Miss. ranks fifth in number of domestic violence homicides

Published 4:09 pm Thursday, October 4, 2007

A new report shows the rate of women murdered by men in Mississippi is 2 per 100,000, ranking the state fifth in the nation.

The report is from the Violence Policy Center in Washington. It is based on the FBI’s most recent crime statistics from 2005.

Gwen Bouie-Haynes, director of Catholic Charities’ Shelter for Battered Families in Jackson, said the violence usually starts with simple things like name-calling, withholding money or isolation.

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“Violence is a way to power and control. It can escalate to the point where someone will be killed. So, when a threat is made, take it seriously. We encourage you to get out,” said Bouie-Haynes.

Sometimes knowing when to get out can be tricky, said Anna Walker Crump, executive director of the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Did he just say something that hurt your feelings, or did he grab your arm and shake you hard and make you scared? You may want to talk to a friend or family member about that.

“But if he strikes you and you fall to the floor, you probably need to be getting out of there,” Crump said.

Getting out can mean going to a shelter like Catholic Charities’, which can house 25-30 women at a time. Services include temporary housing, a therapeutic day-care program and legal assistance.

Victims can also find help through other agencies, including the Jackson Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Unit or the Attorney General Office’s of Domestic Violence Division, created a year ago by Attorney General Jim Hood to boost awareness in a state that, as he said at the time, was second highest in the nation for domestic violence.

In Mississippi, there’s probably plenty of awareness about the dangers. There’s no shortage of victims like Mary Heather Spencer, 28, beaten to death in Jackson last month. Charged in her murder: her boyfriend.

People may be aware, also, that domestic violence victims can suffer a long pattern of abuse.

“In about half of domestic violence situations where a law enforcement officer has responded to a call from the victim at least three times,” Bouie-Haynes said, “the result is a homicide.”

What many people may not understand, she said, is how domestic violence touches them, even when they don’t know the victim.

“‘It’s a family matter,’ instead of ‘it’s a crime’ — that’s one of the common attitudes,” Crump said. “‘It should be kept behind closed doors. It’s not my business.”’

It is everyone’s business, she said.

“There’s the economic impact: the lost work hours from the victims. There are medical issues. Households breaking up. The impact on the children who are witnessing this. The biggest thing, of course, is loss of life.”

Many people also believe that it’s easy to escape the abuser, Crump said. They say, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?”’

Mary Troupe, executive director of the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, stayed in her first marriage one night too long.

“At first, it was the mental abuse of cutting you off from friends and family and the things you enjoy,” said Troupe, whose ex-husband died almost three years ago.

“Telling you that no one else will have you. It’s also threatening you with your child. That’s why a lot of women don’t leave.”

One night, she woke up and saw a gun in someone’s hand. It was pointed at her head.

“I quickly moved to other side of the bed. The bullet severed my spine,” she said.

She stayed in a coma for a while. When she woke up, “I worried he would finish me off.” She worried that he would keep their child if there was a divorce and a custody hearing.

“No one ever questioned me about the shooting,” said Troupe, who did get a divorce more than a year after the shooting. The man she had been married to had “told everyone that I had tried to commit suicide.”

When she had found the nerve to leave him — not long before he pushed her off a ramp as she sat in her wheelchair — “I was still his victim,” she said.

She told most people she’d been in a car wreck.

“I was ashamed of what had happened,” said Troupe, who remarried many years ago.

When she finally admitted the truth one day in an interview, “it was like a religious experience.” That was five years ago, said Troupe, who is 60.

When her first husband shot her, she was 25.

According to the VPC study, the national rate of women killed by men in single victim/single offender instances was 1.32 per 100,000.

Among the individual states, Nevada was the worst at 2.53 per 100,000; followed by Alaska (2.49), Louisiana (2.16), New Mexico (2.15), Mississippi (2), Arkansas (1.98), South Carolina (1.97), Alabama (1.88), Tennessee (1.87) and Oklahoma (1.84).

On the Net:

Violence Policy Center, http://www.vpc.org