RENEE ORDWAY

Domestic violence not a partisan issue

Posted April 13, 2012, at 5:01 p.m.
Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway

It’s an unfortunate reality that it often takes tragedy to bring people together — to get people to set aside their differences or to overcome their ambivalence.

For many across the state it took a stunningly horrific spate of domestic violence homicides that occurred here during a six-week period last summer.

During that time six children lost their mothers and two children and their mother were killed.

I suppose if that doesn’t break down some partisan fences and spawn a willingness to get things done, then surely nothing will.

In her introduction to the ninth report of the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel, assistant attorney general and panel chairwoman Lisa Marchese made note of that.

“These six weeks of violence have generated unprecedented, yet much needed focus on the issue of ending domestic violence,” she wrote. “At no time in recent history have so many individuals — at all levels of government — devoted themselves to creating change in order to save lives.”

It was in the spirit of that collaboration that the 26-member panel opted to name its report “Working Together to End Domestic Violence Homicide in Maine.”

The panel was established in 1997 to review cases of domestic homicide and to offer recommendations to improve coordination and community response that will protect people from domestic abuse.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a member of that panel.

My place at the table came to be most likely because the panel wanted a member of the news media on board and because of my own family’s domestic violence tragedy, which left my niece and nephew parentless at the ages of 11 and 9.

The panel reviews cases only after the investigation is complete and adjudicated, so often the cases before it are a year or two old. Cases where the perpetrator commits suicide may be reviewed immediately.

During 2010 and 2011, the panel reviewed 13 cases that occurred between March 2008 and July 2011.

Of those cases, two children witnessed their father kill their mother, two children found their parents dead and one child was at home when the homicide occurred.

Five children were left without either parent because either the perpetrator committed suicide or was sent to prison.

The panel meets monthly and the work it does is not easy. It hears from and interviews police investigators, forensic psychologists and medical examiners. Members read countless reports and interviews.

The work, to be honest, can be frustrating, but mostly it’s sad.

The panel consists of police officers, judges, medical examiners, teachers, nurses, doctors, prosecutors, domestic abuse prevention advocates and social workers, among others.

I’ve been on the panel for several years now and I can honestly say I don’t have any idea of the political leanings of any of my fellow panel members, though I’m sure they have them.

There are those who own guns and like guns and those who would love to see much stricter gun legislation enacted in our state. There are those who would love to see much lengthier sentences for domestic abusers and those who remind us of the need for common sense and constitutionality in the meting out of criminal sentences.

There are those who would like to see more records available and those who remind us of the perimeters of privacy.

There are times when we sit for a moment or two in silence, saddened by the tragic tale before us, frustrated by the same recurring themes that appear in so many domestic abuse cases and challenged to make observations and recommendations that make sense and that may make a difference.

And right now is the time to make a difference.

We have a governor who knows abuse up close and personal and seems committed to making substantive changes to keep people safer in their own homes. We have a Legislature, while not agreeing with the governor on much else these days, that seems to be behind him on this issue.

And sadly we have the statistics outlined in the report the panel released this week and the sobering photograph of Amy Lake and her two children standing against the wall of a school at her son’s eighth-grade graduation, before her estranged husband and the children’s father shot them all to death.

They were a part of that horrible six-week stretch last summer.

The recommendations made in the report are not just for state or local government agencies. There is a lot of information, recommendations and observations that if read and heeded could go a long way to help people better understand the signs of abuse and learn the best ways to seek help for themselves, a friend, a family member or a co-worker.

Because the unfortunate reality is that in many of the domestic homicide cases reviewed there was a place for intervention, signs that were ignored, cracks wide enough to slip through that should have been sealed.

The complete report can be found on the website of the Maine attorney general.

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