NEW YORK CITY — In a city where millions of 911 calls are made every year, a call from a sweet-sounding child turned into one of its most disturbing.
“There is a man,” the 8–year-old girl says. “He’s my dad. The last time it was my mom’s face. I don’t know how he got in.”
The operator wanted to know the problem. She did not have to wait long to hear it.
Suddenly blood-curdling screams could be heard in the background of the 911 call, which was obtained by DNAinfo New York. The cries came from the girl's mother, and were followed by the sound of the woman's head being punched and slammed repeatedly against a wall and bunk bed.
After what seems like an eternity, the victim’s cries turn into moans and finally fall silent as she slips into unconsciousness. Before fleeing, her husband — a man she who once loved, married and had children with — raped her.
Domestic violence remains a complex and thorny crime for the NYPD, and as murder and violent crime rates topple to historic lows — down nearly 75 percent in 20 years — it's becoming an increasing percentage of crime in New York City.
The NYPD responded to more than 263,207 domestic-violence calls last year. That’s an average of 700 domestic calls for help every day — or one every two minutes.
And that’s just the people who call the police. Experts say victims are generally reluctant to call cops because they are afraid to exacerbate an already volatile situation, disturb their children, or, too often, they simply feel trapped.
In fact, victims on average suffer seven domestic incidents before they even reach out for the cops. Some never make that call.
Last year, 39 people, most of them women, were murdered by a spouse or partner. That's 9.3 percent of the 419 total murders in 2012. Back in 2008, there were 523 total murders, of which 38 stemmed from domestic violence, or 7.2 percent.
The overwhelming majority of these victims never reached out to the police while they endured being shoved, kicked, punched or verbally abused, authorities said.
“Calling the police can be the protective factor against brutality,” said Yolanda Jimenez, the director of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence. “We want victims to know that they will have the resources so that they can move on from the abuser.”
Domestic violence cuts across all levels of society, she said, from the 28-year-old Queens mother whose attack was caught on the 911 tape, to Sylvie Cachay, the popular young swimsuit designer who was allegedly murdered at Soho House by boyfriend Nicholas Brooks, 26, the son of Oscar-winning composer James Brooks who will soon be on trial.
“Unfortunately, anybody can be a victim of domestic violence and anyone can be a perpetrator,” Jimenez observed.
The NYPD has an array of proactive measures to combat domestic violence that reflects a sea-change in the way it deals with the issue.
Each precinct has a domestic-violence prevention officer as well as investigators who visit homes and help in arranging court referrals, shelter alternatives, orders of protection and medical care. Most importantly, they will automatically arrest someone if they believe a crime has been committed.
In days past, officers were less aggressive in hauling in suspected abusers.
In addition to the cops, the city has family centers at the District Attorneys' offices in Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx that provide additional critical services: legal counseling and assistance on immigration issues, job training, health care and financial assistance.
The Queens DA offers a play room for children while police and prosecutors speak with victims. It’s called “Margaret’s Place” and is run by “Safe At Home,” a charity founded by legendary Yankee manager Joe Torre, whose father beat his mother.
The domestic violence bureau for the Queens DA has a roughly 63-percent conviction rate in domestic violence cases, roughly double other offices.
Scott Kessler, the bureau chief, said the inherent obstacles in prosecuting domestic violence cases stem from the fact that “the person who is abusing you is the person you are living with, who knows where you are, knows where you work and, in many cases, you are heavily dependent on them and also have children.”
Also, in many cases, the pressure on a victim to drop charges starts with relatives, including the victim’s own family, allowing abusers to return home before the ink has dried on an order of protection.
So how do Queens prosecutors score such a high conviction rate? They prosecute alleged abusers whether the victim wants to or not.
Take the case against disgraced politician Hiram Monserrate.
Monserrate slashed his girlfriend’s face with a glass, and she called the cops and went to the hospital. But once the danger was over, she wanted to drop charges.
But the Queens DA took the woman’s initial statements to cops, her 911 call, her medical records and photos of her injuries, and presented them to a jury, which convicted the former state senator.
Kessler has also cleverly employed another legal tactic against abusers — one that has worked against mobsters and gangbangers. He argues that the reason a witness is not cooperating is because the defendant has intimidated them.
Yet all the evolving approaches to curtailing domestic violence has only started to improve the statistics. In fact, as Kessler discussed the battle against domestic violence, another case was winding its way through court.
Another Queens mother was assaulted by her husband as she held her child in her arms. He slammed a scissor into the back of his wife's neck, and bashed the infant in the head, leaving a deep indentation in the child’s skull.
“No one wants to think that the father of her children, the person they married, is the one who is going to kill them,” Kessler said.