Their names and faces fill the news, the focus of an epidemic that lacks a vaccine.
Marissa Kennedy, Hilary Saenz, Coty, Monica and Amy Lake, Lori Hayden and Dustin Tuttle and dozens more are all domestic abuse violence murder victims killed by someone they knew, once loved, once trusted and once relied on for their security. Their families still suffer and the public still mourns the loss of people they were close to, worked with, went to school with, were neighbors to. The public watches the news and reels in horror at such acts, attending remembrance vigils by the hundreds trying to grasp how such horrific acts still plague society.
In 2014, domestic violence perpetrators committed 21 murders in Maine. Eight of their victims were children. In 2015, domestic violence perpetrators killed 25 Mainers. Over the past 10 years, 47 percent of Maine’s murders were domestic violence homicides.
In June 2016, the State’s Attorney General Office released its 11th Biennial Report of Maine Domestic Homicide Review Panel. Composed of some of the state’s best health care professionals, legal experts, law enforcement and social agencies, the AG’s report makes sound recommendations while exposing troubling data about the state’s domestic abuse crimes.
Victims are often trapped in, or trying to leave, relationships that the perpetrator controls with an entitlement mentality that is unhealthy for all parties. Alcohol and drug abuse are often key components, as are depression, mental illness, job insecurity and stress. Perpetrators of domestic violence murder range from young to old, are overwhelmingly male (85 percent), inflict their pain primarily on women and children and will use whatever weapon is available to them. However 56 percent of the time they use a firearm.
The AG’s report makes many recommendations for helping. Yet prevention is difficult. Working collaboratively, as the AG’s report urges, can help mitigate the damage. Recommending that domestic violence resource centers and law enforcement agencies take advantage of sharing opportunities is one key suggestion. Another is having counties engage in a coordinated community response effort by maintaining domestic abuse task forces and high-risk response teams. Having employers develop best practices, including domestic abuse workplace policies with training for supervisors and employees, is another tool.
The public’s role cannot be ignored and the AG’s report makes sound recommendations. Listen, listen and watch for signs of abuse such as control, manipulation, bruising and isolation. Take threats you hear and see seriously. Take stalking seriously. Ask questions and offer to help victims, but most of all listen. Listen to the open, and too often silent, pleas of those under threat.
Governor LePage has been a proponent of increased support for domestic violence abuse victims for over seven years. The professionals who deal with this constant ill are engaged, yet correcting the problem requires constant vigilance and effort — by everyone.
Listen, listen and watch. Do it for Marissa, Hilary and those who are depending on us.
The Hancock/Washington County hotline is (800) 315-5579 to reach Next Step.