NH ‘must do more’ to fully address domestic violence homicide

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If you’re experiencing domestic abuse in New Hampshire, call the 24/7 statewide hotline at 1-866-644-3574. Free and confidential support services are available across the state to anyone affected by domestic and sexual violence or stalking. Services are open and affirming to all, and you do not need to be in crisis to call. For more, visit nhcadsv.org.

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The FBI statistics on the gender of homicide victims and relationship to their killer. (Courtesy of FBI Bureau of Justice Statistics)

New Hampshire has made strides recognizing and being proactive about domestic violence homicide, but there is more work to be done, particularly in collecting data that will clarify the nature of domestic homicide in the state, an advocate says.

“Although New Hampshire has an overall low homicide rate, it continues to be concerning that the majority of homicides in the state are domestic violence related,” Alyssa Dandrea, community relations specialist at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence said. “All domestic violence homicides are avoidable.”

Dandrea’s remarks came after an FBI Bureau of Justice Statistics release Dec. 13 reported that 34 percent of female homicide victims in the U.S. in 2021 were killed by a domestic partner; 6 percent of male victims were.

The FBI release said that, overall, 76 percent of the estimated 4,970 female victims of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter in the U.S. in 2021 reported to the bureau by law enforcement, were killed by someone they knew. Of the 17,970 males murdered, 56 percent were killed by someone they knew. About 16 percent of female murder victims were killed by a nonintimate family member—parent, grandparent, sibling, in-law, and other family member—compared to 10 percent of male murder victims.

In New Hampshire, statistics from the past two years that break down gender related to domestic partner homicide aren’t yet available, but the FBI national findings reflect the most recent New Hampshire Domestic Violence Review Committee report, released in November 2020, which looked at 2018 and 2019 homicides.

In those two years, 21 of New Hampshire’s 47 homicide victims were victims of domestic violence homicides, with 95 percent of perpetrators men and 86 percent of victims, women; 67 percent of the victims were killed by an intimate partner (as opposed to family member or former partner).

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New Hampshire domestic violence homicides, 2018 7 2019, relationship of victim to perpetrator. (Courtesy New Hampshire Domestic Homicide Fatality Review Committee)

“New Hampshire has a relatively low homicide rate compared to the national average, so it is a relatively ‘safe’ place to live,” the report noted. “However, being in an intimate relationship can prove to be a fatal factor.”

The committee breaks down domestic violence homicide into three categories – intimate partner, in which victim and killer were in a relationship; family member, a relative who is not an intimate partner; and domestic-violence related, the killer is not a family member or in a current relationship with the victim, but there is a domestic violence element. 

More NH Data Needed

Dandrea said that in order to turn things around in New Hampshire, more information is needed.

“New Hampshire has not been good about collecting data, and, more specifically, our state lacks comprehensive data to understand the true realities of domestic violence here,” she said. “Data helps us better understand the scope of a problem, where the greatest issues are, and how we can best allocate resources to improve our response.”

Last spring, the state Commission on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking was reinstated after nearly a decade of inactivity. That move came at the recommendation of the Task Force on Domestic Violence Cases in NH Courts. The task force was formed after Lindsay Smith was shot in the head outside her Salem, Mass., workplace in November 2021 by ex-boyfriend Richard Lorman a month after a Hampton judge denied Smith’s request for a final protective order. Lorman died by suicide after the shooting; Smith is recovering.

The group also called for more money for courts, statute review and more. 

“The state of New Hampshire has made a commitment to implement processes for better data collection, and we look forward to being part of that solution,” Dandrea said.

 Recognizing Red Flags

One effort already underway is implementation of the Lethality Assessment Program, which provides a screen form that first responders use when responding to a domestic violence call or taking a domestic abuse report, to identify high-risk domestic violence victims. The form has questions for the victim to check off, and also information about seeking help. Law enforcement departments are also encouraged to supply data from the forms to the New Hampshire Department of Justice.

As a pilot program in 2018 and 2019, 4,166 screen forms were initiated and 3,137 completed. Of those, 1,682 victims were determined to be in high danger – 54 percent of those who’d completed a form.

The assessment tool was developed by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, to help victims understand their risk level and encourage them to seek help. It’s also recognized by domestic violence advocates as one of the best ways for law enforcement to recognize red flags.

“Research shows that the presence of certain factors in a domestic violence case can predict future harm and the potential for lethality,” Dandrea said. 

