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Seeking Help Could Save Your Life

Study shows women much less likely to be killed if they ask for help

Seeking Help Could Save Your Life

Most likely, this headline did not come as a shock. At least, not for those of us who have either never been with an abusive partner or have safely separated from one. 

But for many survivors still trapped in the cycle of abuse, the thought of reaching out to not only disclose domestic violence but also leave that abusive partner can be terrifying. There isn't just one reason why a survivor doesn't leave an abuser at the first sign of abuse—although based on our survey results, the most common reason is threats from the abuser. There could be as many as 50 reasons why a survivor doesn't speak out, doesn't pack a bag and hasn't walked out the door. 

But, they should seriously consider it. 

New findings out of Dallas County, Texas show that in one study of more than 30 intimate partner murders over the course of two years, all of the victims had one, unfortunate thing in common—none of them reached out for help from a domestic violence advocacy organization prior to their death.

All It Takes Is One Call

In October 2014, the Texas Council on Family Violence released a report stating that Dallas County had the highest per capita rate of murders in which women were killed by an intimate partner. Twenty women were killed in 2013.

So Dallas County decided to form a committee of law enforcement, medical examiners, prosecutors and victim advocates called the Dallas County Intimate Partner Violence Fatality Review Team to review murder cases and make recommendations about how to intervene in violent situations, prosecute batterers and help victims. In August, the committee released findings after reviewing 34 intimate partner murder cases between 2009 to 2011.

“The thing that struck us all, out of the cases we reviewed, is that not one victim had called a service provider before her death,” says Jan Langbein, committee member and chief executive of Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas. “At first my response was, what are we doing? Then I realized if she does reach out, she doesn’t die. That was the most profound thing.”

Langbein says that of the murder cases, where 49 people in total had been killed, including children or parents of the intimate partner, none of the victims had valid protective orders or had gone to a shelter. Only a few had ever gone to police, attorneys or victim advocates.

One Move: Keep Guns Away from Abusers

As a result, the Dallas County committee continues to review cases and is working on recommendations for intervention. One such initiative is a gun confiscation program. Because having a gun in the home where an abuser is present dramatically increases a survivor's risk of homicide. 

“Federal laws say if there is a protective order in place against you, you cannot have a gun. The judges order them to be collected but the problem is, who’s going to get them, and where are we going to put them?” Langbein says. “So one judge in town got a grant to pay for a deputy sheriff to go and collect guns and store them at a gun range for the duration of the order.”

That’s just one of the recommendations that has come out of the committee thus far, and more are to come. Victim outreach is on the review team’s list of priorities, Langbein says.

“We’re pretty proud of the work we’ve done so far,” she says. “It takes a village, that’s for sure. The best way to address this within a community is a coordinated community response, and we’re working on that. We hope to be an example for other communities.”

It is never too late to reach out and ask for help, no matter how long the abuse has been going on. Trained domestic violence advocates are ready to listen 24/7. You can find one near you by visiting our Find Help page, or by calling The Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE. Your call can be completely confidential.

Ready to think about leaving? Visit our  Escaping Violence section to learn about leaving. You may want to start with "Leaving Without Dying."