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Case Western report: Cleveland domestic violence victims at high risk of being killed by abusers

Posted at 8:10 PM, May 18, 2018

Domestic violence victims in two Cleveland districts are at a high risk of being killed or severely assaulted, according to a one-year report by researchers at Case Western Reserve University. 

The report, obtained by News 5 Investigators, details findings of the first year of an initiative by the Cuyahoga County Domestic Violence High Risk team, comprised of a PhD, researchers, domestic advocates and Cleveland police officers. The initiative aims to prevent domestic violence incidents and homicides.  

The team partnered with Case Western and the Cleveland Division of Police’s first and fifth districts to determine the risk of domestic violence homicides in the city’s far west and east sides. 

As part of the initiative, officers who responded to domestic violence calls from October 2016 through September 2017 in those districts surveyed victims on the scene with an 11-question survey called the Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement. 

The questions helped determine whether victims were at greatest risk for homicide and severe assault. According to the report, 1,554 assessments were administered by officers. Of those, 45 percent of victims were high risk. 

The information was provided to Case Western researchers who analyzed the data, including Jeff Kretschmar, a research associate professor and managing director of Case Western’s Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education, and research associates Ashley Bukach and Rebecca Bray. 

"It is important, it is a public health issue and it is something that is not going to go away," Kretschmar said.

According to the report, of the 45 percent who were at risk for homicide and severe assault:

  • 88 percent survived a previous strangulation attempt 
  • 88 percent had already been threatened with murder
  • 89 percent believed their attacker is capable of murdering them

Also among the key findings:

  • 35 percent answered “yes” to seven or more questions, meeting the high-risk threshold
  • 10.3 percent did not meet the high-risk threshold but were marked for further review due to the police officer’s belief that the victims were high risk
  • Officers used the following justifications to mark cases for further review: history of abuse, suspect threats and victim’s extreme fear of suspect

In more than 80 to 90 percent of high-risk surveys, victims answered “yes” to the following questions: 

  • Has the physical violence increased in severity or frequency over the past year? 
  • Has he/she ever threatened to kill you? 
  • Has he/she ever tried to choke (strangle) you? 
  • Do you believe he/she is capable of killing you?

"Every strangulation could be a homicide," Kretschmar said. 

More than 95 percent of victims volunteered to participate in the survey. 

Kretschmar said the project helps address the most dangerous domestic violence cases. 

“This shines a spotlight on a serious issue that needs our full attention,” he said. “We have a unique opportunity to intervene – to really make a difference.”

According to the report, victims who are identified to be high risk and agree to participate in the program receive case monitoring, connection to services and resources, and individualized intervention plans.

"In the first 12 months, in districts 1 and 5, we had zero homicides," said Leslie Quilty, the COO of the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center.

The initiative was funded by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women. Cuyahoga County’s Witness Victim Service Center was one of 12 sites across the country awarded the initial grant as part of the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Demonstration initiative. 

Over the last three years, News 5 Investigators have uncovered deadly domestic violence loopholes in Ohio that leave victims at continuous risk:

  • In 2015 alone, there were more than 34,000 domestic violence cases filed in courts across Ohio
  • 94 percent of female homicide victims were killed by a man they knew 
  • A protection order being issued against an abuser does not stop them from obtaining a weapon, and if an abuser already owns a gun, there is no state law authorizing police to take it away. We found dozens of abusers were still able to obtain guns despite a protection order being issued
  • Ohio has no statewide protection order registry that provides law enforcement officers real-time access to every current protection order
  • 1 in 3 domestic violence abusers in Cuyahoga County rarely spend a day behind bars

Here's Case Western's full report: