NY: Family violence main cause of female homicides
Associated Press, Dec. 24, 2008.
New York homicide data show most female victims died last year at the hands of somebody in the family.
Division of Criminal Justice Services researchers said 87 of the 157 female victims of murder or manslaughter statewide in 2007 were slain by a partner, parent or some other relation. By contrast, 48 of the state's 643 male homicide victims died in domestic violence, according to the report issued Wednesday.
"Domestic violence often occurs out of sight and, historically, out of mind," Gov. David Paterson said. He called it "a blight on our society."
Paterson this year signed into law a measure expanding the definition of "same family or household" to include unrelated individuals who were involved in an intimate relationship with the victim, regardless of whether they had ever lived together. Another new measure authorizes criminal mischief charges when an abuser damages jointly owned property. A third makes it a crime to prevent someone from seeking emergency assistance by disabling or removing a telephone or other communication device.
Despite the current state fiscal crisis, Paterson promised victims won't be abandoned and public safety won't be sacrificed.
"I will be relying on this report, and its troubling findings, as we consider new strategies to address domestic violence," he said.
While noting the crime rate statewide has dropped 33 percent in a decade and spending for public safety programs grew 54 percent, Paterson has carved out various exceptions for law enforcement from his cuts in the current state budget and proposal for 2009-2010. He proposed $727 million total spending for the state police next year, up 5 percent, and ongoing staffing of 4,939 sworn troopers.
Amy Barasch, executive director of the Governor's Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, said 80 percent of homicides by intimate partners nationally were preceded by other domestic violence.
The data should help them work with police and victims' advocates "to strengthen initial responses" to domestic incidents, she said.
Another state report adding data about hot line phone calls, orders of protection, child welfare cases and related crimes should be out by the end of January. It will be used to target services at communities with the greatest need, Barasch said. "We want to get services to people before they become a homicide statistic," she said.
Statewide, authorities in 31 counties reported no domestic homicides, while 17 reported no homicides at all. The 800 total statewide was down about 14 percent from 926 a year earlier, while domestic homicides totaled 135 last year, up from 133.
The historical data on domestic cases is "a little squishy," division spokesman John Caher said. "It all depends what the cops put in the report." If a case wasn't flagged by police as domestic violence, it didn't turn up in that state data. The 2007 data include family definitions that include, for example, unmarried partners, and the report's researchers examined every 2007 homicide to verify it, he said.
Of the 36 children killed by domestic violence last year, 20 were boys and all but three were under the age of 5. Most were infants.
Domestic homicides have been dropping since 1994, coinciding with passage of the Violence Against Women Act but mostly among men, Barasch said. The addition of services for abused women has reduced self-defense killings that follow years of domestic abuse. "Women know they don't have to resort to violence," she said.
While it makes sense to simply avoid violent or deadly people as intimate or parenting partners, Barasch said that's often unclear at first.
"Folks who are abusive can have an appealing side to their nature and show that side to attract a partner." Later, once abuse starts, victims often don't want to believe the person they love is hurting them, or they may feel trapped for complicated emotional, economic, parental and other reasons.
Also, popular culture can make obsessive and controlling behavior, fairly unhealthy yet common among abusers, sound OK.
"I think we all get very mixed messages in what love looks like," she said.