In this space last week, we addressed the scourges of sexual assault and harassment, lauding U.S. Sen. Martha McSally – who represents Arizona but has roots in Rhode Island – for sharing her experience as a survivor of rape.
The days since have put a new spotlight on another epidemic in our society that too often remains in the shadows – that of domestic violence.
On March 13, Cranston Police announced the arrested of Michael T. Marrapese, son of a late mob figure, in connection with the killing of his former girlfriend, Lauren Ise. Police had responded to prior domestic incidents at the Bay View Avenue home the couple had shared, including a Feb. 16 incident in which Marrapese’s brother was also charged.
On the same day last week, 23-year-old Jared Rogers was sentenced to life in prison in the 2016 killing of his 19-year-old nephew in Warwick. Rogers is said to have recruited four men to attack his nephew and brother – who survived – with kitchen knives as they slept at a Haswill Street home. The motive for the attack remains unclear.
Our experience reviewing weekly arrest logs had made clear that domestic incidents are all too common in our communities. As the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence said through a statement following Ise’s death, “Domestic violence occurs every day, in every city and town in Rhode Island. It does not have a face, color, or zip code.”
It is essential to realize, however, that such extreme and tragic outcomes as those seen in the above cases are also occurring with a profoundly alarming frequency.
According to the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 54 people were killed in domestic violence incidents in the Ocean State between 2006 and 2015. In 72 percent of those cases, the victim was an intimate partner or spouse of the perpetrator. In 13 percent of the cases, the victim was a family member of the perpetrator. Nearly half of the perpetrators had a criminal history involving domestic violence.
According to the coalition, more must be done to identify those perpetrators whose violence might escalate to the point of murder.
“Lauren’s death reminds us of the risks victims face when escaping an abusive relationship,” the group’s statement reads. “Leaving an abusive relationship is a high lethality risk factor for victims as abusers are more likely to increase their violent behavior during this time. In the wake of her death, it is imperative that our communities, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system continue to be aware of the barriers and risk victims face when escaping abuse.”
It continues, “Domestic violence homicide is never an isolated event or a momentary loss of temper. It is a pattern of controlling and escalating violent behaviors, with murder being the ultimate act of violence by an abuser. Studies have shown that several risk factors lead to a domestic violence homicide, some of which are the presence of firearms, threats of homicide, previous physical assaults, and when a victim tries to leave the relationship. Law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and domestic violence agencies must continue to work together towards reducing risks of domestic violence homicide in our state.”
During a vigil held Sunday at Hugh B. Bain Middle School in Cranston, family and friends of Ise made a call for answers in her case. They also urged members of the community, including the media, to stand up against domestic violence.
“The system failed Lauren and failed [her mother, Cheryl Palazzo],” family friend Paul Ruo said during the vigil. “Let’s make sure they don’t fail anyone else.”
We are fortunate that a number of resources are available in Rhode Island. The coalition’s member agencies include the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, Sojourner House and the Women’s Resource Center.
In the wake of Ise’s killing, Cranston Police urged those experiencing domestic violence to contact the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, which provides resources for individuals and families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. More information about the center and its services is available at ebccenter.org. Its 24-7 hotline can be reached at 1-800-494-8100.
In addition to providing resources to those in need, the coalition’s members are also working to make sure issues of sexual and domestic violence remain on the public’s radar. On March 20, the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center is scheduled to host a luncheon in Warwick featuring Drea Kelly, former wife of the singer R. Kelly. She was to speak about her own experience as a survivor and her “passion for women’s empowerment and self-responsibility,” according to a release.
Hearing from such a high-profile voice will surely draw valuable attention to the cause. Yet it is clear that to truly realize our shared hopes of ending domestic violence, a more encompassing approach will be needed.
The coalition put it best in its statement on Ise: “As a community of friends, colleagues, neighbors and bystanders, we must educate ourselves on the ways we can safely intervene to reduce the risk of another precious life being lost to a domestic violence homicide.”
We could not agree more.