Victims of domestic violence often suffer in silence, hiding their abuse from friends and family. But even when they do speak up or seek help, women who have been abused are still at risk of sometimes fatal violence. We talk to April Zeoli, an associate professor in MSU’s School of Criminal Justice, about why Michigan women are particularly at risk.
For the nearly one in four American women who have experienced domestic violence, escaping an abusive relationship is no easy feat. Victims often face economic and psychological pressure to stay with their abusive partner. And even when they seek out help, those men and women can still be at risk of sometimes fatal violence.
An average of three women are murdered by intimate partners every day in the United States. A recent report from the Violence Policy Center found that Michigan ranked in the top ten states for the number of these domestic homicides.
Current State talks with April Zeoli, Associate Professor in the MSU School of Criminal Justice and part of the Research Consortium on Gender Based Violence.
How often does domestic violence become homicide in MI?
Some studies suggest that one in three women above the age of eighteen will be victims of domestic violence within their lifetimes. That is a very high rate of intimate partner violence. We don't really know the percentage of those cases that end up as domestic violence homicides. But domestic violence homicide is rare, happily. In Michigan in 2013, the year the Violence Policy Center study you cited looked at, 73 women were victims of homicide. Those victims were mostly victims of intimate partner homicide – so killed by a spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend, common law spouse, someone they lived with.
Are some women at greater risk than others?
Intimate partner violence does cut across racial and social classes. But it really looks like women who are impoverished are more likely to experience intimate partner violence at least are less likely to be able to gain safety without the help of community resources. As far as intimate partner homicide goes, women of color are over represented as victims of intimate partner homicide.
Describe the role of firearms in domestic violence homicides.
Most intimate partner homicides are committed with firearms. So, what I have been looking at is how the laws that we have regarding firearms in Michigan and across the United States might help women gain safety. And Michigan's legal landscape when it comes to keeping firearms from perpetrators of intimate partner violence is kind of mixed. We don't have any state laws that prohibit those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from firearm possession. There is a federal law in place but having a state law could strengthen our response. We suspect that would make a difference. And I'm actually in the midst of a research project looking at that very question right now.
Now one of the laws that research suggests makes a difference is laws prohibiting people under domestic violence restraining orders from having firearms. Those tend to reduce intimate partner homicides in states or cities where they're in place. Michigan does have a law that prohibits those under permanent domestic violence restraining orders from firearm possession. However, the vast majority of restraining orders in Michigan are not permanent restraining orders. They are ex parte orders that were put in place without a hearing at which the offender could defend himself.