Guns and Intimate Partner Violence: What the Research Tells Us

Full video, transcript and powerpoint presentation; “Guns and Intimate Partner Violence: What the Research Tells Us”; May 29, 2015.




Bruce Shapiro: …A lot of very suggestive data this morning from Phil and Gary about different kinds of violence, and different kinds of risk, and the association of the violence with various issues. And one that kept popping up and kind of moving onto the screen, and then moving off was intimate partner violence, and the relationship between guns and that issue. So, we have gone from the broad public health lens and the economics of sociology lens, and the legal lens. We’re now going to move it to this very specific and significant issue, which is going to be of real importance. Both in thinking through stories that there may be out there to do, and also thinking through the kinds of political issues, the kinds of regulatory issues, the kinds of prevention versus burden arguments that we heard playing out this morning. And we are fortunate in this southwest regional workshop to have a southwest regional expert here. We have Jill Messing, MSW, PhD, and again, I’m not going to give her whole bio. But for the video, I will say that she’s associate professor in the School of Social Work here at Arizona State University. She earned her degrees in Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. She’s done post-op work at Johns Hopkins. And she is one of the country’s top experts in intervention, when it comes to intimate partner violence, risk assessment, domestic homicide, femicide, and all kinds of bridge building and collaborations to lower the fatality rate, and to otherwise intervene in these situations.

She is going to, as our other speakers did, do a bit of a presentation, half an hour, or however long you choose to go. And then, we’ll have a conversation. Take it away.

JM: I’m going to talk today about intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, and how guns are so intertwined with intimate partner violence homicide. And so, this is just kind of an overview of what we’re going to do. I’m going to talk a bit about domestic violence first, so domestic violence help seeking. And then I’m going to go on to share some statistics about intimate partner homicide. And then, we’ll talk a bit about the role that guns play in intimate partner homicide.

Throughout, I’ll be providing some examples from some of my own work. So I have a database that I’ve been keeping since the early 2000s of mass homicides in the intimate partner violence context. So I’ve pulled a few of those. I have dated from ‘93 through 2010 now. It’s newspaper reports of mass homicides, so they’re three victims or more. And, I’m giving you those as examples throughout, to talk about kind of the points that I’m raising. I’m also going to spend a bit of time on other risk factors for homicides because while guns are - ownership of guns, having guns, using guns are a major risk factor for homicide, there are also other risk factors that are going to pop up in these examples. And I want to make sure that you guys are aware of those. And then, we are going to leave plenty of time for questions, and discussions. 

So just to get started, domestic violence is a common problem, right, and it affects the safety and the welfare of many women and children. So, about one in three American women are affected by domestic violence, or experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. And this is a little different than the statistic that I think people typically use, which is one in four. Which comes from an earlier - a survey that was done in 1998. So, CDC recently did a national survey, population-based, and they found that one in three American women had experienced domestic violence. One in four have experienced severe violence in their lifetimes. And that translates into about more than a million American women a year, who are experiencing domestic violence. So again, this is a big problem.

And, if we look at all violent crimes against women, 22 percent of those are domestic violence. So again, if you’re looking at it kind of in a little bit of a different way, it’s a big problem in terms of all violent crime that women are experiencing. And then, I want to talk a bit about help seeking among survivors. Because I think we always think - I’ll show you some examples a little bit later - of newspaper reports that say oh, there was no domestic violence. Well, actually what they’re saying is there was no reported domestic violence, and I think that that’s a distinction that often isn’t made. So about half - when we look across research, about half of domestic violence or IPV victims - so IPV stands for intimate partner violence - are in situations where the police have been called. They may have called the police themselves, or somebody may have called the police, because of that domestic violence. So, not everyone who’s experiencing domestic violence is going to have a police report. And then, if we look at the number of women that are accessing domestic violence services or shelter services, it’s much lower.

So we see that about, you know, depending on the study - and what I’ve actually done here is I’ve looked at studies, that are not looking at people, who are accessing other services. So if we’re just looking at women who aren’t necessarily accessing services, we’re seeing perhaps up to 38 percent of them, of women who are experiencing domestic violence, have ever accessed domestic violence services. And less than ten percent have ever been to shelter.

