Domestic violence in York County a 'public health epidemic'

Jay Ostrich, district director for U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, spoke about the importance of not being silent about domestic, sexual and other forms of violence in communities at a town hall.

"I came here tonight with a confession," he said, admitting that for 40 years he had not told his own story.

Ostrich said his father had been physically abusive toward his mother, but when police were called, they said the abuse was "a private matter," which led to four more years of terror for the family.

He told the story, he said, not to disparage cops but to point out that unlike other crimes, domestic violence was not always recognized as such — and it's a community problem.

Pastor Aaron Kunce introduces the town hall on violence in communities at his own Living Word Community Church, in Windsor Township, on Thursday, Aug. 24.

He urged fellow survivors to speak up — and others to speak on their behalf — if they see, hear or feel something is off, because sending an email, text, phone call or even just loving support can make a difference.

YWCA York hosted the town hall Thursday, Aug. 23, at Living Word Community Church in Windsor Township.

The location was chosen, in part, because of the prevalence of incidents in the area.

According to York County 911 statistics, of 10,840 domestic calls to the 911 center in 2017 (which may or may not include violence), more than 1,600 originated in areas covered by police departments including Wrightsville Borough, York Area Regional and Hellam Township.

More:York County dispatchers: New contract won't solve 911 center woes

York County 911 calls related to domestic violence incidents, broken down by region and responding police department.

The meeting was presented by the Domestic Violence Task Force of York County, the York County Alliance Against Sexual Violence and York County Human Trafficking Task Force.

A panel of experts who are active in the domestic violence task force, including county District Attorney Dave Sunday, legislative representatives and leaders of domestic- and sexual violence-related programs and services in the community, were on hand to answer questions.

An epidemic: Amy Lutz, Fox 43 reporter and town hall moderator, shared nationwide and county statistics on the violence facing communities.

An average of 20 people per minute — more than 10 million women and men each year — are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S., and the costs associated with this violence exceed $8.3 billion.

One in 10 children are victims of child sexual abuse.

More:Child abuse awareness: Penn State York students pledge not to forget

Jessica Castle, community education director for YWCA York, said issues of violence are often interconnected.

Jessica Castle, community education director of YWCA York, explains how the causes of violence are interconnected.

A young person exposed to violence is at a higher risk to engage in teen dating violence, and more than 90 percent of human trafficking victims were also victims of child sexual abuse, she said.

"We can't talk about one without recognizing the importance of the other," Castle said.

A Kaiser Permanente study tracking adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, which could be such things as divorce, mental illness or prison for family members, found that many children had more than one, she said.

The effects of violence have long-term consequences, she said, including a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, suicide and addiction issues — shortening the lifespan by 20 years.

If this were a virus, she said, there would be a community outcry. It needs to be seen as what it is — a public health epidemic, she said.

Community support: Michelle Cooper, of the human trafficking task force, said the hope is to intervene before an incident occurs, which sometimes is a matter of someone at risk having an trusted adult advocate to confide in who can connect him or her to services.

"That's really the point of why we're here today — to create strong communities and strong support networks," she said, for those in situations people don't want to talk about or admit happen where they live. 

Castle said that in asking what the task force mission should be, this is what people had most requested — engagement from the community.


Terry Clark, county administrator for Children, Youth and Families, said York County is the third in the state for referrals of child abuse, which is not necessarily a bad thing because it means there's a willingness to report.

But the county has traditionally been third or fourth in the state for domestic violence-related homicides despite being eighth in population, said April Troshak, of SpiriTrust Lutheran Domestic Abuse Solutions.

"We cannot turn our heads anymore," said state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, stating that these issues continue, such as with the recently released grand jury report on abuse by Catholic priests.

More:York DA asking for information about possible priest abuse

Safe space: The town hall was held not just to inform but to create a safe space for those who wanted to speak freely.

Counselors were on hand to talk in private rooms, and everyone handed in an index card (even if blank) during the Q & A to deter attention from those who wrote questions.

Attendees did not wish to give their names but said they recognized the importance of speaking about these issues openly and came to get educated for the benefit of others.

Before the town hall, tables from organizations such as the York Adams Drug and Alcohol Commission, the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center and The Hope Project offered information.

Community members including Dallastown Mayor Terry Meyers, Red Lion Area School District Superintendent Scott Deisley, state Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, and York Regional Police Sgt. Pete Montgomery also came to learn and share about the issue of community violence.

Goals: When asked about two- and five-year plans for their services or involvement, several panel members discussed goals for the future.

Tracy O' Brien, who works with nurses trained to handle sexual and domestic violence victims, hopes to make it a mobile service, so it's not limited to the emergency room.

Saylor said he was working on pushing legislation through the House to change the 60-day gun turnover rule for domestic violence-related incidents to 24 hours.

Sunday mentioned two pieces of legislation on the table: Marsy's Law, which would amend the state constitution to afford crime victims equal rights to the accused and convicted; and Safe Harbor, which would make it impossible for human trafficking victims to be tried for prostitution.

Safe Harbor is currently awaiting consideration in the House, Phillips-Hill said. If it does not pass, the plan is to merge it with another human trafficking bill sponsored by Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township.

The YWCA also received grant funding for a long-term housing and support program for victims in Hanover — the first of its kind in York County.

"There is hope and there is resilience for our communities," Castle said.

As county organizations collaborate and pool their resources, understanding the common threads that link different victims, they can better address the needs of the community, she said.