For more than 30 years, advocates for victims of domestic violence have maintained a tragic roll call of intimate partner deaths in Massachusetts. Although this state ranks near the bottom of domestic abuse homicides nationally, each death echoes in an expanding ring of trauma, often involving children. This year, according to Jane Doe Inc., a coalition of organizations working against domestic violence and sexual assault, 13 women and one man were allegedly killed by their partners, two of whom then committed suicide. Another victim was simply associated with a target. At least 23 children are now without a parent.
In a strange way, the list is a testament to the success of Massachusetts gun laws, as most of the victims had not been shot. Nationally, firearms are used in 54 percent of fatal domestic violence cases; in Massachusetts it is closer to 30 percent. Without the swift lethality of guns, some victims have a better chance of surviving or escaping. This state also has a robust network of programs and organizations where targets of abuse can find protection, keeping the numbers relatively low.
It’s hard to imagine today, but when advocates began compiling these grim statistics in the 1980s, domestic abuse was considered a private matter to be worked out between the parties themselves. “It was seen as ‘the women’s movement is breaking up the family,’” said Toni Troop, who has been with Jane Doe Inc. for 21 years, in an interview. It wasn’t until 1992 that Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, which funded intervention training for police. Well into the 1990s, 39 states didn’t fully consider “marital rape” a crime.
Over the years the anti-violence movement’s emphasis has also evolved: from simply establishing domestic abuse as a crime, to seeing it more broadly as a public health crisis; to a recent awareness of its social justice implications. Although it’s true that partner abuse can happen to anyone, in any social class or culture, it disproportionately harms women of color. “Increasingly we look at gender-based violence and racial justice as inseparable,” Debra Robbin, Jane Doe Inc’s executive director, said in an interview. In 2018, according to the national Violence Policy Center, Black women were murdered at a rate nearly three times that of white women.
Robbin says many in the violence prevention movement are reexamining solutions they pressed for decades ago. Although prosecuting abusers is crucial, a large cohort of victims don’t want to access the criminal justice system at all. “They want the abuse to end, not necessarily to put a person in prison,” she said. Undocumented immigrants are especially wary of reporting abuse for fear of arrest or deportation, which is why the Safe Communities Act, which prevents police and court personnel from pursuing questions of immigration status, is one legislative priority.
Although awareness has shifted to the disproportionate suffering of particular groups over time, Troop also makes the case for the universality of harm. “Everyone is at risk until we are all safe,” she said.
Here is Jane Doe Inc’s list of victims — mostly but not exclusively women — killed in 2021 allegedly by people they thought they loved.
Jan. 2: Kristen A. Carey, 37, of Charlton, was shot and killed allegedly by her husband, Keith Cuthbertson, 49, before he killed himself in their home.
Jan. 29: Michael Ricci, 51, of Marshfield, died of stab wounds at his home. His wife, Christine, 46, has been charged in the death. Ricci was a veteran Boston firefighter and the couple had three children.
Feb. 8: Danielle Taylor, 30, of Mashpee, was strangled allegedly by her boyfriend, Cleber Mariano, 33, at a hotel in Falmouth.
March 6: Saharbanoo Rindani, 76, was found dead in her Westborough home. Her 83-year-old husband, Abdal, was charged with attempted murder and strangulation.
March 26: Rhonda Pattelena, 35, of Bedford, was beaten to death allegedly by her boyfriend, Jeffrey Buchannan, 33, on a public beach in York, Maine.
April 20: Celeste Marte-Lebron, 49, of Lowell, died after her husband, Santos Lebron De Los Santo, 42, allegedly doused her with gasoline and set her on fire.
May 2: Fatima Yasin, 27, of Boston, was stabbed to death along with Jahaira DeAlto, 42, of Boston, allegedly by Yasin’s husband, Marcus Chavis, 34. DeAlto was a well-known transgender activist and advocate for abuse survivors who had invited Yasin, Chavis, and their two children into her home.
June 22: Jamie A. Dickinson, 34, of Oxford, was shot to death allegedly by her boyfriend, Jesse A. Brooks, 38, who then killed himself. Three children were home at the time.
July 29: Alicia N. Heywood, 42, of Easton, was shot to death allegedly by her boyfriend, Akil S. Jackson, 41, outside of her workplace at a pharmacy in Roslindale.
Aug. 29: Dianne Silveira, 71, was shot to death allegedly by her husband Edmund, 86, at their Taunton home.
Nov. 25: Dejah Jenkins-Minus, 22, of Boston, was allegedly killed by her boyfriend, Leonard Robinson, 22, in Lowell on Thanksgiving. Jenkins-Minus, who suffered multiple stab wounds, had a two-month-old daughter.
Dec. 11: Paula Andrea Ortiz Ramirez, 48, of Chelsea, was allegedly stabbed to death by her estranged partner, Mario Alberto Mira Lopera, 48.
Dec. 17: Shirley Owen, 49, of Franklin, was allegedly killed by her former husband, Brendon J. Owen, after he allegedly assaulted her and set her house on fire.
Dec. 19: Sherell Pringle, 40, of Woburn, was found dead two days after having last been seen with her boyfriend, Bruce Maiben, 44, of Lynn. Maiben is in custody but has not yet been charged with her death; an investigation is ongoing.
Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.