Models to curb domestic violence emerge from tragic murder in Massachusetts in 2002

nyorkerThe July 22 issue of the New Yorker contains a riveting account (“A Raised Hand: Can a new approach curb domestic homicide?” by Rachel Louise Snyder) of how the tragic 2002 murder of Dorothy Giunta-Cotter by her husband led to a fundamentally new approach to prevent domestic violence fatalities by advocates at the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center where she sought help. The new approach was based on research conducted by Jacquelyn Campbell of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing to identify risk factors for homicide and how the risk unfolds along a timeline. The risk factors for domestic violence fatalities include substance abuse, gun ownership, a record of violence and others such as forced sex, threats to kill, and choking. Dr. Campbell developed The Danger Assessment, an instrument used to help determine the level of danger an abused woman has of being killed by her intimate partner.

Two senior staff members at the crisis center, Kelly Dunne and Suzanne Dubus, began a multi-year effort to use the research to identify the highest risk cases and change the center’s procedures to save lives. But to identify high-risk cases and intervene effectively required separate agencies to work together for the first time. In 2005 the Domestic Violence High Risk Team, comprising representatives of the justice system, healthcare, and domestic violence advocacy, began its work. There have been zero fatalities since the team’s formation in 2005, a stunning improvement over a decade-long history of one fatality each year.

The Diane Rehm Show on August 1 covered the state of domestic violence fatalities and featured the new model implemented by the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center. The guests included:

• Rachel Louise Snyder, the author of the New Yorker article,
• Suzanne Dubus, CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Newburyport, MA,
• Jacquelyn Campbell of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing,
• Detective Bob Wile of the Amesbury, MA, Police Dept.

The lead-in to the program on the website highlighted the scope of the problem in our country and how the communities of Greater acelogo (1)Newburyport, Mass. have broken down silos and found new approaches to stop homicides:

“The Justice Department estimates that three women and one man are killed in domestic violence homicides every day. Between the years 2000 and 2006, murders resulting from domestic violence claimed 10,600 lives. In response to the murder of a woman north of Boston, a domestic violence crisis center decided to try a new approach to identify women at high-risk. Police, advocates and the courts there now work together to prevent murders by predicting when they might happen. Since then, homicides have dropped significantly. Now communities across the country are trying to replicate their success.”

A program later in the day, Huff Post Live with Rick Camillari, included an interview with the Crisis Center CEO Suzanne Dubus who described a U.S. Justice Department-funded project to create a new model based on two programs: Domestic High Risk Assessment Team used in Massachusetts and the Lethality Assessment Program from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. The coordinator for the Lethality Assessment Program, Dave Sargent, described how the project has created a user-friendly instrument for law enforcement and other field practitioners to identify high-risk cases and take action.

Another individual who is involved in the model testing project, Annie Lewis O’Connor of Harvard Medical School and founder & director of the Women’s CARE Clinic, spoke to the need to include the healthcare system in efforts to reduce fatalities. She described how healthcare and other professionals work in silos, resulting in a lack of follow-up when victims access one part of the health or social services system but are not referred to the myriad of available services. This U.S. DOJ-funded initiative will assess the ability of the project to replicate the model in twelve communities, followed by additional testing in six communities. The goal will be to have systems in place in all communities in a 5-10 year period.

An effort in New York City to identify high-risk domestic violence cases was reported in the New York Times on July 24 Police Take on Family Violence to Avert Deaths. The article says that the NY City program mirrors similar efforts around the country, including the Newburyport, MA, program. It describes how police units get specialized domestic violence training and that assignment to the unit is considered a detective tract position. It also describes how technology plays a role in scanning police reports for words such as “kill,” “suicide,” and “alcohol” and using ultraviolet light to identify physical injuries not yet visible to the eye that resulted from choking or strangulation.

It is also worth a second look at Jane Steven’s post on a trauma-informed approach called “community mobilization” in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. It describes the formation of Hub, a cross-section of social services and enforcement professionals to identify at-risk individuals based on data supplied by agencies or analysts.

(For those who do not have a New Yorker subscription, the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center has posted the entire story.)

Written by Elizabeth Prewitt
SJS Contributor

This post was originally published @ and has been syndicated with permission of the author. For more from Aces go to

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