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April 24, 2012 9:24 AM   Subscribe

Between 40 and 50 percent of female homicide victims are killed by their husbands, boyfriends, and exes. And, for about half of these victims, police had been alerted to previous incidents of abuse. There is, however, one exception to this grim trend: Maryland. Since 2007, domestic violence homicides in the state have fallen by a stunning 40 percent. What is Maryland doing that other states are not? The answer appears to lie with a former high school nurse, an ex-Washington, D.C., police lieutenant, and their ground-breaking efforts to protect the most vulnerable victims of abuse.
Fighting Back is an article by Tim Stelloh about new method to identify and protect abused women, developed by a group of law enforcement officers and academics (Note: The article features graphic descriptions of domestic violence and murder). The article focuses especially on the work of Prof. Jacquelyn Campbell. You can watch an interview with her here.
posted by Kattullus (49 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for posting this. What a great step forward! Though the last part of the article about the conservative fight against VAWA really made me sick.
posted by peacheater at 9:36 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


At one point, she recalled the response of a man from Baltimore who admitted to police that he had strangled his wife to death. “You have to understand: I didn’t mean to kill her,” the man said, according to Campbell. “I’ve done this a bunch of times before and she never died.”

This really struck me.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:46 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems obvious in retrospect, but what this does is collect statistics instead of relying on anecdotes. "Oh, it's just the Jones couple again" is easy to ignore. "This call matches 8 out of 10 indicators for fatal violence (and it's now recorded that we knew it)" is harder.

Sigh.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:49 AM on April 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


Description from Campbell/Sargent. (2008)
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 9:49 AM on April 24, 2012


Oh, god, the idea that somebody might identify the problems of domestic abuse and actually try to come up with a solution that works? Is it possible?

Please let it be possible.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:50 AM on April 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


The sadly-usual police non-response to violence probably isn't helped by there being a much higher incidence of domestic abuse among law enforcement members than in the general public.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:55 AM on April 24, 2012 [21 favorites]


Though the previous two reauthorizations of VAWA enjoyed broad bipartisan support, this year was different. In anticipation of the reauthorization, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly wrote on Townhall.com last summer that VAWA was “feminist pork”; Janice Shaw Crouse, a senior fellow at the conservative Beverly LaHaye Institute, has argued that VAWA’s overly broad definitions of violence have sent men to jail for “unpleasant speech” and “emotional distress.”

Something I think is so totally weird about America is how often our conservative grouchy underpinnings are successfully able to argue that we shouldn't spend money on X (people should just get it together!)... so then later we have to spend a lot more money on Y.

I mean, I am guessing here, but isn't it going to be cheaper to have good screening and good support for people who need to get out of abusive relationships than it is to prosecute people for murdering their partners, deal with the appeals process, keep them in prison, handle survivors benefits for any children, pay the lawsuit settlements from the angry parents of the murdered person, etc?

How can that second option possibly be cheaper? (Aside from the terrible human cost, which apparently we don't count around these parts.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:56 AM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


"This call matches 8 out of 10 indicators for fatal violence (and it's now recorded that we knew it)" is harder.

Yeah, metrics.

I think the other aspect highlighted by Christine's story is that it gives victims a concrete path forward immediately after the abuse, before the adrenaline has worn off and the abuser has started the reconciliation process.

I'm still kind of turned off by the fact that the onus is on the victim to prevent further abuse (by removing herself or himself from the situation) but it's better than nothing.
posted by muddgirl at 9:56 AM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


there being a much higher incidence of domestic abuse among law enforcement members

authoritarians gonna authoritate
posted by DU at 10:00 AM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


One of the things that amazed me was the difference the questionairre made not just in the first responders treatment of the situation, but in the victims' assessment of their situation as well: "Oh my god, he did try to kill me."

Our ability to rationalize away and not see things, even life-threatening things, is frightening.

How can that second option possibly be cheaper?

Oh, it's not at all cheaper. But it funnels money to the prison industry, which supports and is in turn enriched by the Republican platform. So although the kinds of programs and measures outlined in the article are cheaper, that money is not going to organizations and individuals who support the Republican cause; therefore, they must be reduced or eliminated.
posted by lord_wolf at 10:02 AM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Thorzdad: "The sadly-usual police non-response to violence probably isn't helped by there being a much higher incidence of domestic abuse among law enforcement members than in the general public."

I am shocked but not surprised by this. Such a shame. They should make it a federal crime for police to break the law.
posted by rebent at 10:11 AM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


How can that second option possibly be cheaper?

