The Georgia Commission on Family Violence and the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence this week issued Georgia’s 2012 Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report. The statewide agencies involved in the project’s undertaking work with local teams to review domestic violence-related deaths and learn how Georgia can respond more effectively and prevent more fatalities from occurring. The report analyzes domestic violence homicides in the state and provides recommendations for lowering homicide rates.
For Bartow County Sheriff’s Office Domestic Violence Unit Victim’s Advocate Terrie Southerland, family violence is an all-too-real occurrence.
“I think it’s a lot bigger than people realize. Obviously, when people go out on a 911 call, it could be a medical emergency, but a lot of times, it’s someone’s threatened somebody,” she said. “I don’t know the statistics, of course. … Domestic-related calls are pretty high.”
BCSO Investigator Sgt. Jonathan Rogers said domestic violence-related reports rank as one of the most frequent calls deputies receive based on his research.
“I’d say, at least on average, probably at least a quarter — say in a 24-hour period — at least a quarter of those cases are domestic-violence related, whether it’s just a verbal argument or murder or battery or whatever,” he said.
Included in the stack of literature Southerland makes available is the pamphlet victims receive when deputies respond to a domestic call.
According to the brochure, under the Family Violence Act, outlined in Official Code of Georgia Annotated 19-13-1, family violence “means the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between past or present spouses, persons who are parents of the same, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household: (1) any felony; or (2) commission of offenses of battery, simple battery, simple assault, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, or criminal trespass.”
Georgia ranked 10th in the nation for men killing women in single-victim homicides, most of which are domestic violence murders, according to a study conducted by the Violence Policy Center.
“Over the past 10 years, the Project has recorded the deaths of over 1,200 Georgians due to domestic violence. In 2012, we recorded the deaths of 128 Georgians due to domestic violence. Already this year in Georgia, 34 people have lost their lives,” according to a Georgia Commission on Family Violence press release.
The fatality review reported no domestic violence-related homicides for Bartow County for 2009 through 2012, with seven deaths listed for 2003 to 2008. Neither Southerland nor Rogers agree with those figures.
“There was a question about how these folks were getting their statistics,” Southerland said.
For 2013, Bartow County already has two family violence-related homicides — the murder-suicide involving a clerk at Barnsley Gardens Resort and the shooting death of a Cartersville man earlier this month.
In the Barnsley case, Angela Player, 37, and Robert Brazell, 42, had divorced in January with no history of reported domestic violence.
Just 19 hours before she was killed, however, Player had filed a stalking report with the sheriff’s office.
“She did [file a report], but there was no arrest made,” Rogers said. “… She didn’t file the report until the day of the actual incident. It was not even assigned to follow-up because of the way reports are reviewed in the morning and followed up on.”
Southerland said she works with victims on a daily basis requesting a protective order.
“I get calls every day from typically women, again it could be a man, saying I need to get a restraining order or whatever,” she said. “… Restraining orders are actually orders done by attorneys. That’s going to cost them money. I do TPOs — temporary protective orders — for family violence victims and/or stalking orders of protection. It doesn’t cost you anything other than the time … it takes to come do it and see a judge.”
Before filing for a TPO, threat of violence or actual act of violence needs to have occurred, according to Southerland, who also encourages victims to file a report with law enforcement.
“I would recommend, if he’s assaulted you, you need to make a report. You don’t have to, but if you do, I think it looks more credible to the judge that she’s concerned enough that she made a report with the officer. Let the officer determine if any charges can be made,” she said. “Even if you don’t want to do that, do you have any witnesses? Did a neighbor hear you scream? Do you have bruises you’ve taken pictures of? Did you tell a family member? … I do get protective orders for people who’ve never made a report.”
Temporary protective orders, typically good for one year, are granted by a superior court judge and are listed on a national registry, making them accessible to any officer checking the driver’s license of either victim or offender.
But, as Southerland pointed out, women like Player — those who have left the relationship — are the most susceptible to violence.
“A woman is most vulnerable when she has made the decision to leave, she’s made steps to leave. She may have told him, ‘I’m leaving you tomorrow. I’m filing for divorce.’ Or she may have left,” she said.
“The case last month, she had divorced this guy … He hadn’t committed a crime [just being in the same location]. Anyone can make a report. I can tell Jonathan, ‘My ex-husband is following me.’ That’s not a crime. A piece of paper [TPO] wouldn’t have protected her,” she added.
In 86 percent of the cases studied for the fatality review there was a history of domestic violence. According to the report, 42 percent of victims were between 35 and 44 years of age, and in 42 percent of the cases reviewed, the victim was between 15 and 24 years of age when the relationship began.
Greg Loughlin, executive director of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, responded to the report in a press release, saying, “Now is the time to learn from these deaths and implement changes to prevent more people from dying.”
The full report is available online at www.fatalityreview.com, and officials say the report is a call to action.
“Fatality reviews are a crucial part of learning how we can do things differently in Georgia to connect victims with resources and hold perpetrators accountable. We must join together, as legislators, citizens, law enforcement, faith communities and nonprofit groups to speak out about domestic violence, think critically about the gaps that exist in our communities, and identify crucial intervention points in the lives of victims and abusers,” said Jan Christiansen, executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in a release.
If you or someone you know is being abused, there are community and statewide resources available to you. Locally, the list of resources includes Victim Assistance at 770-387-5106, Tranquility House Women’s Shelter 24-hour crisis line at 770-386-8779 or Southerland at 770-382-5050, extension 6362. Or call 1-800-33-HAVEN (voice/TTY), the toll-free, statewide, 24-hour hotline, for a confidential place to get help or find resources.
Some of the main findings of Georgia’s 2012 Domestic Violence Fatality Review Report include:
• Firearms are the leading cause of death in domestic violence fatalities in Georgia, greater than all other methods combined. In 2012, 76 percent of domestic violence-related fatalities in Georgia were due to firearms.
“I can tell you that in neither of our recent ones did the offender or the person that shot, it was not their gun,” said Bartow County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Sgt. Jonathan Rogers.
• Victims are in contact with law enforcement at much higher rates than domestic violence programs. In reviewed cases, 77 percent of victims were in contact with law enforcement in the five years before the homicide.
• Faith communities are a leading source of support in the lives of victims. In reviewed cases, 30 percent of victims were actively involved in their faith community in the five years before the homicide.
• Employers and co-workers have the potential to increase victim safety through training on recognizing symptoms, supporting victims, and making referrals. In reviewed cases, 75 percent of victims were employed outside of the home at the time of the homicide.
• Children are impacted by these devastating fatalities. In 43 percent of reviewed cases, the victim and perpetrator shared minor children at the time of the homicide and children witnessed the homicide in 18 percent of the cases.