Q: What issue has come to vex those who monitor domestic-violence homicides in Oklahoma?
Oklahoma’s high rates of domestic violence are alarming enough, but often overlooked are the long-term tragic effects on children who witness the abuse and killings, family-violence experts say.
In 2011, 38 women in Oklahoma were murdered by men, giving the state the third highest rate in that category, with 1.99 homicides per 100,000 population, according to an analysis of FBI crime data by the Violence Policy Center, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Each year, about 20,000 cases of domestic violence are reported in the state, said Ryan Coventon, an Oklahoma City attorney who handles domestic-violence cases. Thousands of additional cases go unreported, state officials have said.
In 2011, the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board issued a report that said its most vexing issue was “that one-third of all (domestic-violence) homicides are witnessed by a child and yet, there is no system in place to help them.”
In a review of 341 domestic-violence homicides from 1998 to 2010, the board found that a third were witnessed by children.
The board said it had reviewed one case in which “the perpetrator witnessed his own mother kill her abuser during his childhood, and then grew up to abuse and ultimately kill his own wife. If we are to reduce deaths, then surely prevention must be part of the plan.”
Domestic Violence Intervention Services, a Tulsa-area nonprofit, provides intervention and prevention services to families affected by domestic and sexual violence. It is the only organization in the state that treats children who witness domestic violence; those children are up to 18 years old.
“There are shelters and centers for women who are victims of domestic violence all over the state, but none of them work specifically with treating children,” said Crystal Brill, children trauma and counseling program manager for Domestic Violence Intervention Services.
From 2009 to 2012, the organization saw the number of children it serves more than double, from 184 to 378.
“Children see and hear what adults don’t think they do,” Brill says. “The behaviors children witness is usually repeated as they grow into adulthood, continuing the cycle of violence.”
Not all children who witness domestic violence repeat the cycle, however.
Brill related the story of a Tulsa woman who, after fleeing an abusive marriage of 20 years in 2012, moved into the organization’s emergency shelter with her 4-year-old daughter.
“(She) endured years of physical, mental and emotional abuse and often times, her husband would not allow her to parent or have physical contact with (her daughter),” Brill said.
The daughter began receiving intensive counseling and today “she is doing well at school and happily living at her new home with her mom.”