Cost of reauthorizing VAWA: bunch of $$

Cost of not reauthorizing: bunch of $$, plus more women dead

Cost of upholding one's ideology: priceless.
posted by rtha at 10:11 AM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


lord_wolf: "Oh, it's not at all cheaper. But it funnels money to the prison industry, which supports and is in turn enriched by the Republican platform. So although the kinds of programs and measures outlined in the article are cheaper, that money is not going to organizations and individuals who support the Republican cause; therefore, they must be reduced or eliminated."

Also, money spent prosecuting is money spent being "touch on crime" which people always vote for.
posted by mkb at 10:12 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The internal justifications of the abusers must be really... complex. I can't understand how someone justifies behavior like smothering someone with a burrito (something about the banal evil of that really sticks with me). Are there good online or offline resources someone could recommend for understanding the mind of an abuser?

This article is hugely powerful and at once depresses me and gives me hope. And makes me want a compassion ray I can aim at every legislator so they can feel deep revulsion and self-hatred at opposing VAWA.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:12 AM on April 24, 2012


Plus let's not forget the concrete feeling of "we punished someone" is far more tangible and righteous seeming than the seemingly squishy less "real" notion of "we prevented something"

Doesn't help that this also plays into that wonderfully American feeling of "crime/addiction is your moral failing" and therefore we shouldn't waste our money on your moral failing (as both abuser and victim)

Stir in the whole "your husband is your lord and you shall submit to him" mentality shot through a horrifyingly large part of this country and it really blends into "The dumb bitch should have kept her mouth shut and I don't want to have to pay for her problems"

I hate people.
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:13 AM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


They're not interested in the money. People like Schlafy hate feminism for religious and ideological reasons, so anything that could be described as feminism must be attacked. If feminism makes life better, then where does that leave conservative inerrantist religion which treats as fact a Creation story which subordinates women to men?
posted by Flitcraft at 10:13 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


FWIW it's not just "feminist pork" that they're worried about. The VAWA reauthorization also increases funding and enforcement for domestic violence within Native American tribes, classifies stalking as domestic violence, and expands the law's "underserved populations" to include victims who are illegal immigrants, as well as members of the GLBQT community. From what I can tell, it's those last two that are under the most fire.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:16 AM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


There is, however, one exception to this grim trend: Maryland. Since 2007, domestic violence homicides in the state have fallen by a stunning 40 percent.

Not to be a debbie downer but I'm not convinced this isn't a statistical artifact. A 40% reducton in domestic violence homicides in Maryland from 2007-2012 could quite easily be due to the quickly falling overall murder rate combined with the low (relatively speaking) absolute numbers in a state as small as Maryland.

Really, in the absence of better data I don't see why we should buy this statistic as meaningful.
posted by Justinian at 10:21 AM on April 24, 2012


That's a great point, GenjiandProust---this could really be viewed as one more way in which more sophisticated statistical modeling and tracking, like the COMPSTAT system, are improving law enforcement. And it's much better than some previous attempts to get police better involved in domestic violence cases, like Florida's mandatory arrest law, which simply removed all police discretion and resulted in many unnecessary jailings.

Worth noting, by the way, that in many police department the "domestic violence danger" myth lingers, and that's a big part of why police are often reluctant to get involved. It's not just authoritarianism.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:23 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


So as not to be accused of pulling this out of thin are, Here is the FBIs statistics for change in the overall murder rate from 2007-2011. Note that they fell further last year. That alone gets us most of the way to 40%. Now take into account that rates in Maryland fell slightly quicker than the national average and the fact that the difference between a 35% and 40% decrease in the "domestic violence homicide" rate is only a relative handful of cases and you're looking at exactly the decrease you'd expect. So the 40% decrease doesn't appear to be particularly meaningful even if it sounds good out of context.
posted by Justinian at 10:27 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm afraid I need a little more statistical convincing as well. "40% of half of 40% in a single state" sounds on the face of it like a tiny number of cases.
posted by DU at 10:31 AM on April 24, 2012


Flitcraft: "People like Schlafy hate feminism for religious and ideological reasons,"

I think in her case it's psychological.
posted by notsnot at 10:31 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If more effective ways are found of getting survivors of domestic violence out of danger, that's great. But getting the target out of range doesn't stop an abuser from finding a new target.
posted by ambrosia at 10:35 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The sadly-usual police non-response to violence probably isn't helped by there being a much higher incidence of domestic abuse among law enforcement members than in the general public.

