After domestic violence homicides, Cambridge man works to stop cycle of violence

Arthur Jette, 62, of Cambridge is a machinist by trade. He worked for a couple decades at Fayscott Co. in Dexter and served eight terms as a selectman in Garland. He now fills another, perhaps surprising, community role, working as the community relations coordinator of Womancare. The organization based in Dover-Foxcroft serves male and female victims of domestic violence.

Maine needs more male advocates. By speaking out, they set an example for others to follow. They show abuse is not a women’s issue but a societal one. Jette has seen the worst result of abuse, which is why he also serves as the volunteer leader of the Maine chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.

He has a big goal: “The battle is to change the hearts and minds,” he said during my recent training for people studying to become advocates with Rape Response Services in Bangor. Abuse is far more than physical violence. It can start with demeaning comments, emotional put-downs, coercion or isolating someone. He said to think of the continuum of abuse as measured by a 6-inch ruler. Probably about 5 of the 6 inches represent legal behavior. It’s up to all who see or hear those actions to recognize and stop them.

We spoke more afterward about what cultural change entails. He said, “There’s not any good way to try to talk about ending abuse without saying that it has to start with somebody, and so what I hope is that men will get to a point where, rather than just seeing themselves as having to use physical strength to be the protectors of the ones they love, they would be willing to step out and be willing to use the emotional strength, to be willing to stop the behavior that leads up to the violence.”

It’s a personal issue. On Dec. 3, 1999, he was working at Fayscott when his wife, Deb, called. She was so upset that office personnel said they couldn’t understand what she was saying. She told him her daughter, Cassie Cunningham, had just lost her 21-month-old son, Treven Cunningham, who was being watched by her best friend, Mindy Gould, 20, of Dexter.

Treven and Mindy were each shot once in the head. A few days before the murders, Cassie had helped Mindy obtain a protection order against her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Cookson, of Guilford. A jury convicted him of the double murders in December 2001. He is currently serving two consecutive life sentences.

Cassie, with Treven Cunningham, had lived with her mother and Jette at that time. Jette said the toddler had loved being involved with whatever the family was doing, even if it was bringing in firewood. Jette said he used to handpick tiny pieces for him to carry.

“I just think of what could have been,” he said. “Even the short time he lived, I know he changed us. He showed me how to love. I give him credit for that.”

The killings of Mindy and Treven were paralyzing, he said, describing that time as “a nightmare that you can’t wake up from.” Jette and family members started attending support meetings with the Parents of Murdered Children, which gathers at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta at noon on the last Sunday of every month.

“The healing comes from being able not to suppress what you’re feeling but to be able to share it with someone else, to be able to speak open and honestly with someone else,” he said, adding that it helped to connect with people who had also experienced tragedies and who were willing to listen and accept the emotions that were shared.

Womancare had helped Mindy before her death, so Jette and family members volunteered in small ways for the organization and attended vigils. Then, Jette decided to take the 40-hour training to become a volunteer advocate. And when a position opened up in May 2008, he said he saw it as an opportunity. He was the first male Womancare hired.

“I have so much desire to do so much to eliminate abuse from the lives of people who are living in it that I look for excuses not to take time off,” he said.

He continues to talk about the need for everyone to treat others respectfully and stop small behaviors and derogatory comments that contribute to the larger culture of violence. Men have a large role to play.

“When I think about what it would be like to have a society where men would be willing to be straight up and honest about not wanting to see their boys have to use examples of strength as the only way they could prove they were men, I think that alone would make a big difference,” he said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

Erin Rhoda

About Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.