When you read about Maine’s most recent domestic violence homicides, you may have focused on some of the initial details.
You may have been sickened by the fact that 21-year-old Zackery Mailloux is alleged to have sexually assaulted, bound with duct tape and strangled to death Husson University student Brooke Locke, 21, on Nov. 18 in Bangor.
In the second case, in Westbrook, perhaps your attention was captured by the fact that the homicide involved a gay couple. On Nov. 30, Patrick Milliner, 30, of South Portland, is suspected of shooting and killing his former partner, 22-year-old Matthew Rairdon of Westbrook, before committing suicide.
But look deeper. The deaths — such infuriating tragedies — share an important commonality aside from brutality: Both victims had recently ended their relationships.
The most dangerous time for someone in an abusive relationship is when he or she tries to leave.
We’re not going to draw conclusions about the Bangor and Westbrook cases, which are under investigation. And we’re not going to make assumptions about the personal histories of each pair. We have only sympathy for the victims and their family and friends.
So we would like to talk generally about what people can do if they’re in an abusive relationship or know someone who is: Seek the consultation of a domestic violence advocate who can listen and help you craft a safety plan.
Because while you might think nothing terrible will happen, you just don’t know. Often the perpetrator is no longer thinking rationally. Don’t let your reasonable mind shut down your worry.
The risk of lethal danger escalates when a number of factors intersect. Things like substance abuse and depression don’t cause domestic violence, but they can certainly magnify it. And if those different dynamics come together when a partner tries to leave, the risk that the perpetrator will kill increases dramatically.
Even if perpetrators were never physically violent in the past, they likely exhibited emotionally abusive, coercive or jealous behavior. And that can escalate quickly to physical and even deadly violence.
So it’s key for people to know the red flags. Perhaps your friend — whether he or she is a possible perpetrator or not — is saying, “My life is over,” “I have nothing,” or “I’m never going to celebrate another holiday like this again.”
Instead of downplaying the situation by responding, “No, your life’s not over. Breakups are hard for everyone,” try to address the problem. You could say, “You sound depressed. Can I get you some help?”
If you know someone experiencing psychological or physical harm — or you are yourself — consider seeking out a local domestic violence resource agency. There, people are trained to help outline options. They can help you pinpoint those warning signs. They are not the police. Think of it as a consultation.
Advocates know of people experiencing abuse — and those who love them — who sought help just in time. And they have spoken to those contemplating extreme violence who later said they couldn’t believe how close they had come to doing something so terrible.
They would like more of those stories. Wouldn’t we all?
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.