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Helping prevent domestic abuse in Maine

Domestic violence homicides make up roughly half of the murders in Maine.

AUGUSTA (NEWS CENTER Maine) -- Domestic violence homicides make up roughly half of the murders in Maine.

A panel of experts, including members of Maine's Coalition to End Domestic Violence and the Attorney General's Office, review those homicides and serious injuries on a biennial basis.

The most recent report in June of 2016 classified 24 domestic homicides from 2014 to 2015, accounting for 52 percent of the state's total homicides.

Francine Garland Stark and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese have the difficult job of analyzing some of the state's most heart-wrenching crimes. Both sit on a panel of experts that reviews domestic violence-related murders.

Emotional, verbal, and physical abuse are commonly identified signs that abuse is taking place.

They say stalking, strangulation, and the perpetrator threatening suicide are all warnings that escalated violence may occur.

"If you have a friend, a loved one, a family member, a neighbor who is threatening to commit suicide, it is not a leap that they will then go on to commit homicide," said Marchese.

"These are the types of behaviors that are happening all the time, whether somebody's drunk or sober, in treatment or not -- if they're abusive, you're going to find these behaviors all the time," said Garland Stark.

Another indicator, according to Marchese, is called morbid jealousy.

"It isn't just normal jealousy -- it's jealousy that's over the top. Checking phones, checking mileage, and doing things that are over the top and we hope people would understand is not normal behavior. That's not love, that's a dangerous indicator," said Marchese.

They said perpetrators try to maintain power and control over victims, and often do not take responsibility for their role in the relationship.

"Everyone who commits abuse and violence against their partner packages that with a justification. And they sell to the victim why this was all the victim's fault," said Garland Stark. "For each homicide that we're talking about, there are literally thousands of women and children in our state living in terror every day. When we're looking at homicide, we're looking at the tiniest tip of the iceberg in our state."

Garland Stark said many times a victim may be unsure if abuse is happening or not. She said that is the ideal time to call a 24-hour hotline, where a worker can help a person describe what is going on.

"Almost always what people talk about is that they've started to feel scared about saying what they really think -- that they're concerned about what the reaction is going to be," said Garland Stark.

She said she has spoken with hundreds of victims who report that they start to feel like they cannot spend time with friends in fear of making his or her partner jealous. Another anecdote she recalls is victims reporting having to ask permission to go places and that their partners show up uninvited.

"Those are early signs of morbid jealousy, stalking, and an inappropriate sense of ownership, and those are the hallmarks of abuse that can escalate to tragic proportions."

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