Coalition Says Protection Measures for Domestic Violence Victims Sharply Inconsistent

Victims of domestic abuse, say policymakers and safety officials, are still not receiving the measures needed to prevent future attacks, even after years of research into the prevention of deaths related to domestic violence.

Nationwide, experts say the law enforcement system and preventative measures related to saving lives lost to domestic violence needs an overhaul – and a review of data led by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence may prompt some of this reform.

The review, spanning thirteen years’ worth of state cases involving domestic violence fatalities in Washington, encourages a widespread involvement by community members and friends and family members, not just heightened efforts by the courts and law enforcement officials. The Coalition said that the holes in the system that were noted more than a decade ago are still there, especially when it comes to punishments for domestic abusers who continue to repeat their crimes. The review team included judges, social services staff, judges and prosecutors in 15 counties.

The Coalition’s report explores 84 cases in Washington where 135 lost their lives, including cases where the offender took the lives of others in the home as well as their own. In almost half of those cases, law enforcement agents had already been sent to the home for prior domestic violence issues. However, a small number – only five cases – ended up with the offender being incarcerated for a month or more.

Jake Fawcett, Coalition report author, said this reflects a lack of effective and reliable enforcement of laws related to preventing domestic violence. Not only did the law’s interventions vary, says Fawcett, but in many of the cases the victim had requested court-ordered protection from the offender.

In addition, Fawcett said case follow-up was nearly completely lacking. The report said very few of the domestic violence victims were shown to have been given assistance from specialized advocates who are trained to help victims establish a plan for their future safety.

Even after recommendations were made to Washington courts in 2000 regarding stronger policies toward connecting victims of domestic violence with advocacy services, only one court out of five had met this goal.

Additional report findings could encourage stronger protection efforts in other states, such as data showing that in about one-third of domestic violence incidences in which a victim lost his or her life, the relationship with the abuser started young – before the age of 21 years. Fawcett urges states to work harder to make sure teens are aware of what a normal relationship should look like.

Not only should teens be a focus for education, say the report contributors, but everyone who comes in contact with someone they suspect may be enduring domestic violence. In nearly every instance the team reviewed, a member of the victim’s family, social circle, neighborhood or workplace was aware that the violence was happening but didn’t know what next steps should be.

Since 1997, 514 people have been killed in Washington as a direct result of domestic violence, and 41 of those victims were children. Eleven outcomes are presented in the coalition’s report for preventing future deaths caused by domestic violence, most focusing on how everyone can be responsible for some type of intervention that may prevent the tragedy from happening again.