In Efforts Against Domestic Abuse, New Report Urges Mainers to Build Bridges Towards Safety and Accountability

“Maybe there was something I could have done.” This is the all-too-familiar comment heard in the wake of Maine’s twelve domestic violence homicides in 2013 and it has led Maine’s top experts on domestic abuse to encourage more Mainers to look for the signs of abuse and to connect victims and their families with assistance when they see it.

The 10th biennial report of the Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel was released today at a State House press conference. This year’s report, entitled “Building Bridges Towards Safety and Accountability” makes observations and recommendations for law enforcement, prosecutors, the Judiciary, health providers, state agencies, and the general public.

One of the patterns observed by the Panel in the report is the connection between suicidal behaviors and the potential for homicide. Of the 21 cases the Panel reviewed, 14 of the perpetrators, or 66%, exhibited suicidal behavior prior to committing or attempting to commit homicide and seven of those killed themselves after committing or attempting homicide. These suicidal behaviors included giving large sums of money away, saying goodbyes, making amends, purchasing a handgun, threatening suicide and or/ previous threats or attempts to commit suicide.

“Threats of violence and threats of suicide must be taken seriously,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “Telling your boyfriend or girlfriend, ‘I can’t live without you,’ can quickly cross from innocuous to devastating. In the context of an abusive relationship, these utterances are veiled threats of violence, with a strong undercurrent of manipulation and control. Recognizing the signs of abuse is key to preventing homicide.”

Chaired by Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese, an experienced homicide prosecutor with the Office of the Attorney General, the panel is comprised of physicians, nurses, judges, child-protection advocates, witness and victim advocates, behavioral health service providers, law enforcement officers and others. The panel reviews cases of domestic abuse homicides for the purpose of recommending policy changes so that future tragedies may be avoided.

“This report reflects hours upon hours of work by a tireless, devoted group of Panel members who share the common goal of recommending system changes to improve and save lives of domestic abuse victims and hold abusers accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Marchese. “I want to also acknowledge the work of the Maine State Police and the many other law enforcement agencies in the state for their investigative work in Maine’s domestic abuse homicides. The Panel has gained valuable insight to the link of suicide and domestic abuse homicide from reviewing their investigations.”

In making their recommendations for the 10th Report, the Panel reviewed 21 homicide cases that occurred between April 2009 and September 2013. Of the 21 cases, 17 were intimate partner homicides and four were intrafamilial homicides. Of the 21 cases, there were 21 perpetrators and 27 victims. Seventeen of the 27 victims were female and 20 of the 21 perpetrators were male.

This report is longer and more substantive than any prior report. For the first time, Panel members formed groups by their respective disciplines to draft observations and recommendations to effectuate change within their specialized field. The result is a more comprehensive report reflecting the wisdom and collaboration of the experts on the Panel.

The Panel made a total of nearly 60 recommendations ranging from raising public awareness about the connection between threats of suicide and homicide, to including faith communities as allies in providing support for victims of abuse and accountability for offenders.

Some of the Panel’s recommendations include: • Whenever practicable, law enforcement agencies and domestic abuse resource centers create programs that enhance law enforcement and advocacy collaboration.
• That law enforcement officers routinely offer victims and offenders of domestic abuse referral services and retrieval of belongings information similar to what is found on the Bangor Police Department’s “Blue Card.”• That the State maintain a repository of concealed handgun permits for law enforcement access only, to include information about the status of a permit (including whether it has been suspended or revoked).• That healthcare providers screen all their patients, including patients in same-sex relationships, privately, regularly, and especially frequently during pregnancy; for both physical abuse and coercive controlling behavior.• Increased communication among behavioral health providers, law enforcement, victims and family members regarding assessment and case planning when a domestic abuse offender presents with behavioral health issues.• Recommending consistent and ongoing school-based education regarding domestic abuse and dating violence at all educational levels.

With the release of the 10th Report, the Panel will continue to review more cases and work to implement the recommendations it has made.

"Families want their loved ones' lives and deaths to matter, to contribute knowledge so that what has happened to them does not happen to anybody else. The panel’s work moves that wish toward a reality,” said Julia Colpitts, Executive Director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and a member of the Panel. "The Panel’s work honors victims’ lives and their deaths profoundly by learning from them with the intent of saving future lives. Our work doesn’t change the tragedy, but it offers one element of meaning."

Click here to read the report: http://www.maine.gov/ag/dynld/documents/10th%20Biennnial%20Report%20-FINAL%204-23-14.pdf

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