AUGUSTA, Maine — Holly Dee held a photograph of her daughter Thursday as she listened to officials talk at the State House about the grim realities of domestic violence homicide in Maine.
They are realities that Dee knows all too well. Her daughter, Nicole Oliver, was murdered by her abusive husband in 2007, and her daughter’s prophetic words give the report its title: “He wants to see me dead.”
“It’s what she had told me,” Dee of Kennebunk said after the press conference, which marked the release of the latest report from the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel.
“I’m here today to support other women who need to leave abusive relationships,” she said.
Although the state’s crime rate continues to be one of the lowest in the nation, the domestic violence homicide rate is worryingly high, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said.
Of the 31 homicides that occurred in Maine in 2008, 20 of them, or 65 percent, were related to domestic violence. Of the 25 homicides that happened in 2009, 10 of the victims, or 35 percent, were killed by family or household members.
“Domestic violence remains of highest priority,” Mills said. “Most of what we’ve done to date is to put a Band-Aid on the problem after it occurs … we need to send the message that heroes don’t hit, that it’s cool to walk away.”
The homicide review panel was created by the Maine Legislature in 1997 to recommend to state and local agencies methods of improving the systems to protect domestic violence victims. Its members come from many different agencies and areas and include Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia, Dr. Eric Brown of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, and reporter and Bangor Daily News columnist Renee Ordway.
For the panel’s eighth report, members reviewed 17 domestic violence homicides from 2006 to 2008. Eight victims were women, eight were men, and one was a “self-defense” homicide committed by a domestic violence victim, which was not included in the report’s statistics. Of the 16 perpetrators, 15 were men, and just one was a woman. Ten of the cases reviewed involved intimate partner relationships, and seven of those were in the process of leaving the relationship before being killed.
Some of the panel’s recommendations and observations include:
ä Recognizing that alcohol use is a risk factor for the escalation of violence and abuse.
ä Observing that there is no “causal link” between domestic violence and mental illness.
ä Realizing that law enforcement and other professionals who have repeated contact with a single victim may experience “compassion fatigue,” which can affect their judgment.
During her remarks, Mills stressed some things she has learned in her 34 years of practicing law and from the report — including her strong belief that protection from abuse orders save lives and her conviction that anyone leaving a relationship should never return alone to the estranged partner.
Not even to pick up their belongings, Mills said.
“Even the most intelligent and nice people can turn violent in a breakup,” she said. “Three people died that way, in the cases this panel reviewed.”
Naomi Schalit, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said in a prepared response to the release of the report that Mainers need to move beyond “counting the dead” and making recommendations about patterns found within those deaths.
“What we really need to do is prevent these victims from ever getting to the point where they’re in deadly danger,” she said. “We’ve got to move upstream, and work with children so that they form healthy relationships from the beginning … we’ve got to move upstream and provide options besides violence.”
Dee said that abuse prevention could start within the school systems, long before it escalates, as it did for her daughter.
“I think that there are a lot of people that are unaware of the services available,” she said. “She did do everything she could to protect herself. It was too little, too late for her.”
Maine’s free, confidential 24-hour domestic abuse hot line may be reached at 866-834-4357.