Now, if we’re thinking about women who have been killed, we see there’s about four percent of women who have been killed, have accessed shelter services in the year prior to their homicide. And that statistic is often used to demonstrate that shelter is effective. So women who are going to shelter are not being killed. But I think the other thing to think about it in terms of kind of your reporting, is that we’re not going to see a lot of women - like you see women who have been killed by their partners - not a lot of them will have been to shelter.

So that’s not really a reliable source of whether they were experiencing domestic violence. So when we think about domestic homicide, or intimate partner homicide - so I have, as a researcher, I love statistics, o I have a lot of them up here. But I think the important things to say are that when women are killed, they’re often killed by an intimate partner. So we’re seeing that occur in about half of the cases. If we look at women who are killed by someone that they know, about 65 percent are killed by an intimate partner. So we have an even higher proportion of women who are being killed by their intimate partner. If we look at men who are killed by an intimate partner, I’m sorry. If we look at men who are killed, only about five percent are killed by an intimate partner. So that’s a huge disproportionality, right? We have a lot of women who are killed, being killed by their intimate partners, but the same is not true for men. And so, and a lot of these statistics are saying essentially the same thing. 

Also, women are far more likely to be the victims of homicide/suicide. So if someone kills their partner, and then kills himself, it’s almost always a woman who is being killed. And another kind of statistic that people have been using for quite a while, is that the trend of intimate partner homicides is decreasing. So a lot of people are saying oh, intimate partner homicides are going down. They’re going down. Well in fact, that was true from about 1980 to about 1995. And since then, the trend has been going back up.

And now, if we compare numbers from 1980 to current - so this city was done in 2011 - we actually see a five percent increase in the proportion of women who are killed by an intimate partner. So the trend was going down for a while, but now it’s increasing again. All right, so domestic violence is actually the strongest risk factor for intimate partner homicide so if we’re going to lay out all of the risk factors for intimate partner homicide, domestic violence is the strongest risk factor.

So, between about 65 and 80 percent of women who are killed by their partners had experienced domestic violence in the past by that partner. And if we look at men who are killed by their intimate partner, about 75 percent of them had abused that intimate partner in the past. So men are more often killed after abusing their intimate partner. But again, when we look at kind of the crime statistics, we see that less than half of male perpetrators of intimate partner homicide were arrested in the year prior to their arrest - or in the year prior to the homicide, sorry.

So, we have less than half of them are being arrested. And then, less than half of those men were arrested for domestic violence. So they’re arrested for a lot of things, but only about 37 percent were arrested - of those arrested, were arrested for domestic violence. So other reasons were other violent crimes or other nonviolent crimes. Okay, so this is my first example of this. This case is the Hubbard case. So this man, he shot his ex-girlfriend, her cousin, and her cousin’s husband in the cousin’s home.

So the woman was there, the victim, the intimate partner was there, because she felt safe at her cousin’s home. And he came and killed her, her cousin, and her cousin’s husband. Their seventeen-year-old son was in the home at the time. The cousin’s and the husband’s seventeen-year-old son was in the home, and as was another person. So this is about the violence that he perpetrated before. Now, this man had an extensive history of perpetrating domestic violence against his partner. So as you can see, he was sent to prison eleven years prior to this for repeatedly punching his girlfriend, knocking her unconscious, and knocking out two of her teeth. So, he had held her for seven hours. The following year, he chased his seventeen-year-old son into the street with a knife. He had allegedly attacked her in June, knocked her unconscious and bloodying her mouth. So this is June, prior to the homicide. And while he was arrested, the case was not prosecuted.

And the newspaper reports say that that’s most likely because the victim chose not to cooperate. So this is someone who had an extensive history of domestic violence, of recorded domestic violence. Now, this case is the Jones’ case. And this gentleman, Adolph Jones, had bought a gun, and went and he killed his wife and his two stepchildren while they were sleeping, and then he shot himself, actually while he was driving. And what the story about this says, is that - and I think that this is an interesting thing that often happens in reporting where people will say, the neighbors said the Jones appeared to be a happy family. But their closest friends said that the wife was often a target of emotional abuse by her husband however police had no record of domestic problems in the home. So this is a case where there was most likely domestic violence. You have her closest friend saying like, oh yeah, she was often a target of abuse from her husband. But police had no record. So I just kind of wanted to show the two different ways that that is often reported.

