By Lori Day – If necessity is the mother of invention, this is the woman whose shocking death led to a new approach to ending domestic violence homicide. Her name was Dorothy.
In 2002, Dorothy became a client of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center after fleeing a shelter in Maine to one near her home in Massachusetts. Prior to seeking our services, she had endured almost two decades of severe abuse by her estranged husband that began very early in their relationship and continued during her two pregnancies and throughout her daughters’ childhoods.
By the time she got to us, she was tired of running and living in shelters, and no longer willing to make her daughters do the same. She declared, “If he is going to kill me, he will kill me in my own home.”
“If he is going to kill me, he will kill me in my own home.” – Dorothy
Dorothy was working with our most experienced domestic violence advocate and our staff attorney. Despite all that Dorothy endured at the hands of her husband—years of violence, numerous death threats, being kidnapped and held hostage, and an attempted strangulation—the system ultimately failed her. Gaps in communication between our advocates, law enforcement and the courts resulted in no reliable safety plan for Dorothy once she was no longer living in a shelter.
Dorothy’s husband was out on bail when he entered her home, walked past their youngest daughter, shot Dorothy in the back with a sawed-off shotgun, and then turned the gun on himself as police opened fire. The girls were left orphans. We were left with a sticky note on Dorothy’s file that said “highly lethal case” and a commitment to find a solution so that the next woman who walked through our doors would not suffer the same fate. Dorothy’s death showed us that the customary procedures in place for prosecuting domestic violence perpetrators and protecting victims were broken and in dire need of overhaul.
Dorothy’s death showed us that the customary procedures in place for prosecuting domestic violence perpetrators and protecting victims were broken and in dire need of overhaul.
Our goal is to protect women while allowing them to remain in their homes and communities, safe from the men responsible for abusing them. Our solution—the Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement (DA-LE) combined with the Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT) —is one of today’s most promising toolkits in the fight against domestic violence homicide. Based on over two decades of research, our model closes deadly communication gaps between law enforcement, victim advocates and the courts. When everyone works together and shares information, women at highest risk of lethal assault receive the protection they need while perpetrators are closely monitored and held accountable. Overreliance on shelters is alleviated.
The first step in saving women’s lives is to identify cases like Dorothy’s before violence escalates to murder. The DA-LE is an assessment tool that police officers use as first responders on a domestic violence call. Once the victim and perpetrator have been separated at the scene, the victim is asked eleven specific questions. If she answers “yes” to seven or more of them, she is screened in as high-risk and her case is pulled forward for special handling. Had the DA-LE existed before Dorothy was killed, she’d have scored 11 out of 11, and might be alive today.
Dorothy’s death was predictable. Therefore, it was preventable.
Since creating the DA-LE and DVHRT in 2005, there have been zero homicides related to domestic violence in our multi-city service area, in comparison to the eight deaths that proceeded implementation during the years from 1995-2005. While it’s hard to measure what isn’t happening, this number—ZERO—strikes us as tremendously promising. Across Massachusetts and around the country, in communities where we have instituted DA-LE training and/or full implementation of the DVHRT, similarly encouraging results are emerging.
It is exceedingly rare that complex, deeply ingrained social problems with longstanding histories have solutions. It is even more rare when those solutions are practical, straightforward and inexpensive. We have innovated a life-saving model of domestic violence homicide prevention that is now being implemented across the country.
The Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center has become a local organization with a national responsibility. It’s time to end Domestic Violence homicide.
Our #endDVhomicide Call-To-Action
You can help us #endDVhomicide and save women’s lives by pledging to our crowdfunding campaign that’s running on WYSK’s sister platform, Women You Should Fund. It’s all-or-nothing and we are just $2,700 away from hitting our goal, so every dollar you can spare counts.
About The Author
Lori Day is an educational psychologist and consultant with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport, MA. She is the author of Her Next Chapter, and President of the Board of Directors of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center. She is also a regular contributor to Women You Should Know.