Domestic violence used to be the embarrassing secret that no one spoke about. Hidden behind closed doors, it ravaged lives and ripped families apart. Few outsiders knew it was going on, let alone what to do about it. These days, domestic violence and its cousin, sexual assault, have been exposed in lurid headlines about NFL players and celebrities abusing their girlfriends and in some cases, even their children. Victims are talking openly and learning they are not alone. The NFL has responded to incidents of domestic violence by players with, among other things, the No More campaign, in which players tell the public, \u201cTogether we can end domestic violence and sexual assault.\u201d Domestic violence happens all over the world, in every culture, setting and relationship. Victims and perpetrators defy stereotypes, especially that victims are helpless or weak, according to Detective Kerry Dalling of the Fairfield Police Department. \u201cVictims and survivors are among the strongest people I have ever met,\u201d Detective Dalling said. \u201cThey must go it alone and come up with a plan. They have to be incredibly strong. Children are often involved.\u201d Detective Dalling was among a panel of experts who met on a recent Sunday afternoon at the Fairfield Public Library to let people know how to recognize the signs of domestic violence and what to do to stop it. The Barnard Club of Connecticut and the Fairfield Public Library sponsored the event. Perpetrators of domestic violence likewise defy stereotypes. They may be the leader of a community, a professor, a police officer \u2014 someone in any walk of life \u2014 rich, poor, and from every racial and ethnic group. \u201cPerpetrators share a common trait: Control and power over another individual,\u201d said Debra Greenwood, president and CEO of the Center for Family Justice, another panelist. \u201cPerpetrators gain power and control through manipulation and threatening: \u2018I won\u2019t give you money; I will make your life hell,\u2019\u201d are some of the ways they make their threats, she said. The other panelists were attorney Uswah A. Khan of Fairfield Family Law LLC in Norwalk and state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28th District, representing Fairfield, Easton, Weston, Westport, and Newtown. Barnard Club President Selena Kuo McCaul facilitated the discussion. State Rep. Laura Devlin, R-134th District, who represents Fairfield and Trumbull, also participated in the interactive discussion. The Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport is based on a model of service that originated in San Diego in 2002 and is the first of its kind in Connecticut, serving Easton, Bridgeport, Trumbull, Monroe, Fairfield, and Stratford. \u201cIn our building, 22 agencies have signed on to help victims become self-sufficient,\u201d Ms. Greenwood said. All of the services are under one roof, so that victims don\u2019t have to search or travel to access the services they need. The center has satellite offices in Fairfield, Trumbull, Monroe, and Stratford, and victims can go to any of the offices or call the domestic violence hotline 24\/7. Help is available to victims everywhere, not just to people who live in the towns in the center\u2019s service area. \u201cThe most dangerous time is when the victim decides to leave,\u201d Ms. Greenwood said. \u201cNo one should ever underestimate how dangerous a time it can be. People can call the hotline or stop by. Walk-ins are always welcome; they don\u2019t need an appointment. The center\u2019s highly trained advocates are here to help.\u201d When a breakup is about to happen, center staff try to get victims through the door to protect them. \u201cBy talking about the issues, we are going to save a life,\u201d she said. It might take seven to 10 tries before a victim finally leaves the abuser, she said. On the journey of healing, the center may send her or him to an undisclosed safe house. \u201cSafe houses save lives,\u201d Ms. Greenwood said. \u201cIn 50% of cases, people leave in the middle of the night. Advocates help with safety planning and counsel them to bring such things as birth certificates and medicine.\u201d Connecticut has 18 safe houses, and they are 90% full at all times, she said. Survivors typically stay 60 days or so; some may stay as long as a year or more. The center is seeing more male victims and puts them up in sanctioned hotels when the need arises, Ms. Greenwood said. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act provides the funding, standards and protection for everyone who needs help, including undocumented individuals who are victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. No person in the United States can be denied benefits to any program or activity made available under the act based on national origin. Federal and state laws provide protection for all survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, regardless of the individual\u2019s country of origin, citizenship or immigration status. Sometimes the center will move a victim to another state or country to keep the person safe. \u201cNo one ever gets put back on the street,\u201d Ms Greenwood said. \u201cStandards and laws protect them, although we can\u2019t mandate them to stay.\u201d Funding is supplied through state and federal sources, but to go above and beyond, the center relies on fund-raising and volunteers, which it highly values, she said. When police respond, one of the mandates is to notify victims of services, Detective Dalling said. Another mandate is that they must make an arrest if they see evidence of a crime. In addition to calling or visiting the Center for Family Justice, concerned parties may go to the Fairfield Senior Center every Wednesday night to get advice, Detective Dalling said. She attends the weekly sessions with the support of Fairfield police Chief Gary McNamara, who is nationally known for his work to prevent domestic violence. \u201cWe have a very progressive chief,\u201d Detective Dalling said. \u201cMoving away from domestic violence takes a lot of determination,\u201d Mr. Hwang said. \u201cPeople have to be willing to move away from the suffering they know to make a change that\u2019s better for everyone. It takes a huge, concerted effort.