September 21, 2015 10:41:49 AM
An annual report on domestic violence ranked Mississippi 34th in the nation for highest rates of women murdered by men, a dramatic improvement from last year, when Mississippi ranked fifth.
The report -- When Men Murder Women -- is published every year by the Violence Policy Center, an organization which works to end gun violence. The report focuses on domestic violence and includes male-on-female homicide statistics from every state.
The 2014 publication reported that in 2012, 29 women were murdered by men in Mississippi, a rate of 1.89 per 100,000 women. Only Alaska, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Louisiana had higher rates. This year's report, which looked at data from 2013, reported that 12 women were murdered by men at a rate of 0.78 per 100,000 women, lower than the overall rate in the nation, which is 1.09.
At a press conference Thursday, Hood credited his office's Domestic Violence Unit, as well as nonprofits, law enforcement officials and judges and prosecutors in the justice system, for the decrease in the numbers of female homicide victims.
Though the report only includes homicide statistics, it's related to domestic violence because women are more often murdered by men they know. The report found over half the women murdered by men in the United States in 2013 were murdered by their spouses, common-law husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends.
In 2006, Hood's office set up the Domestic Violence Unit. The unit focuses on training law enforcement officers in how to handle domestic violence. In 2011, it organized the Uniform Offense Report, a database into which officers are required to enter reports any time they respond to a domestic violence call, whether or not they make an arrest. The DV Unit increased training through 2013 for law enforcement all over the state to ensure that officers knew how to use the database. The increase in training and emphasis placed on deescalating domestic disputes could account for the sudden decrease in homicides over just one year, according to Paula Broome, the Deputy Chief of Bureau of Victim Assistance.
"We know the more intervention you do, the less chance there's going to be a homicide," Broome said in an interview with The Dispatch.
The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office receives training from the Domestic Violence Unit and now uses the Uniform Offense Report on a regular basis, according to Sheriff Mike Arledge.
Both Arledge and Columbus Police Chief Tony Carleton reported that generally, they had not noticed a change in how often officers responded to domestic violence calls locally.
Broome hopes the Uniform Offense Report and other databases started at the same time may provide a way of tracking statewide incidents and statistics of nonfatal domestic violence. Currently, Mississippi has no statewide organization that tracks domestic violence incidents. Still, Broome added, the fact that female homicide rates have gone down is promising.
Joyce Tucker, director of Safe Haven, a domestic violence shelter in Columbus, thinks the decreasing rate of domestic violence in the state could be due to more justice systems pushing domestic violence intervention programs -- if indeed the rates are decreasing. Safe Haven is currently on pace to shelter more victims this year than it did last year, Tucker said.
Tucker has been pushing plans to implement a local six-month-long program specifically for domestic abusers. Judges in Columbus and Lowndes County currently send individuals convicted of domestic violence to anger management training.
In the press conference, Hood also emphasized the need for abusers to attend programs like the one Tucker is implementing, and not just go to anger management classes.
Mississippi has some of the better domestic violence laws among states, according to Hood. In 2010, the legislature passed a law stating that in stalking cases, prosecutors only have to prove that the perpetrator engaged in stalker behavior, not that the perpetrator intended to harm the victim, Broome said. Mississippi has also passed a law making strangulation a felony whether or not the victim was injured. In many states, prosecutors have to prove that an injury occurred when a perpetrator strangled a victim.
Hood said Mississippi is going in the right direction when it comes to ending domestic violence.
"It's not like a boy has a gene in his body that (says) he's going to beat his wife or grow up beating his girlfriend. It's learned behavior," Hood said. "The vast majority of (perpetrators) have seen it in their own homes. So if we can break this cycle, we can make a difference in Mississippi."
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