One of my personal pet peeves is when they say oh, neighbors said the Jones appeared to be a happy family. So I feel like often, they’ll say - the reporters will say oh, he was such a nice guy. And then, the next thing they’ll say like, but he killed his family. So I think that those two things, in my feeling of it, are pretty much incompatible. But I feel like this happens a lot. So they appeared to be a happy family, but she was experiencing abuse in the home.

So, moving on to the relationship between guns and intimate partner homicides. So I think the biggest thing to point out here is that more intimate partner homicides are committed with guns, than any other weapon combined. So guns are the most common means of killing an intimate partner. And about 57.4 percent, about, of intimate partner of homicides are committed with a gun. And if you look at ex-wives, it’s an even higher number, so that’s 77 percent. So we’re looking at very high proportions of guns being used in intimate partner homicides, to kill a female partner.

Also, guns are more likely to be used in intimate partner homicides than in non-intimate partner homicides. So we see more guns being used in intimate partner homicides than in other types of homicides. And an important thing to point out is that the availability of guns - and I’m going to talk about guns as a risk factor in a minute - but the availability of guns, having a gun in the home, it makes it easier to commit homicide, and it particularly makes it easier to commit multiple homicides, because it’s very quick and easy to kill someone with a gun.

So, the book that I’m referencing here, the [Adam’s] book, he spoke to men who are in prison for killing their intimate partners. And some of them said, if there hadn’t of been a gun there, I probably wouldn’t of killed her. So it just makes it so much easier. Now, when we think about guns as a risk factor for homicide, just having a gun in the home, with no other risk factors, simply having a gun in the home increases the likelihood of homicide in that home three times. Okay? So that’s with no other risk factors.

But if we look at other risk factors - so if we have cases where someone has been killed by an intimate partner, they were about eight times more likely to have had a gun in the home. And when previous domestic violence exists, and there’s a gun in the home, it increases the risk of homicide up to twenty times. So if we know that there’s domestic violence, and we know that there’s a gun in the home, there’s twenty times higher likelihood that that person is going to be killed.

If we look at the use of guns in specific battering incidents, so in an incident where domestic violence is occurring, a gun being used in a specific battering incident increases the risk of fatality forty times. So using a gun increases risk of homicide. And then, also if we look at abused women who are in homes with guns, about two thirds of them will say that their partner had used that gun in his abuse, to abuse or to threaten them. Often this is threatening to shoot them or to kill them.

And gun ownership is particularly dangerous when it’s combined with alcohol abuse or drug use, both of which are also risk factors for homicide. So here is an example from an article, and this is the Wendt case. So this gentleman, Thomas Wendt - this happened in Michigan. And he shot his ex-wife, her niece and her friend at close range in front of a courthouse. So they were actually there to testify, and she had a protection order against him and they were there to testify that he had violated that protection order.

And he walked up to them, outside the courthouse building, and shot them with his hunting rifle. In the protection order, he had been restricted from using his guns for anything but hunting. Which, you know, even if somebody says you can only use your guns for hunting, they can still be used to kill people. Apparently, that’s something that needs to be pointed out. And she said - actually, I think that this is a really good quote.

Because she’s getting this restraining order, and she says to the judge, “I don’t know what you can do to make him leave me alone, and make me feel a little safer.” So he had a history of violating the restraining order, and he was stalking her also. And, so we’ll talk about those two things as risk factors, for homicide as well. 

And I think another thing to point out in this case is that when victims and perpetrators are required to show up at the same place, it’s a time when the perpetrator knows where the victim is, okay? So he comes to the courthouse. He knows she’s going to be there. He comes to the courthouse with his gun. He is meaning to kill her. 

So there are several federal laws that limit possession of firearms to individuals who are either subject to restraining orders or protective orders, or have been convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors. Now, there are loopholes to these laws so they don’t always - for example, in Arizona, people who are convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, their guns are not automatically taken away.

And if we look at protection orders, there are loopholes to this law in terms of protection orders. So one of those is that a lot of protection orders happen ex parte, so a woman goes to the courthouse, and gets a protection order. The partner does not have to be there, unless he chooses later to contest the order. So in some places they say, because your partner is not here to defend himself, we cannot take away his guns. So, because he is not there. So if he does come back later and contests the order, they could add that on.

