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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 11, 2008

Kitchen-knife stabbing
Westerlo man charged with attempted murder

By Zach Simeone

HILLTOWNS — A 52-year-old Westerlo man was arrested Saturday evening after, police say, he was arguing with his girlfriend for several hours at a gathering in Berne.

Bruce Benson of 40 Abby Road in Westerlo was charged with second-degree attempted murder, and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Bensen, a self-employed contractor, stabbed Donna Filkins, 52, who lives with him in Westerlo, police say. He stabbed her in the lower groin with a large kitchen knife, and then ran across the street to call 911, according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

“It is believed Bensen was upset over getting into a fight earlier in the day with another subject who was visiting at 575 Helderberg Trail,” the sheriff’s office said in a release. “As a result of the fight, Bensen suffered a laceration to his eye.”

When police arrived at 575 Helderberg Trail, they found Filkins lying on a picnic table, bleeding heavily, according to the release from the sheriff’s office. She was transported to Albany Medical Center by the Helderberg Rescue Squad, and was taken into surgery immediately.

When asked about Filkins’s condition, the hospital said it did not have her in its records, but Albany Medical Center patients get the chance to opt out of being listed in the hospital’s directory upon checking in.

Bensen was arraigned at Berne Town Court by Kenneth Bunzey, and remanded to the Albany County jail without bail.

Last weekend’s stabbing was not Bensen’s first offense.

He was arrested on July 22, 2004 on Main Street in East Berne for criminal trespassing. An East Berne resident told the Albany County Sheriff’s Department that Bensen entered her house without permission and struck her in the face.


Experts offered some perspective and advice on domestic violence this week, without commenting specifically on the Berne incident.

“If people are having problems, the best thing to do is find out where the problem is based,” said Dr. Margery Smith, a vice president of the board of directors for the Helderberg Interfaith Community Safe Haven. “Get them to talk a little about it, and then find a professional counselor. Something has to happen to give them the big shove that they need to get professional help.”

Based in the Hilltowns, the Helderberg Interfaith Community Safe Haven provides temporary housing for children, adults, and families in need.

“The big thing is, if somebody is concerned about a person, and they see that there is a problem developing, they have to go and face them with it,” Smith said. “Ask them if they realize they are doing bad things to themselves. Ask them, ‘don’t you like yourself?’ The only person who can help a person is the individual himself or herself,” she said.

“Usually people who are abusive, even if they’ve left a relationship and gotten into a new one, they tend to continue to be abusive, although it may not be in the very beginning,” said Kathy Magee, Equinox’s Director of Domestic Violence Services. Equinox is a local program that offers support to victims of abuse.

One thing for people to be aware of, Magee said, is that there isn’t always a warning before relationships escalate to a level of deadly violence. “Some relationships are emotionally abusive. Some are physically abusive, but not in a life-threatening way, and can suddenly escalate to being life-threatening,” she said.

Abusers are often rather charming, Magee said, and offer excuses for their behavior in order to minimize their blame for what happened.

“I think that women thinking of getting into a relationship with someone with a history of abusive behavior should be cautious, and not think that they can change the situation,” Magee said.

“If the new partner is blaming the old partner for everything, I would have second thoughts, and think of talking to trusted friends about this and just be very cautious,” said Magee. “At the first sign of abuse, get out, call the police, or get an order of protection.”

“There’s a large network of organizations across the state,” said Amy Barasch, executive director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. “Our office is a state office, so we’re not a direct service organization, but what the state does provide to assist people who are concerned about a situation like this is the state’s domestic violence hotline.”

“Anyone who calls our hotline will be helped with some information, and will be directed to their local program, and our people will offer whatever advice they can,” said Public Informations Officer Suzanne Cecala of the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. “Friends and family can call the hotline as well,” she said.

Equinox, too, has a 24-hour hotline. It’s not an 800 number, but “we can accept collect calls,” Magee said. “If someone feels unsafe, they can call the hotline, and come into our domestic violence shelter. And if someone does that, it doesn’t mean they can’t go back, it just means it’s a safe place to go for now, to sort out options and just figure out what to do next,” she said.

If someone suspects abuse in a friend’s relationship, communication is key, Barasch said. “If you think someone you know is in trouble, and being hurt in their intimate relationship, try and start an open conversation with them,” she said. “Ask if everything’s all right with them, and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Often times what seems like the most obvious suggestion — to leave the violent relationship — can be the most dangerous suggestion.”

Much domestic violence happens after a woman tries to leave a relationship, said Barasch. “One should only want to try leaving the relationship with some kind of safety plan in place,” she said.

While Magee agrees that it is important to talk with friends or family, she recommends calling a hotline as well, because, she said, “A lot of times, when you’re personally involved in some way, it’s hard to be objective and kind of see the big picture. It’s typical in abusive relationships that the abuse progresses in a way that people don’t realize at first that they’re being abused,” she said.

“Then, by the time it gets dangerous, they’ve been in the relationship a long time, and have made lots of excuses for the behavior and don’t recognize that it might not be safe to be there anymore.”

Such hotlines and support services are helpful for providing victims with an objective reality check, said Magee.

Often times, friends and family members might identify that someone’s being abused, but, when they talk to the victim, it simply results in their feeling more isolated because they’re having trouble leaving the abuser.

“The victim doesn’t leave the abuser, and, a lot of times, victims get very isolated because they’re tired of hearing about it and nothing happening. That’s another reason why the hotline is good for either side of the party to just talk to somebody who’s not so emotionally invested, and who knows about local resources,” Magee said.

Another thing that friends and family of a victim should keep in mind, Barasch said, is that some behavior which may not seem immediately related to violent behavior actually is. One of these behaviors is stalking, which has a broad definition, she said.

“Often we think of stalking as someone in a raincoat, sneaking around in an alley, but stalking is really just a series of behaviors that can make someone fearful,” said Barasch. “If someone is being called 100 times a day at work by their partner, or if their partner is picking them up at work sometimes even if they ask them not to, we consider that stalking.”

According to Barasch, a great deal of data correlates stalking with violent behavior. “If your friend has a partner who can’t get over a relationship to the point of stalking, we recommend they call the hotline,” she said.

Equinox provided a set of domestic violence statistics earlier in the decade: A woman is physically assaulted every 8.1 seconds in the United States, and verbally or emotionally abused every 1.5 seconds; domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States — more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined; of the women murdered every year in the U.S., 30 percent are killed by their current male partner; and most occurrences of domestic abuse are never reported.

The New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-942-6906. For Equinox’s Domestic Violence Hotline, call 432-7865. The Helderberg Interfaith Community Safe Haven can be accessed through the State Troopers at 477-9333.

“Victims are not alone,” Magee concluded, “and they don’t have to be alone. It’s important not to be isolated.”

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