Many people may know that October is observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, these 31 days also represent Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and that observance will be recognized Thursday in Fairfield by a vigil organized by the Center for Women and Families of Eastern Fairfield County.

The local vigil, the third of four in the area planned this month by the agency, is set to get under way at 6:15 p.m. at the Sherman Green gazebo. Police Detective Kerry Dalling will be honored as "one of the biggest advocates in training and awareness" with the group's Domestic Violence Awareness award, according to Debra Greenwood, the CEO and president of the center.

"I'm honored and humbled," said Dalling. "But it's one of those things, where if you look at the reason, it's mixed emotions. I'm very happy to have it (the award), but sorry this kind of crime is happening."

Greenwood said domestic violence crime is up 38 percent nationally and local figures mirror that rise. The upturn in domestic violence is largely attributable to the economic financial downturn and the greater stress people are experiencing, Greenwood said.

While the center's Bridgeport office is not far from those in Fairfield who might need counseling, intervention or crisis advice, the center also plans a ribbon cutting Thursday for a new satellite office in Fairfield prior to the candlelight vigil.

"The confidentiality of the work that we do will allow people from the suburbs to have a more confidential environment, as opposed to meeting in a public place or driving to Bridgeport," Greenwood said.

Dalling said that often well before there's domestic violence in a home, there's "domestic disruption."

A husband, for example, might cause his wife to lose contact with friends and family and she becomes isolated. It is a way of establishing control. In addition, he might disallow her from using credit cards or writing checks, using the excuse that she's handles money badly. Now the husband has financial control over the wife.

"It's a systematic thing. It's not overnight," said Dalling.

When the domestic disruption turns into physical abuse, many women are fearful of calling "911," or even making the decision to leave after numerous incidents of abuse.

"National statistics show it will take seven times before someone leaves," said Greenwood. "A person will leave and come back, leave and come back. The more we (the center) can plan and intervene, hopefully the better scenario for everyone."

Dalling said domestic violence incidents represent about 30 percent of the total calls that police officers respond to. When police are dispatched, they often find it difficult to get to the truth. There may have been at attack, but the victim generally loves his or her attacker, and sometimes the victims are reluctant to speak by the time police arrive.

Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara said Dalling has a special ability to "sort through the unique intricacies of investigating a domestic violence complaint."

"These cases often rip at the heart of human emotions," he said. "People who are close to you aren't supposed to hurt you."

MacNamara said investigating such crimes requires "a certain amount of passion, the ability to have people become comfortable with the investigator and at the same time, having the knowledge and ability to investigate, and Kerry does all that and more. She is our local expert."

Greenwood said, "I wish that we did not have to have an agency that has to support domestic violence care, but [the abuse continues], and we need to address it and support the victims, so our goal must be to lower the statistics in our community."

The ribbon-cutting at the center's satellite office, located at the Fairfield Senior Center building, 100 Mona Terrace, will take place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, followed by the candlelight vigil on Sherman Green.

Anyone who is a victim of domestic violence is encouraged to call the hotline at 203-384-9559.