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#JulieMann: Homicide in the Home

UN research estimates that of the women globally who were victims of homicide in 2012, almost 50% were killed by an intimate partner or family member. At least one third of female murder victims in the U.S. are killed by male intimate partners — husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends and estranged lovers. In Canada, 20% of homicides are domestic homicides; in close to 80% of cases, women are the victims. 

 

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‘If I die, I want you to tell the world what happened to me. I don’t want other women to suffer as I have suffered.’ These are the words Maria Teresa Macias shared with her mother, just days before being brutally shot to death by her husband in Sonoma, California in April 1996.

Abusive partners are killing women with such regularity that we have become immune to shock, numb to the bloody and brutal numbers of domestic fatalities. Somehow we tend to overlook that these women who have had their lives violently taken are, like us, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces. They are missed and mourned daily by family members, friends, colleagues, and by their children. They were smart, funny, sassy, caring, accomplished. Dr. Elana Fric was a family physician and health policy specialist. Karen Smith was a special needs teacher. Selena Keeper was the mother of an infant son. In death, however, they become anonymous casualties in a largely private and invisible war, their lives often reduced to a few days of tragic news bytes.

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Gone too soon. Left: Selena Keeper, Right: Dr. Elana Fric.

In January 2012, Karen Ingala Smith began ‘Counting Dead Women’ in the U.K., after eight women were killed during the first three days of the new year. As the body count increased, she says, she found it difficult to draw a line and stop. ‘When can you say that the next woman doesn’t count?’ It was the first undertaking of its kind, though similar numbers have since been taken up in countries all over the world. Initially intended to memorialize women victims, over the years it has exposed domestic homicide not as a group of isolated incidents, but as part of a larger interrelated violence pattern.

In fact, intimate partner homicide deaths tend to fit a similar template. Vancouver-based domestic violence specialist Jocelyn Coupal offers a ranked list of risk factors in her publication ‘Spot The Signs — Before Someone Dies’. Coupal warns of an escalation from verbal to physical violence, signs of depression, threats and aggression, financial troubles, and access to weapons. But the most critical risk, found in 81% of the domestic homicides she studied, is for a victim to leave a violent relationship without adequate safety planning. On the day she died, Daphné Boudreault had confessed her fear that she would have to be killed for police to intervene. It is not an uncommon complaint. According to Coupal’s findings, a victim’s intuition of danger was present in 43% of homicides. Abused women can, and often do, predict their deaths with startling accuracy. Toni Troop from U.S. advocacy group Jane Doe Inc. says of domestic homicide: ‘Research and experience proves that it’s predictable.’

Dissecting a longitudinal history of domestic homicide cases to extract the commonalities led Jacquelyn Campbell, a leading U.S. expert on domestic homicide, to develop a Danger Assessment tool, a weighted scale based on risk indicators. In parts of the U.S., such diagnostics are proving useful in protecting women at risk when employed in a cooperative effort by law enforcement, the courts, and frontline support service providers. Given Troop’s assertion, a coordinated adoption of predictive analytics could, ultimately, help save lives. And maybe one day, as Maria Teresa Macias had hoped, those at risk might be spared from suffering her fate.

 

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