it.”
“Many factors enter into it,” said Brown. “Cultural, economic – in an area like North Salem, most women are independent, so they can take their credit card and go to a hotel.”
The police cannot speculate on what goes on behind the scenes, said Brown. “As law enforcement officers, we have to take things at face value.”