DEXTER, Maine — Linda-Jean Briggs arrived as Dexter’s town manager in November 2011 to a town that was still healing from a triple domestic violence homicide.
“I just saw the hurt and wanted to make a difference. There was so much pain the people were experiencing,” she said.
Amy Lake and her children Coty and Monica were murdered by her estranged husband, Steven Lake, before he then killed himself on June 13, 2011.
With the help of the Dexter Police Department, Womancare and Spruce Run, Briggs hopes to start the Dexter Community Domestic Violence Response Team.
The group aims to bring together eight parts of the community into the team — social service providers, health care system, justice system, education, clergy, media, employers and government.
“The whole concept essentially revolves around the different roles that each of us has in our own little disciplines where we can address different elements of domestic abuse and the violence that usually follows,” said Arthur Jette, community outreach advocate for Womancare of Dover-Foxcroft.
“If we’re talking about the clergy, we can help develop strategies we can embrace,” he said. “We could encourage churches in the area to have a goal of trying to have a special sermon about the issue of respect for one another in marriages and relationships and things that are considered abusive that don’t fit instructions from the Bible.
“For employers, it may be changes in workplace policies,” he continued. “To allow victims of abuse to have certain safety privileges. Have the assistance of their employer keep them from [being] harassed by their abuser.”
The group will meet once a week, said Briggs. Invitations to the group have already gone out and she said she expects the group to meet for the first time this month.
Jette said the goal is to reduce the number of homicides and violence in the homes.
“I feel this is a real good way to identify potential problems,” said Dexter police Chief Kevin Wintle.
Dexter police have already started giving potential victims of domestic violence kits that include what the rights of the victim and perpetrator are and phone numbers to advocacy groups and courts.
“It’s little bits of information that were always available, but not put together like this,” said Briggs.
Children in the communities have been hard hit by domestic violence, said Briggs, especially after the Lake family’s tragedy.
“I really saw the effects afterwards [in the schools],” said Wintle. “You could see it on the kids’ faces. [It was a] sadness.”
To help combat domestic violence down the road, Briggs said teaching that bullying is wrong at a young age would help.
“If they start out at an elementary level to knock out bullying, as they continue to grow and mature they’ll see that domestic violence has no place in society,” she said. “Let’s face it, the perpetrators of domestic violence were the bullies in elementary school. It’s learned behavior.”
The team will be focused on Dexter, but the blueprint could later be generalized in order for other towns to pick it up if they wish.
“The goal of this group is to take parts of society, have them sit around the table and educate one another as to how domestic violence affects them in their world,” Briggs said. “It’s to educate each of those folks into how they could better understand it, identify it, react to it and prevent it.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.