December 4, 2013

Our View: Westbrook slaying offers somber lesson on domestic abuse

GLBT violence victims need specific attention, though they have a lot in common with other survivors.

Most gay and lesbian couples are happy and well-functioning, just like the majority of male-female couples. Unfortunately, same-sex pairs also experience domestic violence – physical, emotional, sexual and verbal – at about the same rate as their heterosexual counterparts.

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Same-sex couples experience domestic abuse at about the same rate as their heterosexual counterparts. Where this can lead became sadly evident last Saturday, when a Westbrook man was found shot to death, allegedly at the hands of his former partner, in what police are calling a domestic violence homicide.

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Where this can lead became sadly evident last Saturday in Westbrook, where 22-year-old Matthew Rairdon was found dead, allegedly at the hands of his former partner, Patrick Milliner, 30, in an apparent murder-suicide. Police are calling the killing a domestic violence homicide.

Maine victim advocates, lawmakers, policymakers and law enforcement officials have done a lot to raise awareness of intimate partner violence, which is a major public safety issue here. Matthew Rairdon’s slaying will highlight ongoing efforts to better address domestic violence among same-sex couples, and this is a good thing. But it should also draw attention to what they share with other victims of abuse: the need for education, prevention and support.

No doubt, lesbians and gay men who have been abused face unique challenges. Reporting the abuse requires the victims to reveal that they are or have been in a same-sex relationship. Even in states like Maine, where people can’t legally lose child custody or their job for being gay, same-sex abuse victims may still be in the closet to friends or co-workers and reluctant to “come out” about their sexual orientation.

What’s more, not every anti-domestic violence agency is equipped to recognize and address same-sex abuse. Agencies in Maine, however, have committed themselves to being open to serving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims. In fact, in an effort to recognize the economic and legal rights secured when Mainers approved same-sex marriage in 2012, the coalition of agencies is updating the curriculum used by its member organizations to train staff and hotline volunteers in GLBT issues.

But same-sex and heterosexual abuse victims have some challenges in common. For example, partners of people in law enforcement – like Patrick Milliner, who was training to be a state corrections officer – are often reluctant to report abuse for fear of jeopardizing the abuser’s job. (It’s not yet clear whether Rairdon experienced abuse at Milliner’s hands during their relationship.) The men had broken up recently, and Milliner bought a gun the day before the shooting; the period after a breakup is considered dangerous, especially if one partner just purchased or has access to a gun.

Domestic violence in gay and lesbian relationships raises unique issues, but there are more similarities than differences between Rairdon’s and Milliner’s relationship and any other couple’s relationship, and we need to recognize this if we want to prevent more tragedies like the one that played out last weekend.

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