Too often, domestic violence victims can't get help before it's too late
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Melody Hafner's daughter, Dayna Fure, was shot and killed by a former boyfriend in 2004. Since Fure's death, Hafner and her family have advocated against domestic violence.
Melody Hafner keeps her favorite photo of her daughter, Dayna Fure, in a heart-shaped locket on her keychain. In 2004, Dayna was killed by her ex-boyfriend, who had stalked and threatened her.
Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Eighteen-year-old Dayna Fure was shot and killed by a former boyfriend in 2004. Since Fure's death, her family has advocated against domestic violence, raising funds and awareness.
Even now, almost seven years after her daughter's death, Melody Hafner gets calls from people who've seen her. Dayna Fure shows up in domestic violence campaigns around the country. She shows up on TV and websites and plaques. She's been at college campuses, mental health conferences and hundreds of violence prevention programs.
She wasn't supposed to die.
The Stanwood High School senior was being stalked and threatened by her ex-boyfriend. She spent her 18th birthday in court getting a protection order.
It was a textbook example of how domestic violence can escalate. Just months before she was supposed to leave for college in 2004, her ex-boyfriend showed up with a gun and killed her inside her Stanwood home. He then turned the gun on himself. The events surrounding Fure's death are echoed in a new statewide study that describes how domestic violence can spiral into homicide.
In 2008, Snohomish County paid her family $1.75 million to settle a lawsuit brought because police didn't do enough to protect her.
The family used most of what was left after legal fees to support and create domestic violence awareness programs. Like waves building on the sea, their efforts are spreading wider and deeper each year.
If they can help just one person or save one life, they say, their efforts are justified.
* * *
Dayna Fure wasn't alone.
At least 46 people have lost their lives in Snohomish County since 1997, the result of domestic violence. At the same time, 16 people responsible for that deadly abuse died through suicide.
The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence began reviewing every domestic violence fatality in the state 13 years ago. A smaller selection of the deaths are studied in depth. The coalition aims to use what it learns to promote collaboration among agencies and to recommend needed change.
The coalition is the only agency in the state that keeps track of domestic violence deaths. It released its most recent findings in early January.
The numbers are telling.
Nearly half of the women murdered in Washington are killed by intimate partners, researchers said. About 13 percent of victims are men.
The data is drawn from records such as police reports, news accounts and death certificates, program specialist Ankita Patel said. Researchers believe they likely are missing some cases. Records don't always show when domestic violence was a factor, including cases when children are killed, or when the victims were in same-sex relationships. Missing people and unsolved homicides can go uncounted, as do the deaths of abuse victims who commit suicide.
The coalition classifies its data a little differently than police departments. They count every homicide that involves a current or former intimate partner of the victim, Patel said. The data also includes homicides that occur when violence extends from an abusive relationship, such as when an abuser kills a victim's family members or new partner.
The study looks for the gaps in services -- the moment when victims exhausted their cries for help. Researchers found that nearly every person they studied sought help in some way.
The Snohomish County panel was launched in 2004. It includes advocates, police officers, school officials, prosecutors and medical professionals. The panel studied the events that led up to each killing.
* * *
The coalition looks for obstacles that victims routinely encountered, said Jake Fawcett, lead researcher for the study. The 2010 report lays out 11 key areas in need of change.
Researchers found that victims didn't get a consistent response about what they should do, no matter whom they approached for help. That was true even in the civil and criminal courts set up to handle domestic violence cases.
Barriers multiplied for minorities, people new to the country and abuse victims who were gay or lesbian.
No matter their backgrounds, people needed to talk to advocates sooner, the study found. They often weren't aware of the help that was available. They didn't know how to make a safety plan.
Nearly half of the victims were killed after leaving or trying to leave the abusive relationship. When a victim reaches out for help, the abuser begins to lose control. The shift in power can trigger an explosive reaction.
Too often, victims were brushed off when they sought help, Patel said. People are quick to give three pieces of advice: file a protection order, just leave or call the cops.
It's not that simple, she said.
Earlier this month, Patel met with advocates, police and prosecutors in Edmonds to present the 2010 findings.
* * *
Young adults are in more abusive relationships than many people realize, she said.
Review panels around the state repeatedly found there wasn't enough information available for young people regarding dating violence and creating healthy relationships.
Yet those under 21 are at greater risk of domestic violence than most people think, said Kelly Starr, a coalition spokeswoman. They account for 8 percent of domestic violence homicide victims in the state. That's too many people losing their lives before they even begin, Starr said.
Worse, the cases that have been closely scrutinized found that as many as a third of the people who died in domestic violence homicides started dating their killer before their 21st birthday, Fawcett said. Even when the killings came years or decades later, the abuse started in youth and survived into adulthood.
Dating education for teens is "not comprehensive enough, and it starts too late," Fawcett said.
