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Editorial

editorial

On domestic violence in Mass., an encouraging trend emerges

Jane Doe Inc. members Mary R. Lauby and Craig Norberg-Bohm received a proclamation from Governor Deval Patrick during the 5th Annual Massachusetts White Ribbon Day in May. The event encourages men to take a stance against domestic violence towards women.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Jane Doe Inc. members Mary R. Lauby and Craig Norberg-Bohm received a proclamation from Governor Deval Patrick during the 5th Annual Massachusetts White Ribbon Day in May. The event encourages men to take a stance against domestic violence towards women.

In 2012, the number of domestic-violence deaths in Massachusetts dropped significantly — from 32 in 2010 to 26 in 2011 to 12 in 2012, albeit with 8 perpetrators either killed in the scuffle or committing suicide. While only time will tell if the trend is sustainable, the likelihood is that some easing of the social stigma surrounding family violence has made potential victims more willing to seek help, and continued expansion of support services from police, social workers, churches, and neighborhood networks has given them more places to get help.

But advocates for Jane Doe Inc., which tracks the numbers of victims, emphasize that more vigilance is necessary to address a problem that remains epidemic in American society. Data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicate that, every minute, 24 American adults are victims of physical assault, rape, or stalking.

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Domestic-violence specialists point out that potential perpetrators continue to look out for ways to maintain control in a relationship. As more American women feel comfortable seeking help, people in socially segregated communities do not always know where to turn. Gay men and lesbians suffering from abuse may hesitate to discuss their plight with family members, social-service agencies, or police; in some immigrant communities, potential victims may carry a fear of law enforcement from their native countries or lack proper documentation to be in the United States.

Jane Doe Inc. and similar advocacy organizations have begun to expand the definition of domestic violence homicide to include bystanders who were killed while trying to intervene during domestic violence incidents. These victims could include friends, family members, new intimate partners, law enforcement officers, or other professionals attempting to assist victims of domestic violence. In June, Officer Kevin E. Ambrose, 56, of Springfield was shot to death in the line of duty by Shawn Bryan, 35, after Ambrose responded to a 911 call and tried to intervene in a scuffle between Shawn and his ex-girlfriend Charlene Mitchell, 29. An hour prior to the shooting, Mitchell had obtained an abuse protection order against Bryan, the father of her infant daughter. Bryan also shot Mitchell, who survived. After both shootings, Bryan committed suicide.

The declining numbers of victims suggest that society may slowly be coming to grips with domestic violence. “You are not alone” is the common, and still powerful, message. Across the state, there are domestic violence programs that are free and confidential. It is the onus of friends and family of potential victims to respond to patterns of control they might observe in their surroundings. May the number of deaths continue to drop in 2013.

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