The Jared Remy Lesson: Domestic Violence Kills

Jennifer Martel was stabbed to death in her Waltham apartment on Friday. Coverage will focus on her boyfriend, the son of a famous sports broadcaster. But the lesson is that domestic violence leads all too often to homicide, and we need to do a better job of preventing it. //

A grim and gossipy story broke in Boston today that Jared Remy, son of beloved Red Sox television broadcaster Jerry Remy, has been arrested in conjunction with the brutal stabbing death of his girlfriend Jennifer Martel. The Remy family’s connections to the sporting world ensure that this will become a national story. Jared Remy’s troubled background has been something of a poorly-kept secret in the Boston area; in 2009, he was fired from his job as a Fenway Park security guard amid allegations that he was a steroids dealer. It’s likely that there will be a “roid rage” angle to this story, and I think that more than a few people will wonder if his father’s celebrity status didn’t leave him somehow alienated or spoiled or detached from reality. The makings of a quirky and macabre crime drama are here. That’s a shame, because the real story is that Remy apparently has an extensive and deeply troubling history of domestic violence. That’s what needs to be focused on: the total failure of the Massachusetts criminal justice system to protect Jennifer Martel from her chronically abusive husband.

Remy was, incredibly, in court just Tuesday of this week, on charges that he smashed Martel’s head into a mirror. Remy was released on his own recognizance after Martel elected not to extend a restraining order against him. This points to a tragic and well-known hole in the justice system’s fabric: victims of domestic violence are often essentially treated as though they’re consumers who, if they were unhappy, would be doing something more about it. Your boyfriend can put your head through a window and the court in many cases just asks the woman if she’s okay with that or not. But many of those women are under extraordinarily psychological strain to avoid upsetting the boat even more that it already is, especially if a child is involved, which one was in this case. This is an example in which the justice system needs to be prepared to assist battered women in reaching optimal outcomes that they may not be able to reach if left to their own severely stressed devices.

Massachusetts should be a leader in this area; after the infamous 2002 murder of Dorothy Guinta-Cotter in Amesbury, in which Cotter’s abusive husband had repeatedly basically promised to murder her, many realized that the system for protecting battered women was almost unthinkably flawed. The case, which was seen as a potential inflection point in the fight against battered attention, shed light on a lot of promising local programs trying to react proactively by restricting the abusers rather than defensively by punishing the victims. Domestic violence is a notoriously thorny problem to combat, as victims tend to be intertwined with their abusers in complex emotional ways; abusers tend to appear “normal” to outsiders, while victims become withdrawn and in many cases have their lives hopelessly upended by the shelter system. In some cases abused women actually lose their jobs as a result of being abused; a schoolteacher in San Diego was recently fired after her ex-husband violated a restraining order and showed up at the school where she worked. This is not a particularly unusual occurrence.

The work of organizations like the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Amesbury, and of people like Jacquelyn Campbell at the John Hopkins school of Nursing, have demonstrated that there are very clear risk factors for the escalation of domestic violence. It’s been estimated one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and statistics show that fully one third of reported homicides of women are committed by an intimate partner. Risk of homicide spikes during a major life event; in Martel’s case, the Boston Globe suggests that she was planning on leaving him. Reports paint a picture of Remy as a chronic batterer who had abused Martel for years.

We know that human beings do not always make particularly rational choices regarding their own well-being. This is very much the case when those people are under extreme psychological duress, as battered women generally are. It’s worthwhile to draft laws that protect consumers from predatory commercial firms; along those same lines, it’s important to draft laws that protect women from predatory partners. In hindsight it tends to be shocking that no one sees these sorts of things coming: this guy was clearly abusive, the abuse had been escalating, a child is involved, and Martel was considering leaving him. Domestic abuse is a widespread problem, and it frequently follows patterns which lead to homicide. Martel’s death was preventable. The lesson here is that we don’t do enough to identify and deal with domestic violence in this country. But the story will be about who her alleged killer was. Even in Martel’s death, Remy is defining her life.

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