So that’s one of the loopholes. In Arizona, survivors have to request a prohibition against their partner owning a gun, so they have to check a box. Many of them don’t know to do that, or are scared to do that. So they’re scared to say that the partner has to turn in his guns. Even if they do check that box, no one is going to seize those guns. So, seizure of firearms rarely happens in these cases. So people will say - the judge will maybe say, bring your guns to the courthouse, or give them to your brother. I mean, bringing the guns to the courthouse is actually a strong choice in that case. A lot of people will say well, I gave them to my brother. I don’t have them anymore. And we say, oh okay. As if that person can’t get them back. Or bring them to the courthouse. As if they’re actually going to do that, right? Also, gun shows and private sales don’t go through the federal database. So those are also loopholes for people who have lost their guns. They can get them back relatively easily, in a lot of cases. Well, not those guns back, but they can get guns again, in a lot of cases.

But when guns are prohibited - well so first, I guess the first thing I want to say is that between 1998 and 2001, there were about 200,000 denials for gun purchases, and 14 percent of those were due to domestic violence. Or, were the result of domestic violence [missing] in their convictions. And during that same period, 26 percent of all referrals who retrieved firearms from prohibited users, so this is 3,000 cases, were also due to domestic violence. So domestic violence offenders are trying to get guns. They are actually getting guns.

And I think that that was pretty clear by this data. But when laws are put in place to restrict firearms - when people are subject to protection orders, there’s a 13 percent reduction in rates of intimate partner homicides. So we are actually seeing intimate partner homicides going down. And this is a study by Vigdor & Mercy, but Daniel Webster actually replicated this also in another county. But there’s not a similar effect for domestic violence misdemeanor, so this is an effect of protection orders.

So prohibiting the possession of guns, of actually removing them, does work. It does reduce domestic violence homicides across counties, so not just in single pieces, but it happens on a broad scale. So this case, again is the Wendt case. And this is - I was saying that he had been stalking her. So they focused a lot, in this case, on domestic violence that occurred after the separation. And it was generally harassment and stalking. He threatened to kill her, so he told her he was going to do this. He told her he was going to shoot her, and then he was going to shoot himself, and she was scared to death of him.

So we see a lot of risk factors. And the first one that I’m going to talk about is stalking. So this, Thomas Wendt, was stalking his intimate partner, or his ex-intimate partner. And when we look at stalking, as a risk factor - so I think it’s important to first of all state that about 62 percent of stalking cases are done by an intimate partner. And stalking may be one of the most common risk factors for intimate partner homicides, so we’re seeing stalking come up a lot.

Seventy-six percent of homicide victims were stalked in the year prior to the homicide. And 85 percent of attempted homicide victims were stalked in the year prior. So we’re seeing a lot of stalking, prior to the homicides. And then stalkers who make threats, such as threats to kill, are more likely to carry out those threats. So if we’re seeing, as in the Wendt case, if we’re seeing someone who is stalking their partner, and threatening to kill them, those threats are more likely to be carried out.

And then, the victim in that case was also saying that she’s scared. And so, whenever you hear a victim of domestic violence say that she’s scared of her partner, that’s an important reason to stand up and take notice. So women are not always accurate, at assessing their risk, but they tend to underestimate their risk of homicide. So if somebody’s saying I’m scared of my partner, I think he’s going to kill me, it’s likely that that’s going to happen.

So, women may be able to take more into account dynamic risk factors, so things that are occurring in that abuser’s life that may make it more likely for him to commit homicide at the time, or less likely. And when we look at risk assessments, that some risk assessments have been shown to have greater predictive validity than survivors’ assessments of risk, when you directly compare them. And that’s generally because survivors tend to underestimate their risk.

All right, so Lydia Pinal is - so this is another case, I don’t think I told you the specifics about yet. So it happened in 2010 in Rio Grande City, Texas, and Pinal shot his wife, her mother and the sister of the wife’s employer. So the wife was doing in-home care. She was at her employer’s house doing in-home care. The employer’s sister was there and her mother was there. She had been bringing her mother along, because she was scared. And he came to the home, and shot the three of them.

She had filed for divorce two months prior, and there was a history of violence in the marriage. And why I pulled this one is because there was a big history of him pulling out his gun, and threatening her and her family with it. So, the man would often pull out the weapon and threaten family members with it. He never had the guts to shoot it, he said. But then he said, I guess he was heartbroken, and that can drive people to do crazy things. So there’s a couple of things I want to point out about this.

