A Raised Hand - Can a new approach curb domestic homicide? New Yorker
Dorothy Giunta-Cotter knew that someday her husband, William, would kill her. They met in 1982, when he was twenty and she was fifteen: a girl with brown eyes and cascading dark hair. Over the course of twenty years, he had kidnapped her, beaten her, and strangled her with a telephone cord. When she was pregnant with their second child, he pushed her down the stairs. After visits to the emergency room, he withheld her pain medicine and, at one point, forbade her to wear a neck brace.
Dorothy and William had two daughters, Kaitlyn and Kristen. Once, in a rage, William sat on Kristen’s chest until she couldn’t breathe; she was eleven. Another time, angered by what she was wearing, he hit her repeatedly in the head. That day, Dorothy took Kristen from their home, in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and drove to a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Maine. (Kaitlyn, who was seventeen, stayed behind in order to graduate from high school on schedule.) Dorothy feared that William knew the local network of domestic-violence shelters; in Maine, she felt, she would be safe.
There she filed a restraining order, telling the judge that her husband would kill her when he found her. But the judge denied the order, citing a lack of jurisdiction. So Dorothy returned with Kristen to Massachusetts, where she met Kelly Dunne, who worked at the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, a local domestic-violence agency. The center helped Dorothy file a restraining order and found a room for her and her daughters in a longer-term shelter. But Dorothy refused. She told the center’s lawyer, “If I’m going to die, I want to do it in my own house.”
In theory, domestic homicide should be easy to prevent, since men who kill their wives or girlfriends (85 percent of victims are female) generally give us lots of warning by beating, stalking, and even raping their victims, usually for years before they finally kill. In reality, it’s surprisingly hard to stop someone who really wants to murder you, especially if he has easy access to a gun. Restraining orders don’t create a magic force field around the victim. Shelters help, but they are underfunded and depend on the victim giving up substantial rights to hold a job (which gives the abuser the ability to find you), have a social life, or even speak to family members. And trying to figure out which abusers are just run-of-the-mill woman batterers and which will actually kill is surprisingly hard to do.
Rachel Louise Snyder, writing for the New Yorker, (above linked article) details one solution that’s being implemented in Massachusetts. Domestic violence social workers there developed a high-risk assessment team that, using statistical methods and employing the court system in creative ways, has figured out a way to target the men most likely to kill and take special care to make it that much harder for them to do so. Kelly Dunne started the Domestic Violence High Risk Team in 2005, and since then, not a single case she’s taken on has ended in murder, and the men who have been sentenced to GPS tracking have not committed any future acts of violence. In addition, the team has done wonders to help victims return to normal life:
Dunne also notes that, of the hundred and six high-risk cases documented in the team’s most recent report, only eight women were forced to seek refuge in shelters. She estimated that, before the formation of the high-risk team, ninety per cent of similar cases would have resulted in the women’s going into shelters.