Crisis Counselors Offer Tips to Escape Violent Relationships
Charlestown — After Kelly Robarge was murdered allegedly at the hands of her husband the day she filed for divorce, Upper Valley residents are grappling with another instance of domestic strife in their community.
Kelly Robarge, 42, disappeared from her Charlestown home on June 27 and her body was found near Britton Road in Unity nine days later. New Hampshire officials this week charged her husband, James Robarge, 43, with reckless second-degree murder. Court documents filed by prosectors portray a troubled marriage and report that Kelly Robarge was physically and verbally abused by her husband, who threatened to put her in a “wood splitter” if she filed for divorce.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell would not comment on a possible motive in an interview on Monday at Windham Superior Court.
The alleged incidents in the Robarge case sadly are not unfamiliar. Just last year, Lebanon High School teacher Natalie Perriello was shot to death in her Grantham home and her husband, James Perriello, was arrested and charged with second degree murder. In 2010, Rodrick Lavoie fatally shot his wife, Bettina Lavoie, before killing himself in their Charlestown home. Just last week, Christopher Sharrow, of Pittsford, Vt, was charged with allegedly killing his girlfriend, 32-year-old Kristen Parker.
And in 2007, in a attack that horrorified people around the world, Thetford resident Carmen Tarleton was disfigured when her then-estranged husband threw lye in her face, burning more than 80 percent of her body. Tarleton received a face transplant this year and recently wrote a book testifying about her will to live and overcome the viscous assault.
While officials who specialize in aiding domestic violence victims wouldn’t speak about Kelly Robarge’s murder specifically, they said women who are trying to leave a relationship are at the highest risk of being injured and killed, which is why officials at crisis centers try to counsel women on how to prepare for leaving an abusive relationship.
“Too many women have died for other women to not take that into consideration,” said Peggy O’Neil, executive director of Wise, a Lebanon-based nonprofit agency that provides advocacy and crisis intervention services to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and stalking.
Domestic violence is about control, said O’Neil.
“Killing your spouse that you’ve been abusing is the ultimate final act of controlling her,” O’Neil said. “If the relationship is going to finally end, murder is a way to have a final act of control.”
Wise helps women create a safety plan that they can implement when they are trying to leave a relationship.
Victims know their relationship better than anyone, O’Neil said, and they must be the ones that decide if they want to stay or leave if it turns abusive. If they decide to leave, Wise and other organizations are there to aid women make that transition. Turning Points Network is a similar organization in Sullivan County.
Indeed, when victims tell their abuser that they are planning to leave, O’Neil said the violence can often escalate.
Wise’s safety plan sheet includes a list of questions that victims can ask themselves, such as, “Who are people in your life you can tell about the abuse?” The planning sheet suggests that victims find a place to hide money, make an extra set of car keys and copies of any household financial documents and create a private email account or a separate phone number where people can leave messages that the abuser cannot access.
Victims should anticipate how their abuser will react to their leaving — and be prepared with a credible excuse to be absent from home so as not to arouse suspicion. And if they are at home, know how to get out of the house safely and quickly if the reaction turns violent.
O’Neil also suggested that if there are any weapons in the house, then a victim should try to remove them.
“Safety planning doesn’t guarantee that someone won’t get hurt or killed, but it’s definitely helpful,” O’Neil said.
About four years ago, New Hampshire started implementing a Lethality Assessment Program, in which police departments throughout the state are trained to ask victims of domestic abuse a series of questions designed to assess the level of risk at the hands of their abuser.
If the answers point to a high enough risk level, the officer expresses concern to the victim over their safety and call a local 24-hour crisis support line that connects the victim with help.
Sandra Matheson, director of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office of victim and witness assistance, has helped implement the program throughout the state. She said the goal of the program is to connect victims with crisis services.
Research has shown that country-wide, only 4 percent of all domestic violence homicide victims have ever gone to a crisis service, Matheson said. And victims that do access crisis services are least likely to have increased violence, Matheson said. When a victim is asked if they want to call the crisis service, Matheson said they often say no.
The 2012 New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence reported that Sullivan County had the highest rate of domestic violence homicides per capita at 1.17 per 100,000. Deborah Mozden, executive director of Turning Points Network, said that study was done over a 10-year period and includes homicides of children and siblings, not just romantic partners.
The Wise 24-hour crisis line is available seven days a week at 1-866-348-9473, and in Sullivan County, Turning Points Network can be reached at 1-800-639-3130.
The services are free and confidential and people don’t have to provide their names, Mozden said. When people call for help, they don’t have to report a crime of sexual assault or violence to the police, unless it’s a minor.
Mozden said the police and the Attorney General’s office have shared the nonprofit’s contact information with the Robarge family, but the family has not reached out to Turning Points Network. Services are available for Kelly Robarge’s family and friends, as well as anyone in the community who might not have known Kelly, but who nonetheless seek support.
But Mozden said the nonprofit doesn’t plan to reach out to the family directly at this time.
“We just don’t want to invade their privacy and their deep, deep sadness right now,” Mozden said. “We’d love to hear from them and be a support system for them.”
The Attorney General’s office of victim and witness assistance also assists families in the immediate aftermath of a homicide and keeps them informed during the criminal process, filling them in on court hearing schedules and developments in the case so they don’t have to learn it from the media.
Kelly Robarge’s funeral is for 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday at the Roy Funeral Home in Claremont. A celebration of Kelly’s life will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Patch Park at 199 Old Springfield Road in Charlestown. Attendees can bring a balloon that will be released in Kelly’s memory. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to help with funeral costs.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.