Officials say Berkshires not immune to domestic violence, domestic homicide

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SHEFFIELD — The apparent murder-suicide discovered in a house fire this week, if confirmed, would be Berkshire County's sixth domestic violence homicide in the past four years.

The news of such incidents is shocking, but the signs were all over the county — and the country.

"It's a natural human reaction to say intimate violence happens in other places and to other people, and I want you to know, from doing this work every day, no, it's a rampant Berkshire County problem. It's not other people," said B. Bradburd, LGBTQ and management consultant at the Elizabeth Freeman Center, a domestic violence service organization in the Berkshires.

"If you're not healing from domestic violence or sexual assault violence, it's a guarantee a co-worker, friend, family member or neighbor is — it's all around."

Murder-suicides rarely occur without previous abuse, and the U.S. has a domestic violence epidemic: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience "severe" intimate-partner violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In Berkshire County, there is evidence of this abuse. According to data provided by the Freeman Center:

- Berkshire County rates of 209A and 258E protection order filings — "restraining orders" — were 28 percent higher than the state average in fiscal year 2018;

- Last year, the Freeman Center served over 1,400 survivor households from almost every Berkshire County community and physically responded for 39 rape survivors at Berkshire Medical Center;

- In 2017, four Berkshire communities — Stockbridge, Adams, Pittsfield, and North Adams — ranked first, third, fifth and sixth, respectively, in rates of rape by population in Massachusetts, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics.

The investigation is ongoing into whether Luke Karpinski killed his wife, Justine Wilbur, and their three children, ages 7 and 3. Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington said this week that the deaths are being investigated as a murder-suicide, with Karpinski identified as the likely assailant.

All five were found dead early Wednesday in the wake of a fire at their Sheffield home. The motive and what preceded the violence are unclear.

Still, studies that have been done on "familicide" say that people who kill their families and then themselves are, on average, white men with jealous tendencies who view their families as something they own and/or as extensions of themselves. When they decide to kill themselves, they look to take every part of their being with them, Richard Gelles, the dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and a domestic violence specialist, has said.

The men see "their family members as possessions that they control or [they] don't see any boundaries between their identity, their wife and their children," Gelles is quoted as saying in the National Institute of Justice Journal. "These are suicides of the entire family, where the anomic, overly enmeshed individual can't bear to leave the pain behind and so takes his wife and children with him."

Abuse isn't always evident

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Area domestic violence professionals said it's not always easy to spot an abusive relationship, but there are usually signs, and intervention can be key to family safety. In the area, the largest resource for victims of domestic violence is the Freeman Center, with offices in Great Barrington, Pittsfield and North Adams, as well as the organization's 24-hour, free hotline: 866-401-2425.

"There are often precedents for acts like this," Bradburd said.

Abusive relationships typically share similar patterns of violence.

"It often involves a time when you're walking on eggshells and then there's some kind of explosion, then there's the makeup period — the honeymoon period — and then you cycle through again and again, and each time there are ways the level of violence can get worse," he said.

A loved one or friend might be able to pick up on signs of abuse, such as the person seeming afraid or isolated, explaining away bruises or hiding them, or is uncharacteristically depressed or self-blaming. Bullying or possessive behavior on the partner's part can also be a sign of abuse.

For people who know or suspect that they know a domestic violence victim, the best ways to help are to believe the suffering loved one, be supportive and nonjudgmental and provide safe access to relief services. Do not confront the abuser.

It's not always easy when a person is in a domestic violence situation to realize it — it is that traumatic. The kinds of domestic abuse a partner can inflict on someone are many and include: restricting access to family and friends; constant checkups by phone, email or in person; possessiveness; pressuring for sex; emotional abuse; threatening; and physical violence such as hitting, pushing, choking, restraining, kicking, etc.

An abusive partner might not accept a breakup, have a history of fighting, get too serious too soon or scare the other person to the point where the abused person is afraid of how the abuser will react in situations.

Bradburd said he encourages people who suspect that they are in a domestic violence situation to reach out to the Freeman Center, which provides free and confidential services and runs a shelter for women and men. The center will help people plan how to safely escape an abusive relationship.

One thing a person seeking to leave a domestic violence situation can do is try to vary their schedule — taking the dog for a walk or going to the grocery store at random times or just checking the mail — to open up time to strategize and leave.

"You want to have times you can be out without explanation," said Bradburd, who added that setting aside money to leave is also a good part of any escape plan.

Despite the wave of traumatic domestic violence news in the Berkshires, Toni Troop, director of communications at Jane Doe Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit on domestic violence, said that the county is not experiencing a sustained increase in intimate-partner violence.

"Over time, it evens out," she said. "Since 2010 through 2016, there were no domestic violence homicides [in the Berkshires] that we were aware of; so, of course, the last few years have been alarming. It's not a trend, but I also don't want to diminish the experience of the terrible reality of it."

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@berkshireeagle.com, @kristinpalpini, 413-629-4621.


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