6. Focus on Promising Strategies and Practices
As our knowledge grows, so must safety.
Law enforcement officials often say that the predictable is preventable. As our understanding of the factors that put victims of domestic violence at risk to be killed continues to grow, domestic violence homicides are becoming more predictable, and, hence, the potential to prevent these tragedies continues to increase. In the last several years, a number of advocates, law enforcement officers and other partners have initiated promising practices that utilize our knowledge of homicide risk factors to create enhanced safety for victims who are most likely to be killed.
The Maryland Lethality Assessment Program has developed a risk assessment and referral protocol for victims that is informed by three critical facts. First, only 4% of domestic violence homicide victims nationally ever used domestic violence victim services. Second, in contrast, in 50% of domestic violence homicides, law enforcement officers previously had contact with the victims, and, third, when victims go to shelter, their risk of severe reassault decreases by 60%. The Maryland program involves training officers, health care providers and advocates on a set of 11 questions based on the most predictive risk factors. Victims who are identified as high risk are immediately connected with an advocate and encouraged to seek help.
The research that forms the basis for the Maryland Initiative shows that the key to preventing domestic violence homicides is identifying victims who are most at risk, overcoming the isolation that surrounds these victims and connecting them with services. Some Wisconsin communities have begun to implement cutting edge protocols based on these principles. However, every indicator shows that in every corner of our state there are many victims who are in grave danger and who have not yet been able to connect with life-saving services and support. Therefore, every community should implement strategies and practices that are informed by the state of the knowledge regarding the risk and protective factors for victims. Achieving this goal will require ensuring that victim service providers in every region of the state have the capacity to receive referrals and that law enforcement officers, health care providers and other professionals who have contact with victims are trained on assessing risk and making effective referrals.
Only 4% of abused victims had used a domestic violence hotline or shelter within the year prior to being killed by an intimate partner.
This staggering number reveals both the life-saving effectiveness of victim services and that, in domestic violence cases, isolation is deadly.
In 2014, the State Legislature passed the SAFE Act, which stands for Stopping Abuse Fatalities through Enforcement. The legislation requires courts and sheriffs' departments to follow a single protocol to verify that abusers with restraining orders against them surrender their firearms.
The protocol was developed by a workgroup formed by the Governor's Council and implemented through pilot projects.
Research shows that disarming batterers through the restraining order process saves lives.
The development and passage of the SAFE is a successful example of "preventing the predictable" by utilizing promising strategies and practices.
Incubate collaborative strategies that harness risk assessment, enhanced coordination and intensive services to prevent domestic violence homicides.