The story did not get a of lot play in the news media, but it certainly resonates with the national conversation that is happening now between men and women about domestic violence, sexual assault, and gun violence, in wake of the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Sunday morning, Sept. 30, in Woonsocket, Michelle Berthiaume-Benenuti, 45, was shot and killed by her ex-husband, Glenn Benvenuti, 56; he later took his own life, according to Woonsocket police. Their 7-year-old son was in the house at the time of the murder-suicide. The mother had been picking up her son from an overnight visitation with his father when she was murdered.
It is the third domestic violence homicide in 2018: all three were murder suicides, all three were committed with a firearm, and two of the three had children in the home at the time of the shootings.
The tragic news served as an inauspicious “welcome” to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, beginning Oct. 1. On Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m., the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence will be holding a vigil on the steps of the State House to remember and honor all those whose lives have been lost to domestic violence.
An endemic epidemic
Sexual violence is endemic to our society – although the victims do not always report the assaults when they occur. The statistics are revealing:
■ Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
■ On average, there are 321,500 victims [age 12 or older] of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
■ Younger people are at the highest risk of sexual violence; the majority of sexual assault victims are under 30, 54 percent of all victims.
■ One out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape; 82 percent of all juvenile victims are female, and 90 percent of adult rape victims are female.
■ Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
■ Women ages 18-24 who are college students are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are four times more likely.
■ One out of every 10 rape victims are male.
■ An estimated 80,600 inmates each year experience sexual violence while in prison or jail.
■ Sixty percent of all sexual violence against inmates is perpetrated by jail or prison staff.
■ The majority of children and teen victims knows the perpetrator.
■ Of sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 93 percent of juvenile victims knew the perpetrator: 59 percent were acquaintances; 34 percent were family members; and 7 percent were strangers to the victim.
■ Sexual violence on campus is pervasive; 11.2 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation [among all graduate and undergraduate students].
■ Among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.
The data in Rhode Island
There is no one “sole source” for data on domestic violence in Rhode Island, but there are several places to go to get a comprehensive picture, according to Deb DeBare, the former executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. There is, for instance, a solid database on the numbers of clients served by our member agencies, according to DeBare.
In 2015, there were a total of 8,934 individual victims of domestic violence, according to DeBare. In 2017, according to the annual report of the agency, there were 8,758 individual victims who received help
The Rhode Island Judiciary website has compiled a database of police reports, but they are four years behind.
- The data report from 2015 for domestic violence enforcement data showed that for the calendar year 2015, Rhode Island police departments reported 7,678 domestic violence complaints, which resulted in 5,597 arrests, 1,757 non-arrests, and 324 cases still under investigation.
Similarly, data reports posted for sexual assault and child molestation for the calendar year 2015 showed that there were 228 sexual assault police reports filed, with 107 arrests, 36 non-arrests, and 85 cases still under investigation.
In addition to the court records based on police reports, there is additional data to be gleaned from the R.I. Department of Corrections and the R.I. Attorney General’s office, because each agency has its own “segment” of criminal justice data. Is there a way to track and measure conviction rates, too?
Connecting the dots on data
In Rhode Island, there are listening tours underway about mental health. There is a major push around mental health parity. The R.I. Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner has initiated a new fund behavioral health and mental health services.
Yet, there are some significant data gaps that might help focus attention on some of the root causes of the trauma resulting in significant mental health and behavior health problems in Rhode Island – domestic violence:
- What is the connection between substance use disorders and trauma from domestic abuse, child abuse or sexual violence?
- What is the connection between mental health and behavioral health care resulting from trauma from domestic abuse, child abuse or sexual violence?
- How many people currently incarcerated witnessing domestic violence in their homes as a child?
- What is the connection between gun violence and domestic violence in Rhode Island and how does it track with national data?
More than looking at domestic violence as a problem that women have to confront and endure, it is something that men need to look at and confront, too.