In the last two weeks over a four-day period, 14 adults and seven children from four different states were killed in domestic violence-related murders. In Texas, police said a man with a long criminal history and a substance abuse problem went on a murder spree on October 26, killing his mother in the home he shared with her, then an aunt and three others. On October 28, police officer Christopher Robinson shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and her firefighter boyfriend near Baltimore, Maryland. Robinson then committed suicide. In New York City, a relative hacked to pieces a mother and her four young children. Bryan Sweatt, who called 911 and told the operator he was “stressed out,” broke into his girlfriend’s home in Greenwood, South Carolina, where he duct-taped her then shot and killed her and four others, including two children, before killing himself.
In the U.S, an estimated 1,300 people are killed each year from domestic violence. This is nine women each week. According to Futures Without Violence, in 2011, 1,707 women were murdered by men, and, of them, 1,509 were by people they knew. Over half of the homicides involved guns.
These fatalities are preventable. Experts are clear that the best predictor of a domestic violence murder is a past history of domestic violence. Weapons in the home increase the risk of a fatality by a factor of 12. Guns are used in 92 percent of murder-suicides involving intimate partners. A history of domestic violence coupled with a difficult economic situation combines to dramatically increase the risk as well. Substance abuse also escalates the situation and is a factor in 40 percent of murder-suicides.
What this tells me is that the U.S. needs to do far more to help families who are struggling. Rather than presume domestic violence to be a law enforcement problem, we need to think of it as a community problem, one that is integrally tied to supporting families. The U.S. currently ranks second to last among developed nations in terms of child poverty, according to a UNICEF report. A 2012 report called The State of Working America, 12th Edition found the U.S. to have higher poverty rates and weaker safety nets than peer countries. We are also the world leader in illegal drug abuse, and there are more guns in the country, and gun-related violence, than anywhere else. More mentally ill people in the U.S. are in jails and prisons than in hospitals. Yet the U.S. leads the world in terms of the size, scope and expenditures on military and warfare.
Had there been more help for these families, perhaps these atrocities would have been averted. Perhaps if these perpetrators had received more community-based support for their economic, substance abuse and mental health issues, 13 lives would have been saved. Should just some of the funds devoted to the military instead be devoted to family support services, who knows how many other lives could be saved.
While there are services for victims, many times they are at capacity. A 2012 report by the National Network to End Domestic Violence found 10,471 unmet requests for services. Sometimes victims are treated in cold or demeaning ways by over-burdened and hyper-bureaucratic service providers, or they are told that they need to wait in long lines and jump a laundry list of hoops to get the services they are seeking. Instead of relying on social service agencies, victim services, too, should be seen as a community affair, one in which we all take responsibility for helping those in need.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.