Group report: ‘Don’t mind your own business’ in domestic violence cases

In eight recent domestic violence homicides in Mecklenburg County, family or friends of the victims knew about emotional abuse or physical violence between each of the couples before the killings.

That’s the finding highlighted by a new report by the county’s Domestic Violence Fatality Prevention and Protection Review Team, a pilot project set up to help prevent such violence by identifying gaps in services and promoting communication among agencies that intervene.

In one case examined by the team, friends and family said that the killer had previously “cut” the victim. In another, a relative said the victim was ashamed about being a victim of domestic violence. “These fatalities demonstrate that keeping victims safe is not a one time or a one intervention undertaking,” the team’s 2012 report says. “It requires an ongoing commitment from friends, family and advocates to strategically knit a safety net of law enforcement, court system and human services providers.”

The team’s inaugural report in 2011 also revealed that friends, family or co-workers knew about the violence or threats leading up to the four killings reviewed. Some expressed their concerns and encouraged the women to leave her abuser, the report said, but none reported the abuse to law enforcement.

The team discovered similar findings after reviewing four more cases for its latest report, titled “Don’t Mind Your Own Business.”

The task: Attitude change

Retired District Judge Jane Harper, who heads the team, said victims’ friends, family and coworkers have said they may not have reported the abuse because they think, “This is my friend who has told me this in confidence; it’s not appropriate for me to call law enforcement.”

“We’re hoping to get people to rethink their attitudes about that,” Harper told the Observer.

Harper said a sister of one of the victims spoke to the team, as did a brother and a friend of another victim. In those cases, they knew that there was violence in the relationships, but did not want to get involved because they thought it was “not their business.”

In two of the four cases reviewed for this year’s report, a domestic violence protective order had been issued. In one, the killer had successfully completed a batterer intervention program and had no further domestic violence charges until he fatally shot his girlfriend eight years later, the report says.

The fatality review team is prohibited from naming people involved in the homicides they review.

Team member Jane Taylor, the coordinator of shelter services at United Family Service’s shelter for battered women, said it was frustrating to hear that no one intervened before the killings.

“We’ve worked so hard for so long to get it out of the closet, to make it OK to talk about it,” Taylor said. “It’s difficult to hear that people didn’t feel like they wanted to or knew where to go or for whatever reason didn’t do it.”

In 2011, four domestic violence-related killings were reported in Mecklenburg County. So far this year, there have been three.

The team’s report includes recommendations for police, the court system and advocates. One suggestion is an ongoing awareness campaign to help people understand the signs and symptoms of domestic violence, learn what resources are available to help and point out the potential consequences of ignoring the abuse.

Reviewing police policies

Another recommendation is that police improve their response to violations of domestic violence protective orders. In one case examined, the killer had twice violated a protective order. The victim reported the violations to police, but he was not arrested, the report says. The man had removed her tags from her car, and an officer did not offer her transportation.

The report says current Charlotte-Mecklenburg police policy is that the victim is told to go to the magistrate’s office to file a complaint and seek an arrest warrant. But that practice puts significant responsibility and pressure on the victim, which may result in delay if the victim is unable to get there, the team found.

The review team recommended that all county police departments have a policy that would make it mandatory for officers to immediately seek a warrant when there is probable cause that a suspect has violated a protective order. It should also be policy that officers offer to transport the victim to the magistrate’s office, the report says.

Some of the recommendations from the team’s first report have been enacted, Harper said. One of those recommendations includes more training for officers about domestic violence.

One suggestion from this year’s report has been acted on, team members said. The report noted that it could be “embarrassing and potentially dangerous” for victims to seek protective orders at the magistrate’s office, where they must stand at a glass window and provide information with little privacy. Team members said the magistrate’s office has already set aside a more private space.

Taylor said she believes advocates should turn their attention to local school systems to stop violence before it happens. “There’s very little, if anything, helping young people with dating violence or the trauma they’ve experienced at home,” she said. “We need to do preventative work with young kids.”

Committing domestic violence is a choice, she said, but it’s typically a learned behavior – often learned at home.

“If you never learned what a healthy relationship looks like, your choices are narrowed,” Taylor said. “You don’t have the viable choice of something else.”

What Next?

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