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New Hampshire domestic violence homicides, 2018 & 2019, victim and perpetrator by gender. (Courtesy New Hampshire Domestic Homicide Fatality Review Committee)

Red flags identified by the form include sexual violence, strangulation, protective order violation and threats of violence. There are also some that, without the form, would likely fly under the radar, such as presence of children in the home who are not biologically related to the abuser, pet abuse and unemployment, all of which have been found to be factors for high risk of lethal domestic abuse.

One of the biggest red flags is gun possession. A domestic abuse victim is five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if there is a gun in the home, according to national statistics.

In New Hampshire, in 2018 and 2019, 10 of the state’s 21 domestic violence homicide victims – all women – were killed with a gun. Nationally, about 80 percent of domestic violence homicide victims killed by a gun are women.

Statistics show that domestic violence homicide rates are lower in states that have laws that keep those with a domestic abuse record from owning a gun. In New Hampshire, an abuser must give up guns and other deadly weapons if a judge issues a protective order after finding abuse has happened. An abuser can’t buy or possess guns or ammunition while the protective order is in place.

Democrats in Congress this year attempted to close what is known as the “boyfriend loophole” when the Violence Against Women Act came up for reinstatement. The addition would have included stalkers, abusers in a dating relationship and former partners who’ve never lived with the abuse victim to those whose guns can be taken away if found guilty of a domestic abuse misdemeanor. Current and former spouses, co-habiting partners and those who share a child are already covered by the act, which lapsed in 2018 when Congress couldn’t agree about gun provisions. 

While the VAWA was in effect, domestic violence homicide rates dropped. Rates of women victims of domestic violence homicide began to climb after the law lapsed, as rates of male victims continued to decrease. The amendment to close the loophole didn’t make it into the final version of the act when it was approved in March.

Threats of suicide by abusers are also a red flag – 75 percent of murder-suicides in the U.S. are domestic-related, with 94 percent of the murder victims women.

In 2018 and 2019, 14 of New Hampshire’s homicide victims were murder-suicide victims, with nine of those domestic-violence homicides. So far this year there have been two murder-suicides identified by the state Department of Justice, most recent  Nov. 29, in New London. In both, a male partner shot a female partner.

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Anyone Can Be a Victim

In the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. That includes 1-in-4 women and 1-in-10 men who have experienced sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime, with related impact that includes things like being concerned for their safety, PTSD symptoms, injury, or needing victim services.

Approximately 1-in-5 female victims and 1 in 20 male victims need medical care, with female victims sustaining injuries three times more than male victims.

Dandrea said that statistics show that the majority of victims in New Hampshire are women, but there are male victims, too, and they should seek help.

“It’s critical that men know that support services and resources are available to them throughout the state of New Hampshire,” Dandrea said. She said the coalition’s 12 crisis centers serve men and boys who are victims of domestic violence. Overall, the centers serve about 15,000 victims annually, including more than 10,000 victims of domestic abuse.

“Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior used by one person to gain and maintain power and control over another person in the context of an intimate or familial relationship,” she said. “Domestic violence can happen to anyone.” 

She said domestic violence can include physical abuse, sexual assault, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, and economic/financial abuse. 

“An abuser may use intimidating, threatening and hurtful words of behaviors to attempt to maintain power and control in the relationship,” she said. “Crisis center advocates work with victims to provide supports and resources for all forms of domestic abuse.”

There is financial abuse in 99% of domestic violence relationships, which traps the victim by preventing or limiting access to household income, bank accounts and other resources. “This abuse can occur through the withholding of money, not allowing a partner to work or earn money, and preventing a partner from pursuing an education,” she said.

“Advocates support survivors of domestic violence in attaining economic stability and financial independence through our economic empowerment and financial literacy programs,” Dandrea said. “For example, the Allstate Foundation Matched Savings Program is one of several innovative programs implemented by the coalition.”

The coalition’s economic empowerment programs make addressing the economic needs of a survivor a priority, so they can become independent.

Dandrea said that both in New Hampshire and nationwide, “We’re doing a better job of identifying the factors that precipitate a lethal event and have academic, evidence-based research from the past 10 to 15 years to support that work.”

She said the research informs the coalition’s statewide prevention education efforts, as well as provide information about how the coalition can most effectively use funds to ensure victims receive the services they need in an emergency.

“Overall, New Hampshire’s legislative body deeply understands the need to provide protections for some of our state’s most vulnerable victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. In a world where most issues have become partisan, this is one that continues to have bipartisan support,” Dandrea said. “New Hampshire has some of the strongest laws and protocols in the nation. However, we need to make sure that these laws are being enforced and implemented in the way that the legislature that passed them intended. The way to do that is through monitoring, evaluation, and training.”


About this Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.