We’re going to talk about brandishing weapons and threats, as a risk factor for homicide, in a minute. But I think, another thing that I often see in reporting is people will say oh, it was crazy. I can’t believe this happened. Well, when you’re pulling out your gun and threatening your partner, this is not - well, that is crazy behavior. But killing her after that, is not crazy. It’s to be expected. So this is a precursor to homicide. It’s a risk factor. And so, I think that oftentimes people will say oh, I can’t believe he did it.

Well, actually if we look at the risk factors, I can believe it, because he was telling you. He was saying to her, I’m going to kill you. So if we think about threats to kill, and threats with a weapon - threats to kill are particularly dangerous when a victim believes that her partner is capable of killing her. So that kind of goes to the same issues I was talking about before. When women are scared of their partner, they generally have reason to be. And in cases of homicide, a perpetrator is about two and a half times more likely to have threatened his partner, prior.

And in cases of homicide, too, is about four times more likely to have threatened his partner with a weapon. So if we see threats to kill, that’s an increased risk of homicide. But if we see threats to kill with a weapon, we have about four time increased risk of homicide. And in cases of homicides - so if we look at homicides, the perpetrator was over forty times more likely to have used a gun in a previous battering episode, or during the worst incident of violence. So we have people who are pulling out their guns, on their partners, are likely to kill them.

We’re back to the Hubbard case. And what I wanted to point out about this is that in this article, they say meanwhile, Hubbard felt like he was losing control. So I think that one thing that we often fail to remember about domestic violence is that it’s not a series of isolated violent incidents. It’s a pattern of coercive control that partners are using to maintain power and control over their victims. And so, separation is often seen as a loss of control. And so, separation is a big risk factor for homicides.

So when women leave their partners, they’re more likely to be killed by them. And in fact, in the literature, there’s even a term for this, which is separation homicide, and this is theorized as a lack of control. So he’s losing control of his partner - or of his family. And it’s important to point out that risk increases when someone physically leaves their relationship. But there’s also kind of a series of mini-separations that happen after that or, before that. Separation is not one single event. It’s a series of smaller events. So separation might begin when a victim tells her partner that she wants to leave, that she wants a divorce. Then, she’s going to move out of the house. She’s going to file for divorce. She might file for custody. She might get a protection order. There’s so many things, so many steps towards legal separation. The judge may come down with the custody and divorce decree, so that can also be seen as a loss of control. So any of these things can be seen as a separation.

And the highest risk, after separation, is in the first three months. Women are eventually more safe, but they have an increased risk for up to a year. So this is not something that happens, and then goes away. In case of the homicide, women were about four times more likely to have recently separated from their partners. And women whose partners were highly controlling were about three times more likely to be killed, so if we’re thinking about this separation and control, as kind of two sides of the same coin, if we put those together - so when women had a partner who was highly controlling, and she separated from him, her odds of homicide increase up to nine times. So we’re seeing kind of a combined effect of those two things.

Audience member: How do you define highly controlling?

JM: So this question is, does your partner control all or most of your daily activities? So in general, when he tries to control kind of what she does, who she sees, where she goes, things of that nature.

Audience member: So these are questions that were asked of these victims?

JM: So this particular question was asked - it’s a study that was done by my mentor, Jackie Campbell, in 2003. She had a group of homicide victims, a group of women who were almost killed, and a group of abused control women. And for the women who had been killed, she used proxies, so a mother or a sister, or someone who knew a lot about her relationship. And she asked a series of questions, in order to create a risk assessment for homicide. So she created the danger assessments. And the question on the danger assessment is, does your partner control all or most of your daily activities? For example tell you, who you can be friends with, where you can go, things like that. And so that question was actually asked to the proxies, but also to the near fatal.

BS: We can drill down more a method in questions, but I think let’s maybe get through the slides and get to the questions.

