Western Massachusetts Homicide Case Highlights Need for Community Wide Education on LGBQT Domestic Violence
February 27, 2013
The attention surrounding the trial of Cara Rintala for the murder of her wife, Annamarie Cochrane Rintala, still in the early days of testimony, underscores the need for a community-wide dialogue about domestic violence. According to Toni Troop of Jane Doe Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, “While this is the first known domestic violence-related homicide involving a legally married same-sex couple, there have been 9 reported or suspected LGBQT domestic violence-related homicides across the Commonwealth in the past 5 years.”
Research about LGBQT partner abuse is growing, and generally confirms that domestic violence occurs at similar prevalence rates and with comparable severity as the general population. Most recently, an analysis of the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey released in January by the Centers for Disease Control documents the same or higher prevalence of domestic violence within GLB communities as the general population. (The sample of transgender individuals within this survey was too small to draw meaningful conclusions.)
“Clearly, more research on LGBQT domestic violence is needed,” stated Marianne Winters of Safe Passage, the local domestic violence program in Hampshire County where the trial is taking place. “But we know enough to urge the community to come together to build an understanding of the dynamics of partner abuse as well as the ability to recognize abuse when it happens to their friends or family members. And there are several organizations in Massachusetts who can help with this.”
In addition to Safe Passage, which provides outreach and services to the LGBQT communities of Hampshire County, The Network/La Red is a survivor-led organization in Boston raising awareness of LGBQT partner abuse and providing crisis services. “We hope that the community will see this case as a stepping off point for broader dialogue and education,” added Winters.
Regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, domestic violence is a pattern – a systematic abuse of power and control over a victim. “It may or may not include physical abuse,” said Beth Leventhal of The Network/La Red, “and often includes other forms of abuse including sexual, financial, verbal, spiritual, and cultural. Domestic violence cannot be clearly identified by a single violent act or by a single incident. It is a pattern of behavior, inflicted by one member of an intimate relationship over another.”
“The myth of mutual abuse is just that, a myth”, said M.E. Quinn, also of The Network/La Red. “This is not to say that a survivor can’t fight back in some way – many do. However abusing someone is generally about trying to control them, while fighting back is generally about trying to regain control over oneself.” Advocates stress the importance of looking carefully at the fullest picture possible of what has happened in a relationship in order to understand who has control over the other before deciding whether one person is the abuser or the survivor. In Massachusetts, the GLBT Domestic Violence Coalition will be holding a conference in Boston March 7th-8th to help counselors and advocates in “recognizing, assessing, and addressing” LGBQT partner abuse.