Chat with...Rita Bailey and Sandy Sarhatt
DARIEN — One in four adolescents will experience abuse at the hands of a partner. One in 10 will experience physical abuse. And that’s only between the ages of 13 and 23.
While October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, Rita Bailey and Sandy Sarhatt, co-executive directors of the Darien Domestic Abuse Council, work year-round to make sure people know the prevalence and signs of domestic violence.
“I don’t think a lot of young people know the signs of abuse, how it starts, how you get into it,” Bailey said. “But once it starts, it’s too late.”
The Darien Domestic Abuse Council is a local charity committed to educating Darien residents on the signs of domestic violence, as well as working to prevent domestic violence in the community. Formerly a part of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, which serves Fairfield County, the Darien Domestic Abuse Council became its own 501(c)3 charity this year. They still work with the DVCC and the other task forces, but the group now raises its own money and has a new 44-member council.
“We have working relationships with the other task forces,” Sarhatt said. “We still talk to them, it’s just we kind of stepped it up with fundraising and really developing a real mission to serve the Darien population and we had to be incorporated to do that. It kind of professionalized ourselves.”
The volunteer organization now meets once a month at the Darien Police Department and works on different initiatives to educate and spread awareness throughout the Darien community. Recently, they organized Walk A Mile in Her Shoes 06820 where first responders walked a mile in red high heels in order to raise funds for more education and preventive initiatives in Darien, as well as donate to victims’ funds at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center.
“We realize it’s a national organization, but our spin on it is having first responders only,” Bailey said. “They are showing their solidarity against domestic violence.”
“Many times they’re the first outside people to see it, cause it’s kept secret,” Sarhatt added.
The group also created an outreach group called Respect Works through the Darien Depot. Made up of young adults from the high school, the Darien Domestic Abuse Council educates the group and acts as their mentors and in turn, the teens run their own programs and initiatives to spread the word about teen dating violence. Right now, they’re promoting The Yellow Dress, a play on teen dating violence that’s being sponsored by the Darien Library.
In addition to educating teens on dating violence, the Darien Domestic Abuse Council hopes to educate the community and to make people aware that this crime is happening in Darien.
“The biggest misconception is that it doesn’t happen in Darien,” Bailey said. “It happens quite a bit in Darien and it needs to be talked about more so people aren’t afraid to come forward. The community members need to know there are places to go that can protect them.”
The Darien Domestic Abuse Council recommends people to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, which offers counseling and legal aid. The Domestic Violence Crisis Center also has two safe houses in Stamford and Norwalk that accommodate seven local communities, including Darien.
Since forming the Darien Domestic Abuse Council, Bailey said they’ve seen more people coming forward to talk about their experiences and look for resources.
“We’ve seen a couple people emerge who want to talk about it who are victims,” she said. “But we need victims to come and talk about it more so those aren’t victims aren’t afraid to be shunned by neighbors, which does happen.”
“We hope to break the stigma of domestic violence, teen dating violence,” she added. “It’s all about identifying it, educating and bringing it out in the open and then also working on the fact that men are abused too.”
Bailey said that she saw many gay men being abused when she used to volunteer at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, something she said most people don’t expect to see. In addition to ending stereotypes about who gets abused, the group also aims to change people’s perceptions of abuse just consisting of physical violence between partners. Bailey said forced sex, abuse of pets, psychological manipulation and especially financial control are just a few other ways abuse can manifest itself in a relationship.
“You find after awhile, you’re noticing things you didn’t notice before,” Bailey said. “You go out to a restaurant, the way husbands talk to their wives, calling them stupid. This is abuse and they need to know that.”
In order to make people aware to abuse occurring around them, Bailey and Sarhatt’s mission for the group going forward is just to educate people in hopes they will speak up.
“We just want to spread the word and give people the tools to do something positive with their lives,” Sarhatt said. “If they know about the tools, many of them will do something about it.”
“We welcome new members. I like to think a victim could quietly become a member and get themselves educated, because I don’t think the victims in Darien know how much support they have,” Bailey added. “They’re judging the community by a very few people and they don’t realize they have an enormous support system.”