JM: Yes, and I know that we’re almost at time for questions, so I actually think I’m getting close to the end of my points. So this one - this is actually not from my database. This is just a point I wanted to make. Although, one of the cases that I was talking about had - in the Hubbard case, there had also been strangulation. But this is a case that happened in San Jose, just this year, earlier this year, and I pulled this article. I saw this news article, and I said oh, this is a really good example of one of my pet peeves which is his neighbor said, how do you go from being a nice person to a killer? Right? I mean this guy, he actually killed a police officer. But earlier in the article, he was booked for felony domestic violence, and his wife reported that he had choked her, and hit her in their home. So what I don’t understand is, how do you classify someone who strangles his wife as a nice person? So I think that this is often something that people say. Like oh, he was such a nice person but actually, he’s committing domestic violence in the home. And I think that this also goes to appearances, right? Often, domestic violence offenders do appear to be nice to everyone but their family. And that also demonstrates that it’s an issue of control, and not an issue of anger. So strangulation - and I want to bring this up, because strangulation is a huge risk factor for homicides. So when we see prior strangulation, we also see women being killed by their partners at about eight times, eight times the risk. They have about eight times the risk of being killed by their partners. And I see it over and over in these homicide cases, that there had been previous strangulation. 

And the final point that I want to talk about is that often in reporting of domestic violence homicides, people say the children were not hurt. And so, I just want to point out that even if children are not killed or physically injured in the domestic violence situation, or the domestic violence homicide, they are hurt and they’re emotionally hurt.

So first of all, research estimates that about 30 to 60 percent of cases where there’s domestic violence, there’s also child abuse. So those two things tend to go hand in hand. And the majority of children, who live in homes where domestic violence occurs, witness that abuse. So about 75 to 87 percent, depending on the study. And a lot of times, women will say, I left when I realized the effect that it was having on my children. Or, you know, my children never actually saw the abuse. And in most cases, that’s not the case.

So, in most cases, children are witnessing the abuse and it is hurting them. So children who witness domestic violence - girls, children who witness domestic violence are more likely to - essentially, they say like turn the anger inwards. So you’re more likely to see depression, anxiety, social isolation. Boys who witness violence are more likely to act out and be aggressive. But we are seeing both of those things coming from the witnessing of domestic violence, and different ways of managing it.

One of the more recent things people are looking at is post-traumatic stress disorder. So we’re seeing a lot of PTSD in women who are abused, and also in their children. And the same - oh, so here’s another example. So this is back to the Hubbard case, and this actually a child. The son and another person were inside the Richardson’s home and were not hurt. So this is just kind of an example of that. Whereas in other cases, people will say, the children were not physically hurt, but will continue to suffer emotionally. And I think that this is much more accurate.

So if we see women who are killed by their partners - so there’s about 3300 children who are affected by intimate partner femicide each year. So about 3300 children have their mother killed by an intimate partner each year. And the loss of one, or both of their parents, has attendant custody and living issues. So if their father kills their mother, what are they going to do? Where are they going to live, right? That’s hard for them.

Children who witness their parent’s homicide are also deeply hurt, and these sometimes generally are described as kind of PTSD-like symptoms. So we have recurrent intrusion of thoughts, nightmares, emotional detachment, avoidance, chronic fear, poor concentration, and this doesn’t go away, right? So it doesn’t go away immediately. It takes time. And so the children who witnessed their parent’s homicide are deeply emotionally hurt.

And so, here’s another example and this is actually of not a child, but of a woman who was not killed in the Pinal incident, so the woman’s employer. And they say she was unharmed physically, but was emotionally distraught. And I’m just going to throw out some additional risk factors, I didn’t talk about today. So these are just some additional risk factors for homicide that you guys can take a look at, or ask questions about if you like. But I do want to go ahead and move on to questions.

BS: Jill, why don’t you start throwing out and start, and then the floor is open. If we look at these kind of two interlocking gears of intimate partner violence and guns, and you as an expert in interventions in community, law enforcement partnerships, and so on. If you were to pick one intervention to break apart those two interlocking gears of guns and IPV, what would it be?

JM: If I were to pick one, the easiest one is that I think kind of the lowest hanging fruit that we have are this idea about protection orders. So if we can say, that if someone has a protection order, a domestic violence protection order, and we actually go to their house and take their guns. I think that that would be the easiest, and an effective thing to be doing. So that’s what, you know, I think that there’s a lot more kind of bigger, broader things. But I think in terms of, you know, the laws are in place. We just have to implement them differently. I think that would be a very simple solution. Yes?

