Beware the 3 S's: Stalking, Strangulation and Suicidality

AUGUSTA - "If I can't have you, no one can" is not an idle threat. It is a sign of controlling and violent behavior that too often is the prelude to homicide. This is one of the observations of the Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel in its 11th biennial report entitled: On the Path to Prevention. The Panel's report was released at a State House press conference Thursday which included Governor Paul R. LePage and Attorney General Janet T. Mills.

Because domestic violence homicide is not typically an isolated act, but rather the culmination of a pattern of conduct, the Panel calls attention to the link between certain controlling behaviors and the ultimate act of homicide. These behaviors include stalking, strangulation and suicidality; the so-called "Three S's." One or more of these behaviors was observed in all 16 cases that were reviewed by the Panel. Suicidal ideation, suicidal threats and attempts were present in 56% of the cases reviewed. Suicidal thoughts and statements continue to be a glaring indicator of the potential for domestic abuse homicide.

"These warning signs must be taken seriously," said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. "Listen and watch for controlling behaviors. Take threats of suicide to be real. If you leave a controlling partner, do not return to the home without the assistance of law enforcement. If you are a medical or mental health professional, ask patients whether they are safe in their home and let them know there are resources available. Listen to family, friends and neighbors encountering domestic problems. Offer them assistance. You could save a life."

The Panel's report is based on two years of in depth reviews of 16 selected closed domestic violence homicide cases that occurred between 2011 and 2015. The Panel also reviewed one "serious injury" domestic abuse case. Victims ranged in age from 10 weeks to 81 years old. Of the 19 victims, 12 were female. Fourteen of the 16 perpetrators were male. During the two-year report cycle there were 24 domestic abuse homicides, representing 52% of the total homicides in Maine.

"For some time, we led victims to believe they were to blame for the abusive tactics used against them," said Susan Fuller, Panel Coordinator. "Shifting our focus to holding abusers accountable and providing safety and supports for victims will reduce domestic abuse homicides and improve the safety of our families."

The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence supports a network of resource centers around the state. Wherever you are in Maine you can get help for victims or batterers. Visit www.mcedv.org for more information and where to find local resources. Similarly, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault supports survivors of sexual assault. To find more information and local resources, visit: www.mecasa.org

Adverse Childhood Experiences are a key predictor of disrupted development, cognitive impairment, substance abuse and other risky behaviors and early death. Key among these adverse childhood experiences is exposure to violence in the home. In the 16 cases examined by the Panel, one infant and three other children were killed. One four year-year old watched his father kill his mother. Two other children were in their home when their father killed their mother. Seven other children were impacted for life when their mother was murdered. One child's mother was incarcerated. One child's father committed suicide. In many cases, extended family members were thrust into the position of raising young survivors of domestic violence homicide.

The Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel was established in statute by the Maine Legislature in 1997 to "review the deaths of persons who are killed by family or household members." The legislation mandates that the Panel make recommendations to state and local agencies for improving systems for protecting persons from domestic and sexual abuse. The Panel meets monthly to examine domestic abuse homicide cases. The Panel includes prosecutors, police, medical professionals, educators, social workers, victim advocates, victims' services providers and representatives of Maine's Judiciary, among others.

"The Panel's report highlights the need for medical professionals to shift from a focus on getting victims to disclose abuse to providing information to all patients that help is available in many forms, from many systems when the patient is ready to access the services," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, the Panel's chairwoman. "We also highlight the importance of first responders and emergency department personnel to thoroughly document injuries so that they may be relied upon later in the legal system."

Marchese thanked Attorney General Mills and Commissioner of Public Safety John Morris for their commitment to the Panel and facilitating the Panel's work. "Because of the high level of support Maine's Panel has received, our Panel is considered a national leader in fatality review. During the past biennial, members of Maine's Panel were chosen to speak at the National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative Conference regarding our review process, findings and implementation of recommendations.

LINK to Report: 

http://www.maine.gov/ag/docs/2016%20Report%20of%20the%20Domestic%20Abuse%20Homicide%20Review%20Panel.pdf

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