Even “Really Special People” Can Hurt Their Partners

The famous singer-songwriter Don McLean has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence. Mclean, best known for his 1971 song Don McLean“American Pie,” made the plea in response to a Jan. 18 incident in which Camden, Maine, police responded to an early morning telephone call from McLean’s wife seeking help.

Patrisha McLean said that her husband has physically and verbally abused her for three decades and has “a violent temper,” according to the Rockland District Court order obtained by ABC News.

“For the first 10 years or so his rage was unfathomably deep and very scary,” she wrote in a statement attached to the protection order, ABC reported. “On Jan. 17, Don terrorized me for 4 hours until the 911 call that I think might have saved my life.”

During the incident, Patrisha wrote that her husband “pressed the palms of his hands against my temples and squeezed as though my head were in a vice.” She says that she has suffered from headaches since the incident.

She requested an order of protection. But the order was later dismissed, and the couple reported through their lawyer they had “agreed to go forward.”

McLean defended himself on Twitter. “This last year and especially now have been hard emotional times for my wife my children and me. What is occurring is the very painful breakdown of an almost 30 year relationship,” he tweeted. “Our hearts are broken and we must carry on. There are no winners or losers but I am not a villain.”

After McLean’s arrest became public, Francis Marion University in South Carolina canceled an April 2 fundraising gala and concert featuring the performer. American singer-songwriter Don McLean. “We support gender equity issues and all the provisions of Title IX,” a university official said in explaining the cancellation.

“The entire town was shocked” by McLean’s arrest, a town of Camden Select Board member told the Associated Press. “They are both really special people,” the local official said. “He’s done wonderful things for the community.”

It is shocking to learn these accusations about a singer many feel we know because his songs have been part of our life’s soundtrack. But here’s the thing – even “really special people” are capable of doing really bad things. The arrest of celebrities reminds us of that. In this case at least, unlike some we’ve cited involving domestic violence charges against NFL players, McLean’s alleged actions have cost him a concert. We’ll see if future gigs are canceled.

Of course, we don’t know all the details, and people are innocent until proven guilty. But Patrisha’s chilling words in her written statement ring true, and they suggest a pattern of abuse. If so, odds are that the Jan. 18 incident won’t be the last.

Batterers’ Intervention Programs Address Root Cause of Domestic Violence

bangorDespite claims that batterers’ intervention programs (BIP) fail to change offenders’ attitudes toward women or domestic violence, the facilitator of a long-running program in Bangor, Maine, remains convinced they can make a difference.

Kathryn Maietta and her husband facilitate the only batterers’ intervention in their county. She thinks it’s a mistake that domestic violence offenders in her community must receive psychological counseling and anger management courses, but are not required to attend a BIP. That failure means offenders do not learn how to change their behavior, according to a Bangor Daily News story. (The writer spent several months observing Maietta’s program. It’s a deep dive and worth a read.)

Although the National Institute of Justice says such programs have “a modest affect,” the article cites a 2004 paper that shows that offenders who attend a BIP are less likely to offend. Retired Bates College psychology professor Robert Moyer reviewed 300 studies that compared re-offense rates of those who completed batterers’ intervention programs with the rates of program dropouts. “… dropouts are more than twice as likely to re-offend as completers are,” Moyer wrote.

The Maine program follows the model of Emerge, created in 1977 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among Emerge’s goals for offenders are to immediately stop physical abuse and intimidation, understand the harm this behavior has caused; and develop an understanding of how you have benefited from your behavior in the past and how you can benefit from changing your behavior now

Skeptics of BIPs cite their ineffectiveness, lack of availability, and cost. But Maietta, who runs the program in Maine, cites the misperception of domestic violence as an anger management problem as a major barrier to faith in BIPs. “Domestic abuse,” she told the Bangor paper, “is about power and control.” Understanding that core truth could change the way communities respond to offenders.

