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Journal Staff Writer
The brutal killing of a Cumberland woman is spurring other battered women to seek help, directors of domestic abuse organizations say.
“We’re already getting calls from other battered women looking for information,” said Linda Impagliazzo, executive director of the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, in Pawtucket.
“Other people are calling to ask how they can help get someone they know out of a violent relationship.”
Some callers have mentioned 38-year-old Tracey-Ann Pytka, who was found stabbed to death in her home last week. On Monday, police charged her husband, Peter, with her murder.
Pytka’s death ended an abusive 24-year relationship, friends said.
Often, when a spouse is killed, other abused women will call and say, “ ‘I don’t want that to happen to me,’ ” said Kristin E. Lyons, executive director of the Women’s Center of Rhode Island. “Victims of domestic violence are very aware of these crimes.”
Pytka’s murder is the 11th domestic violence related death in Rhode Island this year, up from 10 deaths a year ago and near a 25-year high, says the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
It has sent ripples through the state’s domestic violence shelters and agencies.
“Our hearts go out to the family, friends and community of Tracey Pytka. We are horrified and saddened by this act of domestic violence,” Impagliazzo and Lucy Rios, director of prevention at the Rhode Island Coalition, said in a recent statement.
“Her tragic death … is a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go to achieve a society free of domestic violence.”
On any given day in Rhode Island, 52 people call a domestic violence help-line, and 44 women and children spend a night in a shelter, the coalition says.
The weak economy is contributing to a surge in assaults, said Lyons. “We know that when the economy is bad, there’s an increase in stress.”
The calls for help could increase in January, in part because some domestic violence victims try to keep the peace during the holidays.
“Victims try to stay calm during the holidays,” said Mary Roda, executive director of the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County. “Imagine leaving, and not having any gifts for the kids.”
The South Kingstown agency recently helped two families move out of its shelter into permanent housing.
But many families are staying as long as 18 months in a shelter because they can’t find a job or an affordable apartment, Roda said. Before the recession, families stayed three to six months.
For Patricia Rivera, an advocate for domestic abuse victims, Pytka’s story hit close to home.
Like Pytka, Rivera lived with her husband for years before asking him to leave.
During their 15-year marriage, Rivera said her husband hit her in front of their children. He took her money and broke her nose –– several times, she said.
Rivera found ways to keep the children safe. But she worried daily. When would her husband lash out?
“You become a survivor. It feels like you’re at war,” Rivera said.
Battered women must grapple with complex choices, say advocates.
Many love their abuser. Some want to stay and diffuse the situation. Others are financially dependent on a spouse, or worry that a separation will hurt their children.
“If you leave, you’re taking your children away from their home, their dad, their friends, their toys and their school,” Roda said. “So people stay.”
Also, abusers often promise to do better. Once they are forgiven, the cycle of abuse resumes.
The most dangerous decision is to break off a relationship, in part because abusive relationships are based on control, Roda said. The loss of control threatens the abuser –– who often strikes back.
“After you leave is the time when you are most likely to be killed,” Roda said. “Leaving is very dangerous.”
Abused women should plan their departure carefully, she said. They should join a support group, talk to a counselor and make sure they have money, support and a place to stay.
“People often ask the same question, ‘Why don’t these women leave?’”
But things are never that simple, Roda said.
Tracey-Ann Pytka broke off her relationship with an abusive husband, she said. Then he killed her.
KEY POINTSIf you need help
Call 911 or the state’s 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 1-800-494-8100.