PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – There were 438 domestic violence cases in Peekskill in 2010, up from 339 in 2008, ranking the city fourth in such cases among Westchester municipalities.
Such statistics are only collected every two years and 2012 statistics are not yet available.
County statistics show domestic violence isn't confined to one area of Westchester County; it happens in every town.
Figures from the Westchester County Office for Women show domestic incidents were reported in cities like Mount Vernon and sleepy towns like North Salem. Mount Vernon, per capita, had the highest number of reported cases, followed by New Rochelle, White Plains, Peekskill and Buchanan.
Peekskill Police Spokesperson Sgt. Ray Henderlong said that Peekskill Police take a very proactive approach to reporting such cases, which may be why the city's numbers are so high. Domestic incidents are highest in the city's sizable Hispanic community, he added.
"We may take a small hit on the statistics, but we're making sure complaints are heard and reported," Henderlong said. "If there is any kind of question in reference to a report we will make a report so that the victim can proceed in family court and/or criminal court."
Peekskill Police Chief Eric Joahansen said when it comes to domestic violence, the department has a "pro-arrest" policy that does not need the cooperation of the victim, since many are hesitant to cooperate.
"Victims of domestic violence are often reluctant to cooperate with police investigations and don't want to press charges for a variety of reasons, mostly emotional but also out of fear," Johansen said.
Victims of domestic violence can call the Peekskill Police at (914) 737-8000 anytime or can visit the department at 4 Nelson Ave. to seek help in person.
Nancy Levin, chief development officer at My Sister's Place, said many residents living in Westchester don't 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.
Officials said the statistics don't take into account the many rape cases that go unreported.
Approximately one in five women across the nation have been beaten, coerced into sex or involved in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship in their 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.
“It's a scary thing,” she said. “A day doesn't go by without a news story on violence against women.”
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.
Safsel said many cases go unreported.
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 women are affected, Safsel said.
Levin notes it's an issue across the board.
“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.”