By: Joanna Hoffman, Women Deliver
Throughout the year, I receive emails from well-meaning friends and family with tips on how to avoid sexual assault and remove myself from life-threatening situations. I agree that safety is important, but I think that preventing gender-based violence in the first place is much more effective than trying to avoid it. In Massachusetts in the United States, domestic violence social workers have designed an assessment system that identifies abusers with homicidal tendencies and intervenes right away to prevent attacks before they happen.
In 2005, Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center’s Assistant Director Kelly Dunne started the Domestic Violence High Risk Team, which focuses both on survivor safety and offender accountability. The approach operates from the core belief that domestic violence homicides are both predictable and preventable. This model draws upon research into domestic violence homicides to identify 20 situations which call for an emergency response. For example, perpetrators exhibiting dangerous behavior who have access to guns, or have histories of violence and extreme jealousy, are put under heightened surveillance. Police notify the other team members—lawyers, crisis counselors, hospitals and probation department—and work together to isolate the aggressor while aiming to keep the woman safe in her community, often through GPS monitoring.
Before the creation of the task team, the Geiger center reported eight domestic violence-related murders in 10 years. In the United States, an estimated 1.3 million women experience physical assault by an intimate partner each year, with women aged 20-24 at the greatest risk. Almost one-third of female homicide victims reported in police records are murdered by an intimate partner. Globally, up to 70% of women experience violence in their lifetime, with half of all murdered women having been killed by a former or current intimate partner.
Since the team has been implemented, the Geiger center has recorded zero domestic-violence related homicides, and 93% of women have avoided having to flee to emergency shelters. Approximately 92% of survivors have not reported being re-assaulted, and 74% of cases have had criminal justice intervention. The model has been adapted by 25 other communities, and in 2011 was awarded the Champion of Change award by President Obama.
Diane Rosenfeld, lecturer on law and Director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard University, commented:
Shelters were a step forward when they were built in the '70s, but they weren't intended to let the justice system off the hook. We need to stop asking, 'Why doesn't she leave?' and put the responsibility for violence against women on their tormenters. Why don't we make him leave?
Domestic violence is rooted in aggressors making their partners feel powerless and alone. The Domestic Violence High Risk Team approach is groundbreaking in its repositioning of responsibility. I look forward to the day when programs like this are widespread throughout the world, and when one person’s survival is not dictated by the rage of another.
If you are currently in an abusive relationship, resources are available here. Do you know of resources in your country? If so, please share them in the comments.
Flickr photo via t3rmin4t0r