Stephanie Moseley: America can no longer stand by as women die for no reason — here's how we can help prevent domestic violence

An effective new model for spotting the signs escalating abuse has already saved lives

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The Independent Online

Stephanie Moseley was shot and murdered by her husband Earl Hayes on Monday evening. As usual, the normal speculative questions have started flying around: Who knew? Why did she stay?  How could this have happened when he was such a nice guy, they seemed very happy together, they had so much to live for?

But there are other, arguably more important questions: Why do abusers continue to abuse? What could we have done? Who saw the warning signs? How can we honour this loss of life by doing everything we can to prevent another homicide or act of abuse?

Almost one in four women in the US reports experiencing domestic violence by a current or former partner at some point in their life. One in three homicide victims are murdered by a current or former party every year. And when the worst happens, each death reminds us that domestic violence affects all of us, regardless of celebrity or status, education or economic position, religion, nationality, or age.

To help prevent abuse, we must follow the lead of survivors, but also be mindful that victims face grave danger. Only about 50 per cent of those being abused by their partners have been found to accurately assess the danger and risks they were facing. The solution to this is more contact from trained domestic violence advocates who can engage and build trust with victims, and help them see the signs.

Looking at the statistics on domestic violence makes for depressing reading. But there are many signs that make me hopeful. Sexual and domestic violence are becoming known as public health and safety issues, and people are genuinely engaged to learn about the issues. Also, more systems are adopting evidence and research-based programs that help identify abusers who are at risk of committing homicide and to support survivors of domestic violence.

Among these is the Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT) model. This identifies predictable patterns that escalate in violence and severity. The DVHRT brings together a range of experts from different fields to help identify high risk cases to hold abusers accountable for their behaviour, so that victims can be safe.

This approach encourages victims to get the support services they need to stabilise their lives. Since the model was introduced in 2004 in Newburyport, Massachusetts there have been no domestic violence homicides in the area. In a small, nearby town called Amesbury, for a decade almost one domestic homicide was taking place every year. Likewise, now the DVHRT model is in place there have been none. What's more, the model is being replicated in communities throughout Massachusetts, and across the nation.

However, as well as making sure this is in place, we must also ensure that local sexual and domestic violence services are well-funded and accessible to victims, no matter what their situation may be. And we must dig deeper to unlock the intersections of sexual and domestic violence with other social issues. For if we do not adopt a comprehensive approach to these issues, we will be the proverbial dog chasing its own tail, unable to interrupt the dynamics of power and control that foster abuse and violence.

This article has been co-authored with Debra J. Robbin, Interim Executive Director of Jane Doe Inc.

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