Understanding how we can better serve victims of domestic violence, including those of domestic violence homicides, was the theme of the Department of Justice’s National Domestic Violence Awareness Month program. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole set the stage for a critical discussion with a panel of national experts. He reminded us that this administration has made ending domestic violence a priority.
“The double tragedy of deaths due to domestic violence is the realization that in many cases, they could have been prevented. There is a growing consensus among researchers and practitioners that domestic violence homicides are predictable and thus often preventable.”
Leading the dialogue on domestic violence homicides was international peace advocate and survivor William C. Kellibrew, IV. He told his story of a childhood besieged with violence. At the age of six, he was molested and at the age of ten, he witnessed the murder of his mother and brother by his mother’s estranged boyfriend. After years of therapy, he has become an advocate on behalf of ending violence and poverty. In an effort to encourage other young people to feel more comfortable asking for help, Mr. Kellibrew challenged everyone to engage and educate youth. Northern Arizona University Professor Neil Websdale, who directs the National Domestic Fatality Review Initiative, explained that fatality reviews. These reviews bring together a wide range of professional and community members to examine homicides from the vantage points of the victims (and sometimes offenders) and learn how to prevent such tragedies. They have the potential to identify gaps in responses, commonalities and risk factors in individual cases. In turn, this information can be used by communities and law enforcement to improve responses to incidents of domestic violence. OVW has provided funding to support these types of reviews. Dr. Websdale also facilitated a dialogue among panelists Susan Ley of the District of Columbia’s Wendt Center for Loss and Healing; the senior victim witness specialist with the D.C. United States Attorney’s Office Marcia Rinker; and David Sargent, lead trainer for the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) in Maryland. Developed by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, the LAP is an intervention program that uses a questionnaire to identify victims of domestic violence who are at risk of being seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners. Those individuals are then immediately connected to the domestic violence service provider in their area. Identifying these at-risk victims can help prevent serious harm, even murder, from occurring. The panelists discussed the importance of lethality assessment tools for identifying at-risk individuals and the critical importance of victim support services for individuals exposed to grief, trauma, and violence. They shared information about intervention and prevention practices and awareness building about the cycle of abuse. Together, these strategies have the potential to change lives by better equipping service providers and victim advocates. Working together, learning from each other, and applying what we have learned will change the landscape. We are building a nation where women, men and children will no longer be victims of domestic violence. We need to stay focused and vigilant. We need to continue to nurture the seeds that are planted by those around us who speak out, and take action, each day. For more information about the Office on Violence Against Women, visit ovw.usdoj.gov. We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.