The alleged murder of Blanca Soto, an East Hampton resident and mother of two young sons, is a painful reminder that domestic violence remains prevalent in our seemingly peaceful community.
Living where we do, in a largely prosperous waterfront community, it is often easy to imagine ours is a world untouched by domestic violence. These crimes often occur behind closed doors, shrouded in social stigma, the pain and feelings of shame leading to many unreported incidences, allowed to continue in silence. How many of our mothers, our daughters and our sisters on the East End know what it is to be Blanca Soto? We believe many more than we are even remotely aware of.
The Retreat, located in East Hampton, but the only not-for-profit organization on the East End devoted solely to providing support to victims of domestic violence and preventative education to the community, is unique in the resource it offers us as a community. It is the only organization to provide a safe haven for abused women from Riverhead to Montauk. Statistics show that one in four women will experience domestic abuse sometime in their life, and if this number is true then thousands of women in our community are in need of the services provided by The Retreat and even more are in need of the educational resources The Retreat provides our area schools in the hopes of stopping domestic violence abuse before it begins.
This organization was founded over 22 years ago, but its existence is in peril due to drastic funding cuts from local municipalities, as well as the county and state. Southampton Town decreased their funding last year and East Hampton Town has completely eliminated financial support of The Retreat, right at a time when members of the community need this resource more than before. Outside of the grim real estate and employment statistics we have been poring over as a nation during this recession, one very real statistic is — in a troubled economy — domestic violence becomes an even greater threat.
The director of The Retreat, Jeffery Friedman, said this week that requests for the organization’s service in the last year have increased by a whopping 34 percent. At the same time, The Retreat is grappling with funding cuts that take away from counseling and educational services, only making the hard work they do all the more difficult. These cuts, whether government officials are willing to acknowledge this or not, directly hinder this important group’s ability to educate our community about the threat of domestic violence and possibly prevent such horrific crimes from occurring in our seaside resorts.
Many municipalities pay for this kind of service through tax dollars in human service departments. The towns of Southampton and East Hampton have had The Retreat provide this service privately to our community for decades. Now, as we face multi-million dollar deficits likely in both of our towns, funding to The Retreat has been cut beyond recognition in addition to slashed budgets for human services on the state and county level.
The reality is while we all may not have known Blanca Soto, we all likely know a Blanca Soto. Domestic violence is not a problem that can be ignored, but The Retreat, no matter the financial state of our communities, should be made a priority – as the last week’s events painfully show.