Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission Releases Report
HELENA – Montana’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission released its second report Monday, the same day the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill to extend the commission’s existence through 2010.
The 17-member commission meets twice a year and reviews closed domestic homicide cases. The 2003 legislation that created the commission called on the group to examine trends and patterns of domestic violence-related fatalities, educate the public and recommend policies and practices to reduce fatalities due to domestic violence.
“Sadly, the need for the commission has not gone away since the first report two years ago,” said Matthew Dale, commission coordinator and director of the Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services. “In the four domestic violence homicides we’ve reviewed since the 2005 Legislature, seven people died and eight children were orphaned.”
At the same time, Dale said the state has made progress in its efforts to reduce domestic violence deaths. The 2005 Legislature adopted three of the commission’s first recommendations, case management has improved and the commission has grown to include a representative of the FBI and an educator.
The commission includes representatives of state departments and private organizations involved in issues related to domestic violence; medical and mental health care providers; representatives from Montana Indian tribes; representatives from law enforcement, the judiciary and the State Bar; a member of the legislature and other concerned citizens.
Here’s a look at some of the findings included in the report released Monday:
- Relationships between older men and underage, undereducated women were common in the fatalities the Commission reviewed, and firearms continue to be the most frequently used weapons.
- Important intervention opportunities exist for medical providers and the faith community. Often, medical appointments or church services are the only interactions with service providers that the batterer allows. Training professionals in both areas to identify and intervene in violent relationships may save lives.
- Mental health follow-up services for the children of domestic violence homicide victims appear to be limited and inadequate.
The commission’s recommendations cover training, enforcement, public education and data collection.
- Improve the collection and reporting of statewide domestic violence statistics, particularly from Native American reservation communities.
- Continue to close the technology gap that limits the ability of courts to track prior offenses and to exchange electronic records with one another. This is particularly important when the accumulation of misdemeanor offenses leads to felony charges.
- Improve screening for domestic violence by healthcare workers, probation officers and clergy.
- Require mandatory fingerprinting for all non-traffic misdemeanor offenses.
- Vigorously enforce state and federal firearm statutes for those convicted of PFMA, particularly for those identified as “prohibited persons” under federal law.
- Create and implement a domestic/dating violence education program in schools.
- Implement the Hope Card project, which places all essential order of protection information on a small, sturdy, portable plastic card.
The report released Monday also includes forms and other materials, and Dale said he hopes people will use them to implement the commission’s recommendations.
“These are practical, easy-to-use tools for Montanans,” Dale said. “We think they’ll help keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable.”