A total of 122 North Carolinians lost their lives in domestic violence murders in 2012, an increase of 16 from the previous year, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Tuesday.
“I have great concern about this increase,” Cooper said. “It’s clear that North Carolina must do more to stop domestic abuse before it turns deadly.”
Under a state law enacted in 2007, law enforcement agencies are required to report domestic violence related homicides yearly to the State Bureau of Investigation.
Of the 2012 murders, 78 of the victims were female and 44 were male. The murders were committed by 104 male offenders and 18 female offenders.
Of the 122 victims of domestic violence murders last year, seven had taken out protective orders and three of the protective orders were current when the victims were murdered. None of the offenders was reported to be on pre-trial release for a domestic violence crime when the murder was committed.
Wake County, the county with the second largest population in the state, reported the highest number of domestic violence murders at 11. Mecklenburg County, the largest county by population, saw the second highest number of domestic violence murders (eight), while Guilford County, the third largest in population, also ranked third in domestic violence homicides (six).
Robeson County, with less than one third of Guilford’s population, ranked fourth with five domestic violence homicides. Other counties that reported more domestic violence homicides than expected for their population include Catawba (four), Harnett (four), Henderson (four), and Scotland (four) counties.
The increase in domestic violence murders comes when the FBI’s preliminary crime statistics for 2012 show a 1.7 percent drop in murders across the country. Final statewide 2012 crime statistics for North Carolina will be available later this year.
“We appreciate the work of the Attorney General’s office to collect information about domestic violence homicides in North Carolina so that we can have a better understanding of the deadly impact of this crime on families all across the state. This information can help inform the development of policy and legislation to address domestic violence in North Carolina and ultimately reduce homicides,” said Beth Froehling, Executive Director of the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Last year’s increase in domestic violence murders underscores the need for more resources for domestic violence victims, better enforcement of laws against abusers, and increased education and awareness.
Legislative proposals to require reporting to prosecutors if probationers fail to satisfy offender treatment programs are a good step, Cooper. Mandating that consent protective orders be enforced like traditional protective orders could give victims a stronger voice, he said, a change proposed in House Bill 209.
Court orders put in place to restrain defendants from further acts of violence against victims remain a valuable tool for domestic violence victims, according to advocacy groups. These protective orders, also known as 50B orders after the relevant chapter of the NC General Statutes, are often tailored to fit specific circumstances. Domestic violence advocacy groups say protective orders are one of the best safety tools available to victims and recommend that they be considered in conjunction with an overall safety plan.
Victims can report violations of a protective order to local law enforcement. Cooper says local governments and legislators should provide resources so law enforcement can act quickly to enforce the law against those who violate 50B orders.
“Law enforcement officers know how much damage domestic violence does to families in their communities,” Cooper said. “Responding quickly when abusers violate protective orders can help save lives.”
Another tool available to domestic violence survivors is the Address Confidentiality Program provided by Cooper’s office. The Address Confidentiality Program helps people who have escaped domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking keep their addresses shielded from abusers. Victims who move to escape abuse can join the program and have their first-class mail sent to an address chosen by the Attorney General’s office. Mail is then forwarded to victims’ home addresses, which are kept secret. People can also use the substitute address to register to vote, get a driver license, or sign up for utilities like water and electricity.
A total of 918 participants and their dependents are currently enrolled in the Address Confidentiality Program, which started in 2003. People sign up for the program through local domestic violence shelters, sexual assault shelters and victim assistance centers.
“Anyone who believes they could benefit from our Address Confidentiality Program should contact their local shelter to apply,” Cooper said. “Local shelters are a lifeline for those who are trying to escape abuse, and we need to make sure that shelters continue to get the funding they need.”
Cooper also pointed to legislation backed by the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a way to help prevent future abuse. House Bill 559 would require local school boards to adopt policies on dating violence and would add to school health courses information on how to recognize dating violence and abusive behavior.