Group says deaths provide case for believing survivors
Domestic violence fatalities in state ‘can be prevented.’
As she worked to tally all the lives lost to domestic violence in Ohio in the state’s most-recent fiscal year, Jo Simonsen couldn’t help but reflect on the divisions sown amid high-profile reports of relationship violence and sexual assault and a surging #MeToo movement.
“I was thinking about what the theme for the year might have been,” Simonsen said during a news conference Wednesday at the Statehouse. “Is it belief, or is it disbelief ?”
Simonsen, a manager and advocacy director at the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, counted 91 deaths in 69 cases from July 1, 2017, to June 30. That’s a decrease from the previous fiscal year, when statistics compiled from media reports in the same period showed 116 deaths.
Franklin County, however, trended in the opposite direction: The county topped the state with 16 deaths related to domestic violence, up from 11 the prior year. The higher figure includes two Westerville police officers fatally shot in February as they responded to a domestic-violence call.
Simonsen and others who spoke during the gathering didn’t call out the Ohio State University football program or discuss new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by name. But those controversies loomed large as advocates talked about the need to take reports seriously instead of taking sides.
“Today, I want to present the case for believing survivors,” Simonsen said, standing beside a map of the state studded with push pins to signify the location of the deaths. “These can be prevented.”
Ohio State suspended football coach Urban Meyer for the first three games of this season after an investigation of his actions surrounding former receivers coach Zach Smith, whose ex-wife, Courtney Smith, alleged that she was a domestic-violence victim who had suffered years of physical and emotional abuse.
The Senate confirmed Kavanaugh for the court by a narrow margin Saturday after a California professor, Christine Blasey Ford, testified in a hearing that he had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers at private schools in Washington, D.C.
Both cases cleaved public opinion and created battle lines in Ohio and throughout the nation.
Nancy Neylon, the longtime executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, said the fights damaged efforts to increase awareness and improve responses to reports of domestic violence and sexual assault — before there are injuries or fatalities.
“It’s divisiveness in the discourse,” Neylon said. “I think it is a setback.”
She said those who work in the field or advocate on behalf of victims have big jobs to do.
“You must all be socialchange agents,” Neylon said. “It’s not enough to simply provide services.”
Ohio can’t afford to remain one of the few states that doesn’t set aside funding for domestic-violence programs, she said. “Even now, shelters still have budgets on a shoestring.”
The fatality report also provides details about the circumstances of the crimes, such as how many of the 69 cases that were reviewed included multiple deaths (21), how many children were killed (three) and how many attackers were killed by an intervening third party (nine).
In at least 46 percent of the fatal incidents, “the victims did leave or were in the process of leaving,” Simonsen said.
The report noted one 18-year-old woman in Guernsey County who had just penned a “Pros and Cons” list about her relationship with the perpetrator in which she wrote, “liar, disrespectful, bad temper, big ego.” Investigators say she appeared to have compiled it near the time of her death.
Jo Simonsen, family systems advocacy director for the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, delivers results from the annual Ohio Domestic Violence Fatality Study during a presentation at the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday.