Men in America are killing women in horrifying numbers, and they’re doing it at home.
Those are some of the top-line findings of a recent report from the Violence Policy Center.
Some 92% of the 1,948 women killed in single-victim, single-offender crimes studied by the group knew their offenders; of those, 62% were wives or intimate partners.
Think about those numbers. In one year, more women died at the hands of men in America than soldiers have died in hostilities in the entire 18 years of the war in Afghanistan.
While mass shootings at schools and other public places grab the public’s attention, The Associated Press reported that the majority of the nearly 20 mass killings through the end of July were domestic violence attacks that receive scant national attention.
It’s a crisis that reveals something rotten in our nation. American men are killing women, mostly their wives and girlfriends, usually with guns.
We can do better.
The violence center uses the numbers as a jumping-off point to talk about guns and the now-lapsed Violence Against Women Act. In the studied killings where the cause and manner were known, guns — mostly handguns — were involved 57% of the time.
The Violence Against Women Act — which included new federal court avenues for domestic violence victims, grant authorizations and research funding — passed with a bipartisan majority in 1994 and was subsequently reauthorized three times. But amid a government shutdown and growing Republican resistance against extending protections to same-sex couples, transgender people and those in the nation illegally, the law lapsed earlier this year.
However, there is progress to report in Oklahoma. The study found 28 applicable 2017 cases in Oklahoma, giving the state a rate of 1.41 per 100,000 women. That’s higher than the national average (1.29 per 100,000), but below the rates of 19 other states. The highest rate was in Alaska (3.96 per 100,000); our neighbors in Arkansas had a rate of 2.23 per 100,000, the third highest rate in the nation.
Suzann Stewart, executive director of the Family Safety Center and a member of the Tulsa World’s Community Advisory Board, said that when she first started following the annual report, Oklahoma was No. 3 in the deadly rankings. Over time, it has gone down consistently. Last year, we fell out of the top 10. Now, were tied for 20th place.
Stewart credits the improvement to wise policy choiceswith Tulsa leading the way.
First in Tulsa, and subsequently statewide, police were required to used lethality assessments in domestic violence situations. The assessments asks questions to identify known risk factors for domestic homicides and provides women with contact information for domestic violence hotlines and protective order information.
More recently, Tulsa, and subsequently all police agencies in Tulsa County, started adding a strangulation protocol to identify domestic violence situations where one person aggressively grabs the other by the throat. Attempted strangulation is a red-hot signal of future domestic killings. Men who attempted to strangle a domestic partner have been shown to be six times more likely to attempt subsequent homicides and seven times more likely to carry them out. They’re also more likely to kill bystanders, police officers and be involved in mass shootings, Stewart said.
Everyone has a stake in this. A 2015 University of Cincinnati study of 10 years of Tulsa crime reports found that a third of the city’s homicides, half of its rapes and two-thirds of the aggravated assaults involved known domestic violence suspects.
Police policy changes have driven results. Increasingly, women at risk of domestic violence are turning to the Family Safety Center, a partnership of several related agencies, for help. That’s a critical step in stopping the cycle of violencethat too often ends in tragedy. Returning clients are up 25% last year and new clients are up 30%, Stewart said. Some 785 victims sought help last month, an agency record.
Those women had 245 children. When you stop the domestic violence cycle through intervention, you can prevent its spread into future generations.
Meanwhile, domestic violence calls to 911 in Tulsa have been down four years in a row and now are at 2008 levels.
Through smart choices, we’re moving the needle, but there’s more that can be donelocally and nationally.
Violence Policy Center calls for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The U.S. House has passed reauthorization, which is awaiting consideration in the Senate. The group also urges state legislators to pass stronger laws to ensure that guns are surrendered by or removed from the presence of abusers.
The Oklahoma Domestic Violence Review Board has called for expanding the reach of protocols used by police to cover judges, medical and mental health workers.
Stewart points out that Tulsa County’s strangulation protocols should be applied to law enforcement statewide, a job for the Legislature.
And I’ll add that future progress will be contingent on groups like the Family Safety Center having enough money. Dealing with more victims coming in the door and stopping the cycle of violence requires funding. That’s a public budget issue for the state, county and city, and a private fundraising issue for the center and other nonprofit partners in the effort.
We can do something about domestic violence. We are. We can do more with some common sense choices and a little money.