Sunday, December 13, 2009

Domestic violence murders: Community and victims cry out for solutions

Domestic violence murders: Community and victims cry out for solutions

By Guest Columnist

December 12, 2009, 9:13AM


The domestic violence murders staining our region in the past month have been horrific and relentless. In total, 18 people have lost their lives in less than 30 days. Along with seven women, two young children were shot and killed along with their mothers, and an adult son died trying, unsuccessfully, to protect his mother. All eight male perpetrators committed suicide.

These tragedies have occurred across Oregon, in both urban and rural communities. One thing is clear: Domestic violence is a public health and safety crisis in our state with far-reaching consequences. Individuals, workplaces, schools and agencies are negatively affected. The toll on victims, children, families and communities cannot be measured.

We have a responsibility to our families and our communities to do better.

We join together to issue a statewide call to action. In the aftermath of these tragedies, government and justice system officials, policymakers and advocates are asking what could have been done to prevent these deaths.

We applaud the fast response of state leaders such as Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who is convening a group of leaders in law enforcement, advocacy and social services to look at how we can do a better job. A statewide critical and thorough review of each case by a multidisciplinary group will assess whether there were missed opportunities to step in, provide safety and avert these heartbreaking deaths.

Also, Attorney General John Kroger has announced that he is recruiting a special domestic-violence prosecutor to provide more support to families and local prosecuting attorneys.

In looking at the recent tragedies, several other compelling issues clearly stand out:

Shelter and safety services are not funded to meet the need. The recent murders highlight the fact that separating from an abuser is an extraordinarily dangerous period of time. Yet in 2008, more than 19,000 requests for emergency shelter by victims could not be met because of a lack of resources. Where did these victims and their children go in the middle of the night when no safe shelter was to be found? When a victim is ready to take the brave step of leaving, a comprehensive and coordinated safety net must be in place and accessible.

Child welfare intervention must be coordinated with domestic violence services. Approximately one-third of Oregon's child abuse cases involve domestic violence in the home. When Child Welfare responds to these cases, it is vital that parents who are victims, as well as their children, receive immediate and supportive services so that adult victims can protect themselves and their children.

Domestic violence doesn't stay at home when its victims go to work. As recent cases have illustrated, domestic violence perpetrators pose a threat at the workplace to victims as well as to their co-workers. Employers play a critical role in ensuring that victims understand their options and are supported in taking the steps needed to stay safe at work. Domestic violence training and safety planning will help managers identify warning signs and provide a safe environment for all employees.

Guns in the hands of perpetrators of domestic violence are a deadly combination. In every one of the tragic domestic violence deaths during the past month, the murder weapon was a gun. In several of these cases, there were prior instances of violent behavior. And in at least one case, the gun was used by a person who was not legally entitled to possess a firearm. A close look at our state and federal gun laws, and enforcement of those laws, will help reduce the incidence of lethal violence.

Women and their children have died in shocking numbers in the past 30 days. This is not the Oregon we know and love, and it is heartening to see state and local leaders responding.

State and community leaders must continue to come together and commit to ensuring change. The effort must be practical, effective and sustainable. We owe it to the victims, their families and our communities to learn from and act on the lessons of these tragedies.

Bruce Goldberg, M.D., is director of the Oregon Department of Human Services and director-designee of the Oregon Health Authority. Robin Christian is executive director of Children First for Oregon. Sybil Hebb is an attorney with the Oregon Law Center and the Alliance to End Violence Against Women.

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