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Local News

April 9, 2008

Domestic violence on the rise, experts say

A Peabody mother's murder earlier this week offers the latest chilling example of an "epidemic" of domestic violence on the North Shore and across the state, experts said yesterday.

"There needs to be a very tightly woven system of safety and support. Right now, there's a lot of holes in that fabric," said Candace Waldron, executive director of Help for Abused Women and their Children. "It's devastating to do this work and see all these homicides."

In the nearly two dozen areas HAWC works in, five domestic violence-related deaths occurred in 2007 alone. Statewide, that figure is 55.

"There's absolutely a rise in domestic violence, not only on the North Shore but statewide, despite all of our best efforts," Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said. The district attorney added that his office has seen a steady increase in the number of domestic violence cases prosecuted in the past three years.

Beverly Sgt. Phil McCarthy, who supervises the Police Department's domestic violence office, said officers responded to about 600 such calls last year in his city alone.

It's definitely an increase from past years, he said. McCarthy noted the 600 figure represented only the incidents police were called to. He wondered how many more never get reported.

"It's truly an epidemic," he said.

A recent example is the case of Jessica Herrera, 25, of Peabody, who was found dead Sunday afternoon in a closet of the apartment she had shared with her boyfriend. On Monday, Ashley Fernandes, 28, pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder.

The fact that Fernandes had reportedly strangled Herrera at least once before, and had a protective order against him dropped by the victim on Valentine's Day, has those who work with victims of domestic violence shaking their heads.

'False sense of security'

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