What Can Faith Communities Do in Response to the Murder of José Aponte?
On December 11, 2022, 43-year-old José Aponte was murdered in his home by his intimate partner. José had been dating Michael Perry, who has been charged with first-degree murder. Perry had been previously charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. The intimate relationship between Aponte and Perry wasn’t initially apparent. As a result, José didn’t reach the services that he needed and deserved.
José’s tragic death is the second such incident in the Boston area in just a few months, and it underscores the need for broader education and awareness about intimate partner abuse (or domestic violence) in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) communities. Although the LGBTQ+ community experiences domestic violence at about the same rate as the wider community, research shows that abuse in the LGBTQ+ community has escalated during the pandemic.
There are many reasons why it may have been difficult for José to reach out for help. One is that domestic violence itself is so stigmatized. Many survivors fear that they will be blamed, shamed, and disbelieved if they talk about their experiences.
In addition, José may have been further silenced and shamed because of the stigma directed at the LGBTQ+ community. He may have felt that no one would help him, or that there were no services available where he would be fully accepted. He may even have had his sexual orientation used against him as a weapon of abuse.
In light of José’s tragic death, how can faith leaders respond?
First of all, people of faith help to set community norms and values. Faithful people can emphasize that everyone is a child of God, and that everyone deserves love, safety, and respect. We can work to build communities where everyone is welcome, and to build diverse and inclusive leadership that reflects our communities. We can join in efforts to end homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism as well as racism, xenophobia, ageism, and sexism. These phobias and 'isms' help abusers isolate their partners and provide abusers with additional weapons to use against their partners.
Second, faith leaders can break the silence about domestic violence and make it something that we can talk about in our communities. By breaking the silence, we make it easier for people experiencing abuse to speak about their pain and their need for safety. No one deserves to be abused.
Finally, faith leaders can respond to those experiencing abuse with compassion, spiritual support, and referrals. There are many services available to survivors, regardless of their ability to pay, their immigration status, and their gender identity and sexual orientation. Faith leaders can provide support and be a bridge to these services.
For faith communities and leaders in Massachusetts, people experiencing abuse can be referred to the statewide domestic violence hotline, SafeLink, at 877-785-2020 or to your local domestic and sexual violence programs (see janedoe.org for a useful map). Also, two organizations in Massachusetts specialize in working with LGBTQ+ individuals. The Network/La Red (tnlr.org) works statewide with LGBTQ+ survivors of partner abuse and offer free services, including a 24-hour hotline, safety planning, support groups, safe home, transitional housing, and individual advocacy and support for LGBTQ+ survivors of partner abuse. Fenway Health’s Violence Recovery Program (fenwayhealth.org) provides free counseling, support groups, advocacy, and referrals to survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, hate violence, and police misconduct.
For faith communities and leaders outside Massachusetts, the national domestic violence hotline can be found at 800-799-7233 or thehotline.org. Anyone can call, and the hotline is anonymous and available 24/7. You can ask for services in your area for the LGBTQ+ community.
Safe Havens adapted this article from a December 27, 2022 media release, “Domestic Violence Programs Respond to Death of José Aponte,” which was written by Beth Leventhal, Executive Director of The Network/La Red (tnlr.org); Stephanie Brown, CEO of Casa Myrna (casamyrna.org); and Toni Troop, Director of Communications and Development at Jane Doe, Inc. (janedoe.org). Safe Havens is deeply grateful for their leadership and support.