Aiming for 50th

Posted on September 23, 2016. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , |

Every year since 1999, the Violence Policy Center has published a study called “When Men Murder Women,” which is essentially a de facto report on domestic violence.

The good news for Arkansas in this year’s report, which was released this week: We didn’t make the top 10 states with the highest single victim/single offender homicide rates for women.

The bad news is, we were No. 11.

It’s a little disheartening since Arkansas was ranked 28th in the center’s study last year, and never higher than 17th in the past five years.

But as with any problem, the first step to improvement is awareness. Knowing that our homicide rate against women continues to hover around 30 percent higher than the national average can be a spur to be more stalwart in preventing domestic violence, which is overwhelmingly the precursor to female homicide.

Nationwide, 93 percent of female murder victims knew their killer. Most of the time, she was intimately acquainted with him. Just about every time, there was domestic abuse before there was violence. All too often, abusers walked right through protective orders to commit violent crimes.

Those facts are prescient information—and unique to women. Against the entire spectrum of homicides, the murder of women has very particular scenarios and situations that tend to play out over and over.

We know where their greatest risk of murder comes from, and that the murderers present a pattern of predictable behavior prior to becoming lethal. We also know that the most common legal device used to protect women at risk doesn’t work.

Some states apparently use that knowledge better than others. We need to keep moving into that camp.

We took a big stride last year, when “Laura’s Law” was enacted, sailing through the Legislature with nary a negative vote.

Laura’s Law requires police to conduct a danger assessment when responding to a domestic-violence incident by asking several questions, the answers of which often portend a higher risk of death. Has he threatened your life, for example? Is there a gun in the household? Has your partner ever strangled you? Research shows that abusers with access to guns are more likely to kill their victims, as are offenders who have previously strangled them.

Lethality assessments of known risk factors for homicide help identify victims in the greatest danger.

Another thing the data tell us is that intimate-partner homicide tends to be geographical, which also suggests cultural factors. Of the top 10 states in this year’s Violence Policy Center study, four of them touch Arkansas (Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas) and two more are in the South (South Carolina and Georgia).

The prominence of Southern states in the top 10 lists of men murdering women is documented in the annual reports. South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee have appeared consistently in the last five years.

They’ve been joined during that periodically by Virginia, Georgia and Mississippi. And other frequenters on the list are also Southern in climate, if not technically part of “The South”—Texas, Arizona and Nevada among them.

On the flip side, perennial high performers (states with the lowest rate of intimate partner homicides) tend to be Northern. States like Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire and Nebraska all appear consistently in the mid-to-low 40s, looking back over the reports. Even New York consistently beats the national average, and was 42nd in this year’s rankings.

The cultural delineators aren’t as tidy as some simplistic types and rabid gun-control advocates try to shout out.

Minnesota’s gun-ownership rates are almost identical to Nevada’s, for instance, yet for the past five years Nevada has ranked third, fifth, sixth, 16th and first respectively on the Violence Policy Center list. Minnesota has ranked 34th, 32nd, 39th, 40th and 47th.

It may be true that most women who buy guns for protection do so because of fear of attack by a stranger, and yet most women are murdered by people they know rather than strangers. It’s also true that guns are the most common weapon used in intimate-partner murders.

But the Violence Policy Center uses all these truths to fashion a fib in its report: that a woman with a gun is more likely to be killed by domestic violence. Tell that to the 15 women who survived by using guns in self-defense to kill their abusive partners in 2014 (the most recent data used in the report). Or to the many more who used guns to escape or thwart a violent attack.

While 15 may not sound like many, it constitutes a higher percentage of successful armed self-defense than the population at large. Women with guns were 26 percent more likely to kill their attackers than men, as a ratio of justifiable homicides versus total homicides.

Domestic violence deserves more attention than merely as a tack-on for gun-control fanatics. It’s been swept under the rug too long, and because it is so often preventable, warrants continued diligence in policy development and social awareness.

If we keep working in that direction, maybe we’ll earn a 49th or 50th ranking that we can celebrate.

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