Recent high-profile coverage of local homicides of female victims have a number of local government and nonprofit agencies concerned about a potential spike in domestic violence homicides. Violent crime in general tends to increase during the summer months, and domestic violence is no exception. But is it accurate to say there is a trend of increasing domestic violence homicides happening in the District of Columbia right now?
First, it’s important to note that different local agencies track statistics on domestic violence in different ways. SAFE, and most nonprofit service providers, draw a distinction between “intimate partner violence” (violence between partners of any gender who are married, cohabiting, dating, or sexually active) and “intrafamily offenses,” (which includes the above but also violence between siblings, parents/children, infant deaths, and other non-romantic family relations). The Metropolitan Police Department tracks both types of crime under the general category “domestic violence.”
To date, in 2014, the District has seen 12 homicides that have been characterized as domestic violence (DV) homicides. Five of these have been confirmed as intimate partner violence (IPV) homicides; an additional 4-6 have a potential IPV link but are still pending investigation. In the entirety of 2013, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) reported a total of 14 homicides attributed to domestic violence. Five of these homicides were confirmed as IPV homicides, with an additional 4 having potential but unconfirmed IPV links.
To date in 2014, there have been slightly more homicides linked to intimate partner violence than at the same time last year, although several cases from both years remain unclassified pending further investigation. However, with single digit incidences, and with a handful of cases remaining uncategorized, it is difficult to draw conclusions about any statistically significant trends.
In the last 20 years, the National Crime Victimization Survey has demonstrated a significant decrease in the incidence of both DV and IPV, and there is no indication of a trend reversal in any recent reports or studies. The number of survivors seeking SAFE services at the District’s two Domestic Violence Intake Centers has not increased significantly between 2012 and 2013, at approximately 5,000 per year. SAFE’s 24/7 bilingual Response Line has seen an increase over the past two years; between 2011 and 2012, calls rose from just over 2,800 per year to 3,600, and the following year to 3,900. However, the number of Response Line calls received from MPD remained relatively constant throughout that period; the increase in SAFE’s numbers is attributable to new referral partners as we have added entry points at local emergency rooms and nonprofits, to expand victim access to services. Like sexual assault, domestic violence is heavily unreported by survivors due to fear, shame, or other barriers such as lack of knowledge of available services and victims’ rights; as such, it is important to understand that an increase in survivors accessing services is not the same as an overall increase in the incidence of abuse, but may reflect an increase in the number of access points to services.
Looking at a trends over time, we see that the intimate partner violence homicide rate for the District of Columbia has actually decreased by 64% over the past five years, from 14 in 2009 to 5 in 2013. The Metropolitan Police Department has worked hard to implement new infrastructure, training, technology, and partnerships in this time, and has absolutely revolutionized the city’s emergency response services, improving safety for domestic violence victims and city residents alike. DC SAFE is proud to have MPD as a partner in our work.
MPD, DC SAFE, and the DC Office of Victim Services partnered together in 2006 to establish the Response Line, a 24/7 bilingual resource for domestic violence victims, which provides information, emergency shelter, and crisis resources to survivors at the moment they first report domestic violence to the police. SAFE advocates conduct a lethality assessment with every incoming client to determine her immediate risk of reassault or homicide, and develop a safety plan with each client to identify her primary safety needs and address them. These needs vary from client to client– shelter placement; an emergency lock change for her apartment; assistance in contacting MPD’s gun unit to retrieve a firearm from the abuser’s home; or transportation to the house of a friend or relative where the abuser can’t find her.
Each homicide that occurs is a tragedy, and our community feels each loss in a deeply personal way. But statistics tell us that the number of such tragedies per year has actually decreased, in no small part due to the collaboration of local government and nonprofit partners. We applaud the work of all of our partners to increase victim access to services, raise awareness, and hold offenders accountable.
If you want to support local survivors, please consider making a donation to support SAFE’s crisis services. Every day, we meet with victims, conduct lethality assessments, and develop safety plans to hold offenders accountable. Your gift supports our emergency shelter services, our 24/7 bilingual Response Line, our Court-based advocacy, and our expanding partnerships with local providers. If you have been following with concern the news of domestic violence homicides in our community, please take action now to ensure the continued availability of safety net services for victims in crisis.