Have you ever seen a story about a domestic violence homicide on the news and felt that it sounds all too familiar? Felt a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach like, didn’t anyone see this coming?
You’re not alone, and the research bears this out. The fact of the matter is that domestic violence homicide is actually startlingly predictable. The good news is that what is predictable is preventable, and this means that we can prevent domestic violence homicide.
In cases where there are a number of risk factors for lethality, gaps in information can create dangerous situations or fail to address a crisis situation. These risk factors include things like access to weapons, past threats or attempts at suicide, controlling a victim’s daily activities, and attempted strangulation. With the proper information and collaboration, communities can identify, monitor, and contain high risk offenders, provide enhanced levels of coordinated response to victims, and deliver comprehensive services for families.
In 2010, REACH joined then-Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone and police chiefs from Arlington, Belmont and Cambridge to announce the formation of the Cambridge, Arlington, Belmont High-Risk Assessment and Response Team CAB-HART, which aims to reduce domestic homicides by sharing information and resources. CAB HART launched after a year-long process of planning and discussion between community partners and was inspired by the success of the Newburyport Domestic Violence High Risk Case Response Team which formed in the wake of a tragic domestic violence homicide in 2002.
Like the Newburyport model, CAB HART emphasizes collaboration and information-sharing between partner agencies to provide thoughtful and proactive interventions to domestic violence victims who are at the most serious risk of harm and their families. Through the use of danger assessment tools, CAB HART identifies high-risk cases and then meets on a monthly (or sometimes emergency) basis, to review referred cases and develop and implement crisis intervention plans for victims and their families.
This means that a survivor who comes to us by way of the high risk team has exactly that, a team of people working on their case, and the people on that team are all talking to one another. In one such case, when a dangerous abuser was released from jail, we knew, her attorney knew, the police knew – and they automatically increased their drive-by checks on her house, without us having to ask. Part of the team’s job is to hold the offender accountable, so in this particular case we had access to information about where the abuser was staying and who he was staying with. If we were just working with the survivor, who was trying to avoid any contact with the abuser and the people in his life, we wouldn’t have necessarily known that information. The police even picked her up and transported her to court when an advocate wasn’t available to do so.
From the survivor’s perspective, this type of team approach means that she didn’t have to tell her story over and over again to the different service providers involved. With her permission and signed releases, we were able to share information among team members and reduce the need for her to repeat herself and relive traumatic experiences over and over.
This collaborative, community-based approach to preventing domestic violence homicide does not need to be limited to law enforcement and service providers. You can learn the warning signs and high risk factors for homicide, you can encourage conversation around domestic violence, and you can be part of a community-wide effort to prevent tragedy.