2015 proved to be particularly deadly to domestic violence victims. According to the New Jersey State Police, there were 49 domestic violence homicides in New Jersey in 2015, an increase of 16%. Earlier this month, the State Police released their annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Domestic Violence in New Jersey report, which documents the number of domestic violence incidents law enforcement respond to each year. In 2015, law enforcement officers across the Garden State responded to 61,659 incidents of domestic violence, a 1% decrease from 2014. However, the number of domestic violence homicides was the highest documented by the State Police since 2008.
Add to that number the lives lost in domestic violence related incidents of murder-suicide, child fatalities, and the death of bystanders or first responders, all of which are not included in the UCR Domestic Violence Report. Nor does the UCR take into account the suicides committed by victims or perpetrators as a result of domestic violence. When we consider all of these deaths, we know the number of individuals, families and communities impacted by domestic violence fatalities in New Jersey is much greater.
We have this information because of the New Jersey Domestic Violence Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board, which has convened since 2000. The mission of this multi-disciplinary Board, which was codified by statute in 2003, is to review the facts and circumstances surrounding domestic violence-related fatalities and near fatalities in New Jersey. This review process identifies risk factors, gaps in services, and provides recommendations to improve our collective effort to respond to and prevent domestic violence. “Domestic violence fatalities are widespread, and have a ripple effect that is devastating not only for the victim's family and friends, but for our communities and our state as a whole” said Board Co-Chairs Dr. Sarah McMahon who is Associate Director of the Center on Violence Against Women & Children at Rutgers, and Tom Dilts, Judge of the Superior Court (retired).
“The analysis of homicides by the Domestic Violence Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board is a critical step toward preventing domestic violence in New Jersey. By identifying the barriers and challenges that victims face to achieve safety, we can develop and implement solutions to reduce domestic violence related deaths,” says Jane Shivas, Executive Director of NJCEDV. “As the Board has identified in their reports, collaborative approaches that focus on victim safety and batterer accountability lead to earlier and more effective interventions, and ultimately, homicide reduction.”
Since 2001, the Domestic Violence Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board has released seven reports that are available to the public and put forth specific recommendations to improve systemic responses to domestic violence. The latest report, A Look at the Impact of Teen Dating Violence, was released in February 2017. This report was preceded by a series of fact sheets developed in partnership between the Rutgers School of Social Work’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children, the NJ Coalition to End Domestic Violence, and the NJ Coalition Against Sexual Assault. These fact sheets were distributed through the Department of Education to support dating violence prevention education for students in grades 7 through 12, and available on the Board's website.
NJCEDV and the Domestic Violence Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board are both encouraged by the work that was done by the Supreme Court Ad Hoc Committee on Domestic Violence and the 30 recommendations it published in a report last year, some echoing recommendations previously made by the Fatality Review Board. Local initiatives like the Family Justice Centers in Essex and Morris Counties, and the Home Involved Violence Intervention Strategies (HIVIS) Model employed by Gloucester Township Police Department are also encouraging. “It is clear that we need to continue to work to address intimate partner violence as a community issue and one for which we all have responsibility. There is a role for everyone in helping to prevent and address intimate partner violence,” said Dr. McMahon.
Learn more about the NJ Domestic Violence Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board and the recommendations they have made to improve domestic violence responses in New Jersey. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship call the Statewide Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-572-SAFE or go to www.njcedv.org to learn about the domestic violence programs in your county.