Image from the Dehiwela Puppet Museum.
Most wars are civil, and most violence is domestic. I’ve had enough and more conversations about how bad domestic violence is and ‘what to do’. The latter phase, in Sri Lanka at least, is more of an impotent shrug than an actual question. But something can be done, as this article about Maryland shows.
Between 40 and 50 percent of female homicide victims are killed by their husbands, boyfriends, and exes. And, for about half of these victims, police had been alerted to previous incidents of abuse.
There is, however, one exception to this grim trend: Maryland. Since 2007, domestic violence homicides in the state have fallen by a stunning 40 percent. What is Maryland doing that other states are not? The answer appears to lie with a former high school nurse, an ex-Washington, D.C., police lieutenant, and their ground-breaking efforts to protect the most vulnerable victims of abuse.
What’s the solution? Basically to ask if women were being threatened, to take those threats seriously, and to then refer them to a local shelter that would take the women seriously as well.
By the end of 2005, the group had developed a series of questions that they called “the screen.” The first three questions concerned the most important predictors of future homicide: Has the abuser used a weapon against you? Has he threatened to kill you? Do you think he might kill you? If the woman answered yes to any of those questions, she “screened in.” If she answered no, but yes to four of the remaining eight questions, again, she was in. Among these were other, less obvious indicators of fatal violence: Has he ever tried to kill himself? Does she have a child that he knows isn’t his?
The officer would then present her with an assessment: Others in your circumstances have been killed; help is available if you want it. If the woman agreed, an officer would dial the local shelter from a police cell phone (to prevent the abuser from finding out about the call) and hand it over.
There is a pervasive idea that domestic ‘disputes’ need stay in the home, but when it comes to threats of physical violence and rape, it’s simply not true. These are public health and safety issues (not to mention moral ones) and public policy needs to adapt.
It seems like the biggest issue is simply taking the problem, and women, seriously, which Sri Lanka has a serious problem with. We lack almost all components of this policy. Cops don’t really take domestic violence or threats seriously, and there are very few local shelters to refer people to. There are also cultural taboos which favor keeping a marriage together, even if it’s abusive. These thing can all change, however, as a matter of policy, or if people privately fund local shelters enough and lobby for basic screening from the cops. It seems to make sense.