When Are Police Officers Going to Stop Underestimating the Link Between Domestic Violence and Murder?


Week after week, it feels like another woman is murdered by a current or previous partner. And often these deaths were entirely preventable, with the killers possessing a documented history of domestic violence. As we’ve seen just this year in the murders of women like Aisha Fraser, Tiffany Wilson, Tamara O’Neal, and Jaelynn Willey, and multiple studies, there is a direct link between domestic violence and murdered women in this country, and yet men like Fraser’s killer Lance Mason and Wilson’s killer Kareem Dawson are given short sentences or are let out on bail just long enough to kill someone.

The Washington Post builds on this already well-established reality with a new investigation, in which they find that in 4,484 murders of women in 47 major U.S. cities over the last decade, nearly half of those victims were killed by an intimate partner. By honing in on murders in five of those cities, the paper also found that a third of these men were known already to be a threat to these women, whether there had been a restraining order against them or they had a previous conviction. For example in a study of Fort Worth, Texas, it was found that 55% of homicides were committed by men who possessed a previous track record of violence or abuse. Their analysis also finds that these killings can be especially brutal, largely encompassing stabbings, and confirms that strangulation is a key indicator that an abusive partner will probably commit murder.

In an interview in the piece with Art Clayton, chief of the Intimate Partner Violence Unit in the district attorney’s office in Tarrant County, Tex., Clayton says victims are often “not cooperative” in repeat abuse cases because they don’t want law enforcement to harm their partner. The article uses the case of Minerva Cisneros, who arrived at a hospital in 2014 with “a bloody nose, busted lip, strangulation marks on her neck and blood in her eyes,” eight months pregnant, saying her husband had tried to strangle her unconscious. Her husband was taken into custody immediately, but Cisneros said she wanted the criminal case against him dismissed and a jury did not indict him. The next year she was shot dead and only now does law enforcement admit there were “missteps.”

It’s easily preventable cases like Cisneros where police officers should not simply dismiss a case because a victim wants it. Her murder was not a result of her being uncooperative, but law enforcement’s lack of intervention. Now, the Washington Post reports, the district attorney’s office for Cisnero’s county has stopped accepting requests to drop charges from their abusers. In San Diego, the district attorney’s office recently received a grant to create an algorithm to determine what cases might become fatal. And yet it’s disheartening to know an algorithm is required when data has made it clear what the obvious, physical warning signs are when it comes to domestic violence that escalates to murder.

Because despite the mountain of cases linking domestic abusers to murder and mass shootings, these men are just beginning to be perceived as future killers in the eyes of the law. It doesn’t help that threatening texts don’t always register as criminal activity and that restraining orders won’t necessarily protect women from bodily harm. And media narratives still frame domestic violence as a mistake a man can overcome or fail to recognize harassment as a precursor to fatal violence. Until law enforcement everywhere recognizes that the moment a woman is strangled in her own home she is on the fast track to being murdered, these victims will remain severely under-protected by the law.

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