Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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Nevada sharpens focus on domestic violence

Domestic violence has tragic consequences as we saw in the deadly shooting rampage at a California hair salon that left eight dead. In a tragic instant, an ex-husband, angry over a custody dispute, allegedly targeted and killed his ex-wife, a stylist, and seven others at Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, Calif., according to California authorities.

Nearly one-third of all women murdered in the United States in recent years were victims of a current or former intimate partner. On average, more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Sadly Nevada ranks No. 1 in the rate of women murdered by men for a second year in a row, according to a study by the Violence Policy Center.

According to a 2003 study by the National Institute of Justice, in 70 to 80 percent of intimate partner homicides, the man physically abused the woman before the killing. A study published in the March 2005 issue of the American Journal of Public Health found that homicide is a leading cause of death for pregnant women.

These troubling situations influence children who witness domestic violence. A U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics report on intimate partner violence in the United States shows that children live in 38 percent of the households with domestic violence against women. Children exposed to acts of domestic violence learn lessons from this unacceptable behavior. In some cases, they adopt this behavior and the cycle of violence continues from generation to generation.

Victims of domestic violence comprise the largest crime victim category in Nevada. Although domestic violence is significantly underreported and statistics are incomplete, the Nevada Department of Public Safety Uniform Crime Report for 2009 reported 29,091 female victims and 12,060 children present at incidents of domestic violence. The Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence reports that 42,877 first-time victims received services from domestic violence programs in fiscal year 2010-11.

Nevada has a critical interest in reducing incidents of domestic violence, which generally represents a pattern of behavior that tends to escalate in severity and frequency and, unchecked, can lead to homicide.

To reduce and prevent further fatalities in Nevada, I introduced Senate Bill 66, which took effect on Oct. 1, authorizing the attorney general’s office to organize a multidisciplinary team to review victim deaths. The Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team will begin meeting in January and is composed of prosecutors, police, domestic violence service providers, treatment providers and community and faith leaders.

The fatality reviews will create a greater understanding of the tragedies associated with domestic violence and will lead to the implementation of preventive intervention.

The team will re-create the experiences of the victims, perpetrators and other parties involved in each case, including possible compromises and challenges the parties faced in accessing services. The review prioritizes the experiences of victims and enables us to improve services, fix gaps and increase communication among agencies. It allows us to learn how we might better serve families who lost loved ones and to consider the relationships among coordinated community responses to domestic violence, safety audits, safety planning and risk assessment.

Domestic violence is significantly underreported because of the nature of the relationship between batterer and victim. For each instance in which domestic violence is reported and the batterer is prosecuted, there are multiple instances in which the violence goes undetected. Domestic violence fatality review seeks to improve the systemic response to avert future deaths and for the development of recommendations for coordinated community prevention and intervention initiatives.

Breaking the cycle of violence is at the core in preventing domestic violence deaths. But assuring community support, agency services and law enforcement are working together to avoid the escalation of violence is necessary to increase victim safety and provide accountability for perpetrators of this crime. Fatality reviews have been proven to be an effective tool in improving system response to domestic violence and saving lives. Nevada can help lead the way to assure we have the proper tools in place to assist us in ending domestic violence and prevent the tragedy of these needless deaths.

For advocacy, counseling or referrals, call the Nevada Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-500-1556 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233).

Catherine Cortez Masto is the Nevada attorney general.

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