A New Tool from Canada Seeks to Reduce Domestic Violence Offenses in Maine

Police officers in Maine are seeking to reduce domestic violence offenses in the new year with a tool from Canada named ODARA, the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment.

The ODARA is a validated checklist of factors that help authorities assess  “the likelihood of whether someone who has previously assaulted a romantic partner will do so again in the future.”

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Photo: Senior Constable Fiona Foxall, Wellington Forensic Imagery

The ODARA assessment was chosen to help reduce domestic violence offenses after Maine passed a law in 2012 that mandated “the use of a standardized, evidence-based risk assessment tool for domestic violence offenders.” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence explained the law was originally passed as part of an effort to reduce homicides in the state. Roughly 50 percent of homicides in Maine are domestic violence related. In 2014, there were 20 homicides reported in Maine. 13 of the 20 were categorized as domestic violence related. Out of the 13, seven were children under 13. A domestic violence case is reported every 94 minutes.

According to its website, the ODARA “is the first empirically tested and validated domestic violence risk assessment tool to assess the risk of future domestic assault, as well as the frequency and severity of future assaults.”  The ODARA is essentially a scorecard with 13 questions that consider “prior history of domestic abuse, threats to harm or kill a victim, a victim’s concern of future assault, the presence of children and whether there are indications the abuser is using drugs or alcohol.” The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence explains the factors considered are “found to be the strongest predictors of domestic violence recidivism.”

An offender can receive a score anywhere from a 0-13. The higher the score, the more likely the repeat offense. If an offender scores a seven or higher, they are 14 times more likely to reoffend.

Maine is the first state in the U.S. to use the ODARA and will decide whether or not they will offer electronic monitoring of the offender based on the score. District Attorney Maeghan Maloney explains “What I ask the court for, in order to keep the victims safe, is either a bail amount to hold the defendant in jail or the use of an electronic monitor.”

The ODARA sounds like a promising tool in the fight against domestic violence. We are starting off 2015 in the right direction!

Maine Pilots Electronic Monitoring for Domestic Violence Offenders

In October, Maine authorized a pilot program in Somerset County that electronically monitors domestic violence offenders. The jury is still out on the program’s success, but all counties in Maine have already been invited to submit proposals for their own pilot projects to begin next year.

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Maine’s Somerset County commissioners approved use of a Blutag — a one-piece GPS monitoring device for tracking the movement of people charged with domestic violence crimes.

Alongside electronic monitoring, the state also approved the “development of risk assessment protocols and domestic violence response teams to evaluate individual assault cases.” The risk assessment being used, known as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, helps determine the level of threat an offender poses to a victim. Depending on the level, the offender receives an ankle bracelet monitor.

In the Somerset County pilot program, a $28,000 ankle bracelet monitor is given to repeat domestic violence offenders before trial , when Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says the “chances of a repeat offense are highest.”

This program is a potential game changer. In 2011, a domestic violence offender in Somerset County awaiting for his court day drove to the home of his wife and two children and committed homicide before fatally shooting himself. The victims’ relatives believe electronic monitoring could have saved their family members’ lives. Maloney agrees, “If we had known where he was at all times, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

In addition to saving lives, the program also saves money. In a country where prison overcrowding has become an epidemic, electronic monitoring can help offset this issue when used as an alternative to bail and incarceration. Maloney explains, “Instead of the bail being set at $10,000, the request is, instead, X amount of money for electronic monitoring, it becomes a reasonable request that’s not cost prohibitive for the defendant – in fact it’s less than what the bail amount is.” Maloney already has a case of a domestic violence offender that was given a bracelet rather than posting bail. The offender’s movements are tracked by a Texas firm for the low cost of $7 per day, a fraction of the cost of a prisoner awaiting trial in the county jail.

According to the National Council on State Legislatures (NCSL), there are 23 states either using GPS monitoring, or in the process of obtaining GPS monitoring for Domestic Violence.