Audience member: Kind of along those lines, what’s the difference between the protection order and having the misdemeanor domestic violence? Like why does one have an effect and not so much the other?

JM: Yeah, I think that it’s hard to say. I would say that people who get protection orders, they kind of have to take an affirmative step. So they tend to be - and you have to say - you have to document violence in the past year. And in general, you have to be saying, I’m scared of my partner. So judges generally won’t give a protection order unless someone’s scared. So it could be that idea of the fear. Or, someone actually taking that affirmative step to say, I’m afraid of my partner. I want him to stay away from me. I’m afraid of him coming into contact with me. So in that sense, it may be a bit of a higher threshold. Yes?

Audience member: How do DV laws vary through the states in terms of gun ownership?

JM: So, there is quite a bit of variation. So, I think that those are kind of the two major things, around protection orders and around domestic violence misdemeanors. So in some states, a domestic violence misdemeanor means you lose your gun. A protection order means you lose your gun automatically. I don’t know of any states who are actually - there was, actually, a pilot program in a county in Central California, I believe, where officers, when someone had a protection order, went and knocked on the door, and seized guns. And actually, they have a much easier time doing that, than they thought they would. So, they thought people would be like no, I’m not going to give you my gun. But actually, when they went to the door and they said, hand over your weapons, people tended to do it. But that’s the only thing that I’ve heard about is actually people affirmatively taking that step, and that did reduce homicides so those are kind of the two main laws, and the two main differences across states, is that some allow guns to be taken after every protection order, after all misdemeanors. And very few work proactively to do that, whereas others, it’s more spotty and doesn’t really happen. Yes?

Audience member: I can’t remember if you touched on it, but does a woman requesting a protection order aggravate or increase the risk of violence?

JM: So, it can. You know, I feel like I see often, these reports of women getting a protection order and taking all the right steps, and their partner still kills them. And I think that we can’t think of any of these things as like a magic bullet, right? After all, a protection order is a piece of paper. So I would say that for men who see it as a loss of control, or a separation, it could aggravate violence. Also, and I would kind of put that in with men who have a history of ignoring court orders. So if somebody’s violating their protection order often, that could be a sign that it’s not going to help. Also, protection orders don’t seem to help when it’s stalking. So while that tends to be one of the main points of it for people who are stalking their partners, if they get a protection order, it does not seem to help. It does seem to protect against severe and moderate violence in the aggregate. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will help for any individual person. So I think that’s something definitely survivors have to take into account. Yes?

Audience member: So you mentioned the danger assessment, which I believe is the basis for the Lethality Screening for First Responders.

JM: It is, yes.

Audience member: So how successful has that been? Because I know in Milwaukee County, all of our law enforcement agencies were just trained on that in the fall. And so, is there a lot of measurements because Jackie Campbell was the basis of that, right?

JM: Yeah, I’m actually wondering if you’re a plant in the audience. I just finished a major study on the Lethality Assessment Program. Thank you, thank you for asking. So, we implemented the Lethality Assessment Program, and I’ll tell you a little bit about what that is. So, the Lethality Screen is a shortened eleven item version of the danger assessment that was developed for use by first responders.

So the danger assessment is a twenty item risk assessment tool that Jackie Campbell developed, that’s intended to be used in collaboration with a victim of violence, to help her kind of look at her risk, and then also determine safety steps. But it takes a while to conduct. It’s intended to be done kind of in collaboration, so an advocate sits down with a survivor and works on the danger assessment. So the Lethality Screen was intended to be a much quicker version of the danger assessment. So it’s eleven items. They’re asked to the victim at the scene of a domestic violence incident, and if a victim is determined to be at high risk for domestic homicide, so that’s if she answers yes to any of the first three questions, or yes to four of the next seven questions. She’s determined to be at high risk for homicide, and they activate what they call a protocol referral. And so, the officer will ask her if she would be willing to speak on the phone to an advocate. If she chooses to do so, that’s great. She’ll have about a ten minute conversation with the advocate. The advocate will give her some information on safety planning, and on kind of steps that she can do. The advocate will encourage her to come in for services. If she says no, the officer will still call, and will get some immediate safety planning tips from the advocate. So that’s kind of the outline of what it is. 

