PORTLAND, Ore. (WOMENSENEWS)–The homicide patterns of this city appear to be mirroring a national trend.
Here, the Oregonian newspaper reported recently that homicides in 2009 declined to the lowest level–21–in almost 40 years, according to preliminary FBI reports.
That stands in shocking contrast to a recent spate of domestic violence that between Nov. 5 and Dec. 2, 2009, claimed 18 lives in Portland. Eight male suspects committed suicide; seven women died in homicides; two young children were shot along side their mothers; and an adult son died trying unsuccessfully to protect his mother. In every case, the murder weapon was a gun.
Like Portland, many cities are proudly announcing falling crime rates. So are states.
FBI figures indicate law-enforcement agencies throughout the nation reporting a decrease of 4.4 percent in the number of violent crime offenses for the first six months of 2009, compared with the same period in 2008. The violent crime category includes murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Nationwide, FBI statistics for 2009 show a 10 percent decrease in murders.
However, what FBI reports didn’t, and don’t, track as a separate category, as it does with so-called hate crimes, are the total number of domestic violence homicides and suicides, including children and co-workers who are caught in the crossfire.
The most recent data available on the Justice Department’s Web site are from 2005 and indicate a slight uptick in domestic violence homicides that year to a total of 1,510 intimate homicide victims. The Justice Department, however, does not provide information on the total number of victims in domestic violence homicides–including suicides, the children of the victims and witnesses. Thus, no reliable measure is publicly available to track national current trends.
However, telephone calls to state anti-violence coalitions, backed up by calls to the Washington, D.C.-based National Network to End Domestic Violence, reveal a disturbing trend.
Violence Up in Many States
Last year Utah had one of the deadliest years in recent history of domestic violence deaths. The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition estimates there were 27 domestic violence-related homicides in the state in 2009. In 2008, it documented 22; in 2007, 18; in 2006, 29.
In Wisconsin, there were 36 domestic violence deaths in 2008; current figures indicate 59 deaths in 2009. Coalition members at Wisconsin’s Coalition Against Domestic Violence say it’s the largest increase in homicides they’ve seen in years.
In the District of Columbia, there was one more DV homicide in 2009 (21) than the 20 homicides in 2008.
In New Hampshire, there was a spike in domestic violence fatalities–suicides involving husbands and wives–across the state, according to Maureen McDonald, director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "Domestic violence homicides account for 37 percent of the total homicides so far this year," she said.
The Kansas Coalition reports that 2009 saw 130 total homicides in that state. Of those deaths, 34 adults and 14 children (under 18) were domestic violence-related–the second-highest numbers since 1992.
In Maryland, 75 individuals were killed in domestic-violence related crimes, according to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, compared to 52 deaths in 2008.
In Pennsylvania there were 198 domestic violence-related fatalities, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "And that’s counting the victims, the perpetrator, children killed, anyone involved that was killed," said Judy Yupcavage, the organization’s public policy and information manager.
In Philadelphia in 2009, two more killings are being investigated and are likely to be added to the total of 35 domestic violence-related deaths. Twenty-one of the 35 domestic homicide victims had made a total of 178 calls to the police and some victims had restraining orders against the individuals suspected or convicted of killing them. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city’s overall homicide rate dropped 23 percent but domestic homicides were up by 67 percent–and that’s without counting suicides and other related deaths.
Why the Violence?
The reasons behind the increased violence?
Brian Namey, communications director at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, says distress from the economy doesn’t create batterers but has caused an dramatic increase in both frequency and severity in "all corners of the country."
"It’s like pouring gas on a fire," Namey said. "The economy doesn’t cause it but it can make it worse. There’s a much higher demand for services and funding has decreased."
Namey said shelters and state coalitions across the country have been reporting dramatic increases in not only increased homicides-suicides but also overall more requests for services.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence is asking Congress to restore the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act budget, which was reduced by $2.1 million in 2008.
A May 2009 survey published for the Mary Kay Foundation found that 3 out of 4 domestic violence shelters across the country sought an increase in assistance from September 2008. In a poll of more than 600 shelters nationwide, 73 percent attributed the rise in abuse to "financial issues." "Stress" and "job loss" (61 percent and 49 percent, respectively) were listed as contributing factors in the reported increase in domestic violence cases involving women.
An increase in the number of shelters reporting women seeking help because of domestic violence since September 2008, according to the survey, broke down as follows:
- The region with the largest reported increase was the South (78 percent);
- The Midwest reported a 74 percent increase;
- The Northeast reported a 72 percent increase;
- The West reported a 71 percent increase
The survey also inquired about the cause(s) for the increase in domestic violence cases across regions. It found:
- Seventy-five percent of shelters in the West reported "financial issues;"
- Approximately 66 percent of respondents in the Midwest noted "stress;"
- More than half of respondents (53 percent) in the South reported "job loss;"
- The "loss of a home or vehicle" was reported more often in the Midwest than other regions, with 44 percent; the Northeast had the lowest with 35 percent;
- Reasons more commonly associated with domestic violence, such as "substance abuse" and "relationship challenges," also contributed to the increase in domestic violence shelter assistance in each region, according to the survey.
Judith Spitzer is an award-winning journalist who lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. She is currently working on a book about police-perpetrated domestic violence.
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