This is compounded by the fact that a domestic violence conviction prevents a person from owning or carrying a weapon in most jurisdictions, effectively ending a career in law enforcement. That provides a strong motivation for an officer's colleagues to do their best to sweep domestic violence incidents under the rug.
posted by TedW at 10:36 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


That sounds like a great program, and reading the article put me through an emotional roller coaster, what with the despair and anger, the hope, and then, oh look at that, there's despair and anger again.

It seems weird, though, that Campbell is described as "a former high school nurse" when she had already moved into community health work and was working on her masters when she started doing research on domestic violence in the 70's. Why not go back farther and describe her as a "former preschooler?" And at the time that started working together, Sargent was law enforcement coordinator with the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. It's like the author was trying to pitch a wacky prime-time procedural.
posted by amarynth at 10:43 AM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


This morning--since I live in Chicago--I heard a report on yesterday's testimony in the trial of William Balfour for killing members of his estranged wife's family ("the Jennifer Hudson Family" murders). The estranged wife testified that Balfour "told her at least 25 times, 'If you leave me, you’ll be the last to die. I’ll kill your family first.' " but that she did not believe him which is why she never told the police when he threatened her before the murders.

This sentence stuck with me because I did not think that sentence really conveyed why Hudson never reported Balfour's threats. It seems to me that "not believing the threat" does not encompass all of why she never told the police when he threatened her family. It seems likely that part of why she never reported his threats was because she could not believe them. But also because she did not want to make a volatile situation worse. Maybe also because she did not think the police could or would do anything. She'd kept her marriage secret because her family did not approve, so there was undoubtedly some shame and desire to shield them in not reporting the threats as well. Which I guess is my point.

Like Jacquelyn Campbell says in that video: there's just so much going in situations of domestic violence, the institutional response has to react to so many different factors, has to intervene in more than one problem, and has to rehabilitate two different people who have different emotional/mental/health issues stemming from the violent relationship. Both of whom probably still don't see the situation for what it was.

It's a wonder we have accomplished anything in this arena.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:45 AM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Victim awareness seems to be the operative theme. There's no question but that many victims of domestic violence typically deal with it for protracted periods of time. The questionnaire theory, properly formulated, and administered by trained people, seems like a good tool. Nevertheless, the victim needs to accept the danger that they are in, and be willing, and able, to remove herself from it. Shelters are an obvious choice. Here begins the event chain of public services and facilities.

The problem I'm having is the "Minority Report" shadow that seems to lurk behind these essays. Like many serious issues, precision is impossible when you try to make a law that covers the ground, protecting both the victim (from harm) and the accused (from unfounded accusations): Preemptive law enforcement? Okay, but the slope gets steeper and slipperier.
posted by mule98J at 11:14 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think many people are arguing that we should be arresting abusers for murders they haven't committed yet. Considering the police are (presumably) responding to instances of actual domestic violence, I don't think it's presumptive for them to maybe arrest the perpetrators for whatever they were being called out for.

Consider the case of Bird and Valdez-Cruz. It's an odd case for this article, because the Threat Assesment and notification of resourses doesn't seem like it would have helped her. Bird wasn't living with Valdez-Cruz, so going to a shelter would provide little help. She was already aware that he was going to kill her, so I don't think she needed any spur towards urgency. This wasn't a case of an abuse victim stuck in a cycle of violence, it was the case of a known abuser (who serially violated protection orders and had even been jailed for it) being repeatedly brushed off by police.

So yeah, I don't think in this case 'victim urgency' was the problem.
posted by muddgirl at 11:28 AM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The problem I'm having is the "Minority Report" shadow that seems to lurk behind these essays. Like many serious issues, precision is impossible when you try to make a law that covers the ground, protecting both the victim (from harm) and the accused (from unfounded accusations): Preemptive law enforcement? Okay, but the slope gets steeper and slipperier.

I didn't get sense a lurking shadow in this piece at all. Can you be more specific? And I don't understand your reference to preemptive law enforcement.
posted by rtha at 11:29 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Preemptive law enforcement? Okay, but the slope gets steeper and slipperier.

No it doesn't. By the logic you used, you might at well argue that allowing for manicures is the slippery slope to cosmetic amputation of the fingers, or that prosecuting domestic violence is indeed the slippery slope to whatever dystopic, government invasive future you're alluding to.

