Massachusetts declares a "public health emergency"

Domestic-violence-related deaths are up, and Gov. Duval Patrick has announced plans to try to help.

By Catherine Price
Published June 10, 2008 5:50PM (EDT)

Did anyone catch the news last week that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick referred to the state's rate of domestic-violence-related deaths as a "public health emergency"? Did you, like me, wonder what he was talking about?

Turns out, according to the Boston Herald, the Globe (linked above) and Ms., that the number of domestic homicides has dramatically risen over the past few years, reaching levels not seen since the early 1990s. To be more specific, whereas in 2005 there were 15 murders and four domestic-violence-related suicides, in 2007 there were 42 and 13, respectively -- which means that domestic violence was responsible for about one death a week. And 2008 isn't off to a good start. According to Jane Doe Inc., an advocacy group, there have already been 19 domestic violence homicides and five suicides this year.

In response to these statistics, Patrick held a press conference to announce plans to review and strengthen training for police officers on domestic violence and sex crimes. (Randolf police chief Paul Porter is quoted as saying that "we've really dropped off in developing our training over the years, and this will give us that boost.") Patrick also said he just signed into law a bill creating statewide guidelines for hospitals dealing with violence victims, part of an effort to better coordinate the state's response to such victims. Police will also be encouraged to reach out to immigrant populations in Massachusetts, who Mary Lauby, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., said are often afraid to approach police officers. "Immigrant victims are afraid to reach out for help," she told the Herald. "It is literally killing people because they are too afraid to come forward."

Lauby says she'll measure success partially on how many people start seeking help from local programs and police officers. "If we see an increase in demand and more referrals, that will be an indication of success," she told the Globe. It's depressing to think that the program's success might be judged by how many more people identify themselves as victims of domestic violence -- but then again, I guess it's better to identify yourself than it is to leave the job to the morgue.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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