By Lisa DeGeeter, Esq, Director of Systems Advocacy and Policy Counsel, Ohio Domestic Violence Network
The Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN) recently released the fatality count at its annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month event on Oct. 11 in the Atrium of the Capitol. The count of domestic violence fatalities occurring between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, was compiled from media reports and information provided by ODVN’s 76-member programs and cross-referenced with gun violence archives, court records, and other public information. We have collected 112 total intimate partner-related fatalities, and are continuing to find disturbing trends in the cases we review.
This year’s report reviewed demographic and racial data; 40 percent of all deceased victims were people of color. While disturbing, this sadly makes sense to us because we know from our own research and national research that people of color experience intimate partner violence at higher rates than white people. Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result from domestic violence than white women.
Seventeen victims died by strangulation, traumatic brain injury, or a combination of both, a number that nearly doubled from last year’s report.
The number of family annihilation cases also doubled from last year. In at least six cases, one parent murdered their child or children, the other parent, and other family members, such as a grandparent, who lived with them before taking their own life.
We had also thought, or at least hoped, that last year's record numbers around child deaths were an aberration, but this year we tied that record. Twenty-two youth and children were killed, including five babies. Seventeen of the murdered children were killed by either their parents or stepparents. In one case, a father believed his seven-year-old son was not in a safe environment after a divorce with the child’s mother, but “no one in the domestic court and child welfare system would listen to his concerns” until it was too late.
Another theme in this year’s report is the prevalence of teen dating violence. At least four of the young lives lost were victims of teen dating violence.
The cases also show that for the third year in a row, no law enforcement officers were killed in responding, although two officers were shot and survived. In five other cases, a third party intervened and the perpetrator died, including a case where a father shot his daughter’s abusive ex-boyfriend when the man tried to break into their house.
People can feel powerless in the face of this volume of violence and be left wondering what they can do. We were overwhelmed when we realized how many of the cases in this year’s report were in some way involved with the justice system. Fifty-two percent of the killers in this year's report had prior contact with the criminal justice system; 65 percent of the victims had made reports to law enforcement, filed charges, sought protection orders, or raised their concerns in domestic relations courts. Yet the responses they received were not enough to save their lives.
This is why we are grateful to representatives Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp.) and Kevin Miller (R-Newark) for sponsoring House Bill 111, which would increase penalties for felony domestic violence and create a presumption for jail time for those offenses.
We are also grateful to Senators Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) for sponsoring Senate Bill 100, which would prohibit installing tracking devices on someone’s property without their consent.
Since more than a dozen Ohio children were killed by a parent last year, we are opposing House Bill 14, which would make equal parenting time more important than child safety. No one on staff can remember working on another bill that has the potential to threaten so many children’s lives.
When we report this information, we try to be comprehensive and include the deaths of people who cause harm because those lives lost also matter. This is why we are supportive of House Bill 231, which would improve suicide prevention efforts, including funding the 9-8-8 crisis line. When we added up all the deaths from murder-suicides in this year's report, we realized that this kind of service had the potential to save 49 of the 112 lives lost.
We know this information is not easy to hear, but it is necessary to understand these links and risks and enhance child safety and family well-being.