The people are not being arrested if it looks like murder might be in the future; law enforcement and support staff are being armed with a checklist of things that generally trend towards violence escalating to a murder with an eye to giving the possible victim of murder who is already a victim of domestic violence, resources to protect themselves. This is no more a replication of "Minority Report" than taking family histories as part of a medical diagnosis of diabetes is the automatic pre-amble to "Gattaca".
posted by Phalene at 11:31 AM on April 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


Here's the long term data for Maryland DV deaths:

http://htmlimg4.scribdassets.com/6w2zd8fxvkuuepz/images/1-afaf4801b2.jpg

Yeah, the reduction may be statistically suspect (small sample size), and it's definitely part of a broader reductions in homicides, but that doesn't mean that small, concrete steps to insure women's safety don't make an impact or aren't worth doing.

Maryland government has become incredibly data-focused, especially when it comes to homicides. O'Malley has taken the Compstat model to the State level, so now State-agencies are grilled on their stats, and homicides, preventable deaths, traffic fatalities, etc are at the top of the list - the Governor gets a daily report from the State Police counting YTD homicides by type. And it's not just about counting outcomes, but a micro focus on the nuts and bolts of how to get there. Check out the State Police's StateStat report:

http://www.statestat.maryland.gov/reports/20120313_MSP_Template.pdf

See page 32 - Where they focus on making sure protective order information is up to date and accurate in the databases police have access to when responding, and making sure that there are cross-checks between protective orders, warrants and hand gun registration.

Or p.5 where they track backlogs in DNA testing for Rape/Sexual Assault cases.

There are no magic bullets in public policy, just a lot of small things, and an attention to detail. I don't want to sound like a cheerleader for StateStat - it can be absurdly micro-managerial, but I personally don't think Maryland being an outlier is an accident.
posted by jetsetsc at 11:36 AM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder how much increased law enforcement (or other first responder) awareness has to do with it, too. Administering and seeing the results of the screener helps change their attitude from "Pito, get out of here, go take a walk somewhere" to "I'm talking to someone that's X% likely to end up as a homicide victim," which serves to either to help impress upon the victim the seriousness of the situation, or help her believe that she's being taken seriously.
posted by amarynth at 11:45 AM on April 24, 2012


A failure to believe threats isn't limited to domestic violence. James Huberty, who gunned down 21 people, walked out of the house carrying automatic rifles after saying to his wife "I'm going hunting. Hunting humans." When asked why she didn't call the police, his wife replied, "Ah, he's all talk."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:47 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


but that doesn't mean that small, concrete steps to insure women's safety don't make an impact or aren't worth doing.

I agree; the question is whether this is a small, concrete step or a feel good measure which costs real money with little or no effect. It seems to me the only way to measure whether a step is concrete or not is whether it is statistically effective.
posted by Justinian at 11:50 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


A 40% reducton in domestic violence homicides in Maryland from 2007-2012 could quite easily be due to the quickly falling overall murder rate combined with the low (relatively speaking) absolute numbers in a state as small as Maryland.

Really, in the absence of better data I don't see why we should buy this statistic as meaningful.


Maryland is the 19th-largest state in the union with a population of about 5.9 million, right above Wisconsin and just below Missouri.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 11:51 AM on April 24, 2012


6 million is still a very small population compared to the nation as a whole or even a state like California where I live. That's my point. Feel free to substitute different words for "as small as Maryland" if you like, though.
posted by Justinian at 12:33 PM on April 24, 2012


For anyone who hasn't looked at jetsetsc's link, the absolute numbers we are talking about are a total of 52 murders in 2007 falling to 38 murders through July 2010 in which the total homicide rate was also falling sharply.
posted by Justinian at 12:45 PM on April 24, 2012


I agree; the question is whether this is a small, concrete step or a feel good measure which costs real money with little or no effect. It seems to me the only way to measure whether a step is concrete or not is whether it is statistically effective.

Aren't we talking about training first responders to fill out a paper form? The article said that the training takes an hour. I am skeptical that this is even "costs real money" in a country where every small town now has a SWAT team with assault vehicles.

The article acknowledges increased costs for shelters and other agencies that help the victims, but I don't think anyone at those agencies is complaining about how much money they're spending helping people who need help, and nobody anywhere has suggested that the screening tool is not effective at finding people who are likely to be murdered.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:47 PM on April 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, you're right. I guess my issue is with the lazy sensationalist article and not the program.
posted by Justinian at 2:38 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a very good post. I am glad to know about the article and the work that has been done to develop this screening instrument. It is quite true that victims of domestic violence learn quickly that it is ineffective to report assault.

Eighteen years ago, we heard on national news from the great state of California, the recording of a woman who pleaded in calls to emergency services for help as she feared her ex-husband was going to kill her. Knowledge of this instrument in that populous state and a little education and training of the first responders to such calls might have prevented the death of Nicole Simpson. I acknowledge that her ex-husband was acquitted. Perhaps it is possible to find references to different cases since that time where reported and known abusers were repeatedly ignored and the alert to real danger this instrument would have flagged might have saved the lives of many other people who were shown to have been killed by their abusers.