\u201d As an attorney, Ms. Khan said, she gets involved after a woman has been on the receiving end of violence and is seeking a restraining order or divorce as a result of being in fear of imminent harm. \u201cThe court can help them get away, but they need lots of counseling and support to begin a new life,\u201d she said. She refers victims to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Norwalk. Now that she knows more about the Center for Family Justice, she will refer people there, too, she said. A man in the audience asked how domestic violence can be stopped when violence is so pervasive in American culture. \u201cWe\u2019re giving up a Sunday to share the message,\u201d Mr. Hwang said. \u201cFootball, which is incredibly violent, is the most popular visual event in America. We can still enjoy the game, but there has to be zero tolerance of domestic violence, even if it involves a football star. We can all take a step to be part of the solution.\u201d Ms. Kuo McCaul agreed with the comment that domestic violence is pervasive in our culture\u00a0and a solution won\u2019t happen overnight. \u201cWe\u2019re having this discussion and talking about it,\u201d she\u00a0said. Mr. Hwang said he supports programs in Hartford such as anti-bullying awareness and sensitivity to help kids break the cycle of violence and fully supports the Center for Family Justice, with its one-stop services under one roof. He urged the public to contact their legislators and ask them to support the Center for Family Justice and other agencies working to prevent domestic violence. He also suggested they let their local officials know how important it is to support satellite offices. \u201cYour voice is huge,\u201d Ms. Devlin said. \u201cDon\u2019t underestimate the power of one voice.\u201d Mr. Hwang said he learns more every time he attends events such as this. \u201cIf each person here asks 10 people to find out more, we can make a difference,\u201d he said. \u201cThe education I have gotten makes me an advocate.\u201d Barnard alumna Viviane\u00a0Kaneff\u00a0asked what people can do in big and small ways to make a difference. Beth Andrews, volunteer coordinator for the Center for Women and Families, said volunteers add immeasurably to the services offered. Whether it\u2019s holding an event, such as a gathering to raise money, or stuffing envelopes, or answering the hotline, opportunities abound. Some volunteer positions, such as the hotline, require training, which the center provides. \u201cWe turn no one away,\u201d she said. Perpetrators An audience member asked if society raises boys to be violent and whether it\u2019s possible for perpetrators to change. Ms. Greenwood said that 98% of men are \u201cgood guys\u201d who are respectful of women, It\u2019s the other 2% that cause the trouble. \u201cHow we raise our boys matters,\u201d she said. \u201cWe have a lot of work to do. We need to work to make it happen.\u201d The White Ribbon campaign is one of the ways that area men are stepping up to say no to violence. Events such as \u201cWalk a Mile in Her Shoes\u201d help raise awareness. Detective Dalling said there are good diversionary programs for perpetrators that work. They often include drug and alcohol counseling and anger management. A teamwork approach is effective, she said. Ms. Khan said she sees justice for both sides, the victim and the perpetrator, in the Connecticut judicial system. Ms. Kuo McCaul asked if there was any follow-up to see if the programs are working long-term. Detective Dalling and Ms. Greenwood said people have moved on after going through the integrated family violence programs that are available to families and children. \u201cWe have seen very positive outcomes,\u201d Ms. Greenwood said. Barnard alumna Carol Christiaanse asked about services for people who are disabled and non-verbal, such as those with autism or who are aged. \u201cDisabled and elderly people are the most vulnerable,\u201d she said. \u201cWe\u2019re victim advocates,\u201d Ms. Greenwood said. \u201cOur job is to believe the victims.\u201d She said that helping disabled people is near and dear to her and something the center takes very seriously. \u201cI was beat up by my boyfriend when I was in college,\u201d a Barnard alumna in the audience said. \u201cEveryone who knows me knows I\u2019m no shrinking violent. He was a varsity athlete. This can happen to anyone.\u201d \u201cThere is no acceptable excuse, no reason for domestic violence,\u201d Ms. Kuo McCaul said. Ms. Greenwood said that one out of four women and a smaller number of men will be subject to domestic violence in their lifetime.\u201d The Center for Family Justice provides free, confidential trauma-informed services and coordinates care for victims and survivors of any age, race and gender affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. It offers education and training to create social change to break the cycle of violence, build healthy relationships, stop bullying, and end teen dating violence. To learn more services, volunteering or the White Ribbon Campaign, visit centerforfamilyjustice.org or call the center\u2019s main number, 203-334-6154. The domestic abuse hotline, 203-384-9559, and the sexual assault hotline, 203-333-2233, are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Since its founding in 1889, Barnard College, which is part of Columbia University, has been a leader in higher education, offering a rigorous liberal arts foundation to young women in the heart of New York City. \u00a0Nancy Doniger is a board member of the Barnard College Club of Connecticut.