The study that we just did was quite an experimental study so we had women who didn’t experience the intervention, and women who did, and we compared them. They were not randomly assigned so that there were some differences between groups. And what we found was that - and we did request seven counties in Oklahoma. And what we found is that women who were screened in as high risk and spoke to the hotline counselor were more likely to take affirmative steps, both immediately after the police came, so right after the police came, they were actually more likely to remove or hide their partner’s weapons. And they were more likely to go in for domestic violence services. In the seven following months, they were more likely to take additional safety steps such as getting an order of protection, and taking some other steps to protect themselves. They were also at seven months’ follow-up, less likely to experience as severe or as frequent violence so it’s not, you know, cutting out people’s violence, but it is reducing the amount of violence that women are experiencing. So I think interventions like that can be really useful, in terms of when the police go to a domestic violence scene.

BS: Jill, is there any data on domestic violence survivors, who themselves are or become gun owners? Is there anything there?

JM: I feel like I just read something about this. But I think what I read was not specific to domestic violence survivors. So I don’t know - and actually that reminds me of one of the things that we found in the Oklahoma study was that women were more likely to get something like Mace. We didn’t ask specifically about guns. But we said, did you get something to protect yourself? And they were more likely to do that. So like Mace - and it is Oklahoma, so you know, I’m not kidding myself. I’m sure that they were getting guns. But the study that I saw was that even when - so like just having a gun in the house, no matter whose it is increases risk of homicide. So it wasn’t specific to domestic violence survivors, but I would assume that kind of some of these same numbers that we’re seeing would be true. And just like, you can’t say oh, just use your gun for hunting, right? You can’t say like oh, you can’t touch that gun, that’s my gun. So I think just having a gun in the home increases risk.

Audience member: Is this data published or accessible somewhere? That I found it very useful, but it went by so fast, I didn’t get to -

BS: We’re going to make these slides available.

Audience member: Okay.

JM: And I actually brought handouts, too. So I can pass those around now. So, pretty much everything that I’ve talked about has a citation next to it. So it is all published. Is that, kind of you meant pretty much everything?

Audience member: Well, I meant the slides. So that I could then go back and find -

JM: Yes.

Audience member: Hi, I just had a question. In your presentation, you discussed a lot about how some of these court orders don’t end up meaning anything, because it doesn’t mean you’re going to use your hunting rifle for only hunting. So what would you say is the reality of how these DV related court orders enforced in reality?

JM: Like, what generally ends up happening? Like, what is the enforcement?

Audience member: Especially relating to XX and also court orders on prohibitive possessorship and things like that.

JM: Yeah, I would say there’s not a lot of enforcement. I mean, that would kind of be my general answer. So we’re not seeing a lot of cases where someone is - for domestic violence restraining orders, for example. Even if the judge says, you know, bring your guns in. In general, nobody’s going to check to make sure they’ve turned all their guns in. So, a lot of that is under-enforced. In terms of, I think people actually getting into the databases, where they can’t buy guns, I do think that that happens more often.

So they can’t get more guns, as long as they’re not getting them through private sales or gun shows. So I think that there are always kind of loopholes, and I would like to see more enforcement of the laws that are already on the books. I think that that would be a really great first step.

BS: All right, one more and then we’ll really have to call it a day.

JM: Yes?

Audience member: Is it incumbent upon the victim to seek the protection order? Or is there some loophole that allows law enforcement to advocate on the woman’s behalf, knowing that they likely won’t attempt to get one?

JM: So it is, yes, it’s incumbent upon women to get a protection order. So it’s a civil order. So they have to go to court. I’m actually doing a study right now that’s looking at why some women choose to get orders, and some women don’t. So I’m working with Alicia [Dorfey] who’s in Women & Gender Studies. But that, I think is a really interesting question. So a lot of people who get protection orders say oh, it makes me feel safer. It may not necessarily reduce violence, but it makes them feel safer.

But there’s a whole group of women - the majority of women don’t get protection orders. So what we really wanted to look at is like, what are women weighing? What are those choices? What are they looking like? In terms of, who chooses to get one, and who doesn’t. And I think that a lot of that may go back to risk. It may go back to fear, back to danger. There are emergency protective orders that officers can encourage women to get at the scene of domestic violence incidents. But they still have to say - I’m pretty sure they still have to say that they want it.

BS: Okay, well Jill, thank you very much. [applause]