How many women have to die before we stop quibbling about who is going to pay for saving their lives and splitting hairs about statistics or cavalierly ending the entire argument by complaining that what is really offensive is the tone of the messenger? Why can't we try a little harder?

Once upon a time I went on a retreat in St. Louis where the retreat sister spoke about a simple prayer: "Lord, help us to use the help." That's how I feel about this instrument.
posted by Anitanola at 4:50 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's perilously close to "won't somebody please think of the children?". Asking whether the data supports the conclusions in the linked article is in no way splitting hairs or ending the argument, and suggesting so is offensive.
posted by Justinian at 5:04 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


"That's perilously close to "won't somebody please think of the children?"."

I do not believe you are suggesting that the instrument is not supported by the data upon which it is based but rather that the reduction in murders which is claimed to be attributable to this initiative in Maryland is not necessarily supported by the murder statistics. If that is the case, then the use of the instrument is indeed a valid awareness raising tool for both law enforcement personnel and people involved in domestic violence. This is a necessary step in the effort to reduce such violence. This is the help the instrument offers. Prevention of crime is a legitimate concern of law enforcement and of society. To that end, this is educational. It is a beginning.

In this regard, I am indeed asking that we think of the children--AND their parents.
posted by Anitanola at 5:38 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are they loading the men into helicopters, flying into the desert, then dropping them out of helicopters from quite high up?

Because that would work.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:46 PM on April 24, 2012


Are they loading the men into helicopters, flying into the desert, then dropping them out of helicopters from quite high up?

Because that would work.


I assume you say that because the death penalty has been so successful in stopping other crimes, as was lynching in its heyday?
posted by TedW at 6:14 PM on April 24, 2012


Here's the screening they implemented, so people can read it without needing to read through the accounts of spousal murders:
The first three questions concerned the most important predictors of future homicide: Has the abuser used a weapon against you? Has he threatened to kill you? Do you think he might kill you? If the woman answered yes to any of those questions, she “screened in.” If she answered no, but yes to four of the remaining eight questions, again, she was in. Among these were other, less obvious indicators of fatal violence: Has he ever tried to kill himself? Does she have a child that he knows isn’t his?

The officer would then present her with an assessment: Others in your circumstances have been killed; help is available if you want it. If the woman agreed, an officer would dial the local shelter from a police cell phone (to prevent the abuser from finding out about the call) and hand it over.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:57 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


> It seems weird, though, that Campbell is described as "a former high school nurse" when she had already moved into community health work and was working on her masters when she started doing research on domestic violence in the 70's.

Eek, you want an interesting story about statistical analysis? C'mon, women don't even LIKE math. [sigh] I get the human interest angle, but I can't help but notice that we aren't given such an extensive personal glimpse into David Sargent's road to this project.

But really, I don't even have a problem with the way that Campbell's personal history is described in the second section of the article where she's profiled. What stuck in my craw was how dismissively she was introduced: "The answer appears to lie with a former high school nurse, an ex-Washington, D.C., police lieutenant, and their ground-breaking efforts to protect the most vulnerable victims of abuse."

Um, no, the answer appears to lie with the former...well, she's the former Associate Dean for the PhD Program and Research at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing...her CV is linked at the top of this page, she's been a full professor since 1993.
posted by desuetude at 10:44 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I guess it's possible that they think her nursing experience has some relevance to this story, like a knowledge of health care?

I want to know what the other 8 questions are.

I am all for something like this. Yeah, I wish we'd actually lock up and put away the damn abuser rather than have to work on the woman alone, but that's the world we live in. Ugh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:07 PM on April 24, 2012


desuetude: totally. In the paragraph talking about how Dr. Campbell got into this line of work, it was fairly innocuous to mention that she was a high school nurse prior to starting her master's degree--there's nothing inherently dismissive in mentioning a prior career or where one starts out. But characterizing Dr. Campbell as "a former high school nurse" seems both disingenuous as well as dismissive and casually sexist.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:37 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


> I guess it's possible that they think her nursing experience has some relevance to this story, like a knowledge of health care?

Yeah, like I said, my beef isn't with the part of the article where the relevance of her prior experience is explained. It's that her accomplished research career in nursing and public health is apparently what, less relevant? too boring? to be used to initially characterize her role in...doing the academic research which is the basis for the Lethality Assessment.
posted by desuetude at 11:08 PM on April 25, 2012


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