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Intimate partner violence is underreported and often lethal

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Intimate partner violence is underreported and often lethal

Picture of Martha Rosenberg

Ask law enforcement officers what their most dangerous calls are and they will tell you domestic violence (DV) also called intimate partner violence (IPV) because of the extreme, unpredictable emotions. DV and IPV are often associated with drugs and alcohol and sparked by a perpetrator’s “abandonment fears” when a partner tries to leave.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ask law enforcement officers what their most dangerous calls are and they will tell you domestic violence (DV) also called intimate partner violence (IPV) because of the extreme, unpredictable emotions. DV and IPV are often associated with drugs and alcohol and sparked by a perpetrator’s “abandonment fears” when a partner tries to leave.

An early, high profile example of lethal IVP activated by a partner leaving was the case of Dorothy Stratten, Playboy Playmate of the Month for August 1979. She was shot to death in a murder/suicide by husband Paul Snider when she moved in with movie director Peter Bogdanovich.

DV/IPV cases are notoriously complicated for law enforcement because victims can be economically or emotionally dependent on abusers, afraid to press charges because of fear of partner reprisals and can even turn their anger onto authorities. In response to such vagaries, “safe houses” and victim advocates have been put in place and 27 states now mandate that police make an arrest despite the victim’s wishes, if certain conditions are met.

More than one third of women murdered in the US are killed by male intimate partners and the brazen murders expose several disturbing truths. First, almost everyone--the victim, the victim's family, law enforcement, neighbors, coworkers—can see the murders coming but seem unable to prevent them: restraining orders are either not requested or fail. Second, the violence does not always occur behind closed doors but can occur in busy places where others become victims. (Between 2011 and 2015, women in six different beauty parlors were shot by irate gunmen seeking to harm their partners—and 17 died. Several of the gunmen were under orders of protection.) On Black Friday 2014 at the Nordstrom's store on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile store employee Nadia Ezaldein was shot in the head in front of horrified shoppers by an intimate partner.

Third, the murders are frequently sparked by a woman trying to exit an abusive relationship. And last, the killers are often legal gun owners despite their hot tempers and histories of domestic abuse. Richard Idrovo, who killed his girlfriend at the AmeriCash Loan store in downtown Chicago months after the Nordstrom murder, was a legal concealed gun carrier. Men can certainly also suffer from IVP though the victims are six times more likely to be women.

DV and IPV seldom end on their own but escalate from a raised voice to a raised fist to potentially lethal acts. Victims often naively consider a violent act a fluke, especially if it is followed by a period of calm — but IVP is usually progressive and only gets worse.

Most domestic perpetrators have the classic “bully” personality, picking on younger and weaker victims, so it is not surprising DV and IPV are often preceded or accompanied by pet abuse. "Animals can be severely affected by domestic violence situations and many people experiencing violence are unwilling to confide in veterinarians or seek help from animal shelters," says a 2012 paper in a veterinary journal. Fear of harm to pets often keeps victims in abusive situations and in some states, emergency hotline workers have been trained to ask about the safety of pets. One woman who wants to remain anonymous told me her husband found her at a motel where she had fled and told her if she did not come home he would kill the couple’s dogs.

Such emotionally volatile people are described in the book Violence Against Women in Families and Relationships as fearing abandonment, having a “history of some arrests and perhaps sexual assault” and at high risk of “stalking, separation violence and suicide-homicide.” Fewer heterosexual women react to abandonment by male partners with lethal violence possibly because it doesn’t coincide so closely with the terrifying feeling of abandonment by “mom.”

Despite the fact that most women murdered by intimate partners in the US die from guns the male dominated gun lobby vehemently defends the “gun rights” of abuse suspects and people under orders of protection. They argue that gun ownership is a constitutional right that should not be stripped away for a mere “mere issuance of court orders” such as are given for DV or IPV. In fact, an NRA bill in Michigan in 2015 would have allowed domestic abusers including those under restraining orders to have guns and even concealed pistol permits until Governor Rick Snyder vetoed it.

The NRA also defended abusers’ “rights” in Louisiana in 2015, converging on Baton Rouge to protest adding “dating partner” as a qualifier to a domestic abuse battery law which only named spouses, family members or co-habitants. “Not everyone who got in an argument–had a push, had a shove–is going to come back and do more bodily harm,” moaned Bradley Gulotta of Guns Across America. “We don’t need to rush to take away people’s rights just because they made a mistake.”

Clearly prevention and better laws are needed to address IVP. At the top of the list is keeping guns out of the hands of known abusers and people under orders of protection.