Dayna Fure's family wanted to do something. They didn't want another family to share their pain.
They donated $80,000 from their settlement to fund In Their Shoes, a training tool for adults who work with teens, Starr said.
In Their Shoes is a role-playing game that reminds adults about the turbulent realities of teen relationships.
The program was released on the sixth anniversary of Fure's death. Its first run was at Stanwood High School last summer. The training has since been used at more than 400 places in the United States and Canada.
* * *
Teens aren't the only group who need more domestic violence help and support, the study shows.
Minority women were vastly overrepresented among abuse homicides, Patel said. Minority women, especially those new to the country, may be too scared to reach out for help. They don't want to bring police or immigration officials into their neighborhoods. Their residency may be tied to their marital status. Some may not realize that abuse is against the law, Patel said.
The study also focuses on the connection between domestic violence homicides and suicide attempts by abusers. Statewide, nearly a third of the homicides coincided with the abusers ending their own lives. The data suggest that suicide threats by abusers must be viewed as warning signs of violence to come, researchers said.
It gets more complicated when the violence triggers a police standoff, Patel said. Police can end up being forced to kill an abuser -- or be killed themselves. A high-profile example came in 1994 when Snohomish County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Kinard died while responding to a home near Cathcart. Former convict Charles Ben Finch went there to kill his ex-wife. Instead, he shot her friend and opened fire on deputies, killing Kinard. Finch committed suicide years later, after being convicted of the killings.
* * *
Domestic violence cases are a priority for prosecutors because they know where abuse can lead, Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said.
"It's not domestic violence prosecution, it's homicide prevention," he said.
When he was the county's chief criminal deputy prosecutor about seven years ago, Roe worked with victim advocates on a program to assign misdemeanor domestic violence cases to one judge and one prosecutor. The idea was to create continuity and accountability, he said.
Those who work on domestic violence cases regularly become familiar with the players and learn to spot patterns.
The program has since ended, but Roe is looking for ways to get it going again. The county just hired a new deputy prosecutor, Teresa Cox, in part because she has years of experience prosecuting domestic violence in Everett.
For local domestic violence advocates, the coalition's findings help measure progress and refine plans for change, said Vicci Hilty, deputy director at Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.
The statistics "can paint a picture that anyone can understand," she said. "Anyone in our community can see those numbers and relate to that."
Teens are one of the top priorities for outreach, she said.
* * *
In Their Shoes is just one of the ways Dayna Fure's family has tried to prevent more killings. They can't even list all the events, fundraisers and programs they've been involved in over the years.
Melody Hafner wants people living with abuse to know they aren't stuck, that they can find a path to safety, even if her daughter didn't get the chance.
Dayna Fure was a happy, bubbly woman driven by her goals and dreams, Hafner said. She made things happen for the people around her. She changed their lives. The family still hears from people around the country who want to share stories.
This spring, Dayna Fure's family is working to get sponsors for the eighth annual Camano View Dash 5K and 10K runs. Proceeds go toward scholarships set up in her memory.
The first year, they raised money for one scholarship. This year, they're hoping to fund five or more.
It's never easy to talk about Dayna, said Danielle Fure, her older sister.
Still, she and other family members give speeches and presentations when asked, she said. It helps them to help others, but there is a lot of pain and hurt left inside.
What keeps them going is knowing that Dayna Fure would have done the same for them, her sister said.
Dayna Fure spent summer 2002 working for a charity in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The family still has the building plans she drew for a women's shelter she hoped to build there someday.
The family has sent money from the settlement to pay for medical care and supplies for the people she met there, Hafner said. It's just one of the places Dayna Fure still shows up.
"Look at what she's doing, even when she's not here," Hafner said.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org
If you need help
If you or someone you know needs help regarding domestic violence, contact the Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County hotline at 425-25-ABUSE, or 425-252-2873. The hotline is free and confidential, and advocates can help with safety plans. Friends, families and colleagues of victims also are encouraged to call.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
Classes are available for teens to learn about safe dates and healthy relationships. For more information, call 425-345-4668.
By the numbers
Numbers are from between Jan. 1, 1997, and June 30, 2010, in Washington state.
46: Domestic-violence homicides
16: Abuser suicides
AROUND THE STATE
514 people killed, including people targeted for abuse, their children, family, friends and police.
25 percent of children living with victims witnessed the killing.
5 percent of the 293 children living with victims also were killed.
29 percent of domestic violence killings studied also ended in the abusers' suicides.
46 percent of victims had ended the relationship, or were trying to, at the time of the killing.
Victims killed by abusers: 87 percent women, 13 percent men
Abusers who killed someone: 89 percent men, 11 percent women
8 percent of victims killed were under 21.
31 percent of victims in cases closely studied were under 21 when the relationship started.
To read the 2010 fatality review and past reviews, or to find out how to get a copy of In Their Shoes, go to www.wscadv.org.
Source: Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
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