Few Seek Help in Domestic Violence Cases
Mary Ellen Godin
Friday, July 22, 2011
HARTFORD – Children were present in 10 out of 11 domestic homicides where one or both parents were killed in 2009, according to a report released Friday by the Connecticut Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee.
The report found that victims did not seek help from family violence agencies before the fatalities, and that chances are three times higher a domestic incident will end up a homicide if there is a gun involved.
The review committee has been in place for a decade and has studied 146 domestic murders since 2000, but Friday’s report was its first. The committee plans to issue a new report and recommendations every year, said Karen Jarmoc, interim director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The 11-member committee is made up of domestic violence counselors, police officers, child advocates, representatives from a state’s attorney’s office, health care workers, victim advocates, and homicide survivors.
“We’re looking at where gaps in the system exist,” said Chairman Penni Micca, a victim advocate in Manchester. “The goal of the first report is to share the findings of the team … and identify a missed opportunity.”
The local community has witnessed three domestic-violence-related killings in less than two months.
In Southington, Nurija Mehovic stabbed, then shot his ex-wife, Saudina Mehovic, in front of their two teenage sons before turning the gun on himself on June 11. A restraining order on Nurija Mehovic had expired a year ago when the couple’s divorce was finalized.
Days earlier in Wallingford, a 52-year-old single mother was shot in a murder-suicide by a man she had been dating.
Last week, Susan Mazzarella, 54, was found strangled in her home six months after a neighbor reported an instance of domestic violence to police. A suspect in that case has not been identified.
The committee reviewed fatalities in which the victim was an intimate partner or former intimate partner of the perpetrator and perpetrator suicides. It did not assign blame to individuals, agencies or institutions. Instead, it looked for patterns and precipitating factors.
Many of the homicide cases revealed prior involvement with the legal system. For the perpetrator, it appeared that a divorce, breakup or the loss of parental or custodial rights of children were high on the list of triggers for the fatality. Stalking of the victim was common, as were previous property damage and other nonviolent crimes.
Interviews with surviving family members indicated that many didn’t know domestic violence services were available. Some weren’t even aware that domestic violence was occurring within the relationship. Family members also reported not knowing how to help a friend or family member who was being abused.
“Many victims didn’t consider themselves battered women,” Micca said.
The committee recommended more public outreach and instruction in agency programs that go beyond “shelters.” A multi-faceted campaign is planned for the fall, as well as a media guide for news organizations.
It also recommended extending victim services to children who have lost parents in domestic homicides. Children often lose two parents in murder-suicides, or if one parent is imprisoned for the death of another.
The committee also recommended more work to develop early intervention strategies for children who live with domestic violence in their homes. It will also work with police and the state Department of Children and Families to develop protocols for trauma response services for children who witness or are present during a domestic homicide.
Children who live with domestic violence face increased risks: the risk of exposure to traumatic events, the risk of neglect, the risk of being directly abused and the risk of losing one or both parents. All of these may lead to negative outcomes for children and may affect their well-being, safety and stability, the report stated.
“Clearly what this report tells us is we have more work to do,” Jarmoc said. “We are prepared and ready to take action on these findings.”