Domestic violence a concern in Delaware

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In October, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 83, expanding mandatory gun relinquishment in cases of misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — For the past two decades in Delaware, a couple of firearm-related homicides per year have resulted from domestic violence incidents among intimate partners.

That’s an annual average according to the state’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council’s 2015 Fatal Incident Review Team Report.

Overall, there were an average of just over five homicide victims a year in Delaware connected to domestic violence.

According to the Associated Press, an average of 690 Americans died from gunshots by their spouses, ex-spouses, and dating partners between 2006 and 2014. There were more, since not all police departments provided information, the AP said. Not included were others such as bystanders and children who died during incidents.

About 75 percent of the homicides overall in Delaware between 1995 and 2015, including strangulations, stabbings and blunt force traumas, came between past or present intimate partners such as spouses, dating couples with and without children together, and teen dating couples, according to the DVCC.

Three quarters of victims in intimate partner criminal incidents in 2015 were female, according to data for Delaware.

The 2015 DVCC study — online at — was presented to Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. and General Assembly members.

Nearly half of intimate partner homicides in the First State occurred during an attempt to end a relationship or in one that was already severed, according to the study.

In Fiscal Year 2015, according to the report, 5,607 reports of criminal acts between intimate partners were reported, or just over 15 a day. Overall, there were 13,795 criminal arrests in 2014, nearly 38 a day.

In 2014, there were 22,663 criminal and non-criminal domestic violence incidents reported in Delaware, and FY 2015 had 22,678. The total numbers included crimes and allegations, and police contact when no crime is deemed to have occurred.

There haven’t been any spikes in 2016 regarding domestic violence trends in Delaware.

“Not that we have identified this year,” DVCC Executive Director Eleanor Torres said.

The numbers examined

In 2014, 1,946 domestic violence criminal incidents involved physical injury to a victim, along with 1,980 in FY 2015.

Last summer in the General Assembly, a widely debated Senate Bill 83 mandated that persons issued a protection from abuse order from Family Court are prohibited from owning, possessing or controlling any deadly weapon. The act will become law on Jan. 1, 2017.

Also, a domestic violence crime misdemeanor was expanded “to include substantive dating relationships and people who have cohabitated at the time of the offense or within five years prior to the offense. The Court will also specify in a conviction record if it was domestic violence.

According to the DVCC study nearly 20 percent of domestic violence homicide victims had active or expired protection from abuse orders.

In FY 2015, 70 lifetime protection from abuse orders were issued in Delaware – 37 in New Castle County, 25 in Kent County, and 8 in Sussex County.

Wives were victimized in 34 of 83 intimate partner related homicides, along with 25 former or current girlfriends. Husbands, past and present boyfriends died in 24 incidents from 1996 to 2015.

The Fatal Incident Review team said it compiled data from 130 domestic violence incident reviews between 1996 and 2015, which included cases where the Delaware Department of Justice had completed the case and authorized a final review. The study does not include all domestic violence homicides or near deaths since 1996.

In its report, the DVCC touted several accomplishments and activities in FY 2015, including, among others:

• Training on domestic violence and sexual assault to 1,845 persons

• Supporting legislation to clarify that protection from abuse petitions may be filed against former parents

• Working with the Delaware Department of Education to obtain and review policies regarding teen dating violence and sexual assault response from school districts and charter schools throughout the state.

• Reorganizing the Elderly and Domestic Violence Committee and the Public Awareness/Education Committee.

Committed to issues

The DVCC has five full-time positions and is budgeted by the state through the Criminal Justice Council allocation.

According to Ms. Torres, the DVCC has a budget of less than $10,000, used mostly for publications.

“ … we do provide a lot of printed resources on domestic violence throughout the state,” she said.

Ms. Torres said Gov. Markell strongly supports the DVCC, along with community partners and advocates. Council members and their agencies also back the cause, she said.

Working collaboratively with the nonprofit Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Ms. Torres believes there is strong focus on domestic violence issues in Delaware.

“I think it is a strength for Delaware that we have both a non-profit agency, as well as a state agency with representation of policy-level officials, working collaboratively to address domestic violence in our state,” she said.

According to Ms. Torres, “Affordable housing options for victims, and legal representation for victims are identified resource needs.

“But from a policy perspective, the DVCC has been focusing on the issue of children experiencing domestic violence in their homes. The Children and Domestic Violence Committee, with representation from DSCYF, the Attorney General’s office, Family Court, law enforcement and community partners, is examining current supports and gaps in services for children experiencing violence in their homes.”

“The chronic stress from violence in the home has significant long-term effects on children and their brain development.”

There’s a focus on the younger generation, said Ms. Torres, who pointed to Gov. Markell’s proclamation of February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month earlier this week.

“We need to increase awareness of the prevalence of teen dating violence while also providing young people with healthy relationship skills and changing the attitudes that support violence at an earlier age,” she said.

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