Yesterday I attended an event held by Vice President Biden and Attorney General Holder focused on reducing domestic violence homicides. The Vice President spoke movingly about the changes that have occurred since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act but also reminded us that three women a day still die as a result of domestic violence. The Attorney General announced grants to twelve communities to screen victims for risk of homicide and create high risk teams to contain these dangerous offenders. He stressed the importance of understanding the warning signs that could indicate the risk of homicide is increasing and linking those victims with services. The Vice President was joined by Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, domestic violence advocate Janet Blackburn, and state and local officials from around Maryland.
The event was held in Maryland to showcase the success of their model lethality assessment program. By screening victims for risk factors at crime scenes, in hospital emergency rooms, and in court and linking those most at risk with immediate crisis intervention services, Maryland has reduced its domestic violence homicide rate by 34% over the past five years. The Vice President also highlighted the work of Newburyport, Massachusetts, which launched a multi-disciplinary high risk team to identify and address the most dangerous cases of domestic violence in their community. Since beginning this approach in 2005, there have been no domestic violence homicides in Newburyport. The grants announced today will help communities around the country replicate these two successful models.
The Vice President also talked about the connection between domestic violence and guns, and the need for common-sense, comprehensive policies to reduce gun violence. Research shows that women whose partner threatens them with a gun or other weapon are 20 times more likely to be murdered than other abused women. We know that mass shooting incidents are often related to domestic violence. One study shows that in 40% of mass shootings—defined as four or more victims—that occurred between 2009 and 2012, the shooter targeted and killed a wife, ex-wife,or girlfriend. The other victims were children, co-workers, or other innocent bystanders caught in the cross-fire.
But there are solutions to these challenges. A recent study shows that the number of women shot to death by an intimate partner is 38% lower in states that require background checks for all handguns. That’s why the President and Vice President believe that every person who buys a gun should have a background check. Because there are some people we know should not own guns: domestic abusers – or convicted criminals – or those who have found to be a danger to themselves or others.
Yesterday’s event was powerful and moving, and as I listened, I was reminded of the many women over the years who I know who have been killed as a result of domestic violence. I have met their families and grieved with their surviving children. These meetings are always filled with great sadness. But today, I was left with a sense of hope that we can prevent these senseless deaths.
Lynn Rosenthal is the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.