Maine ranks ninth among U.S. states in the rate of women residents who are killed by men, according to a national study released Tuesday.
The study, released by the Violence Policy Center to draw attention to the toll of domestic violence, says that Maine’s rate of 1.47 women killed for every 100,000 women living in the state is higher than all but eight other states.
Maine advocates and officials said the report underscores the importance of taking steps to reduce the risk of violence, particularly for people who are leaving a relationship.
“Regardless of the numbers, we are keenly aware of the need to remove access to firearms for people under protection from abuse orders or on bail for domestic violence offenses,” said a statement from Attorney General Janet Mills and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese. “We always encourage people who are ending a relationship to have a safety plan, with assistance from a domestic violence resource center.”
The numbers are surprising in the context of Maine’s low crime rate.
“You’re unlikely in the state of Maine to be the victim of crime perpetrated by a stranger,” said Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. “On the other hand, behind closed doors is the place where women are unfortunately in the greatest danger of being harmed. … We have a very serious problem of violence against women, and we need to work hard together to make a better difference than we have been able to make to date.”
Maine’s rate in the study was based on 2013 data from the FBI and reflects a ratio of the number of individual women killed by an individual man, divided by the state’s female population. There were 10 women killed by men in 2013 in Maine, the study says.
Maine ranked 22nd in a similar study in 2012 and 23rd in 2011.
The study does not offer an explanation for why different states ranked as they did.
Maine historically has had one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country and its homicide numbers also are relatively low, with 25 in 2013 and 22 in 2014.
But roughly half of the state’s homicides are attributable to domestic violence, which also includes male victims. The high proportion of domestic violence homicides is at least in part attributable to a low number of other types of killings – such as gang violence – that some other states experience. Drug-related homicides also were not a significant factor in Maine, although that has changed as the state’s drug problem has worsened, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
McCausland said Tuesday that state figures show that 11 of the 25 people killed in 2013 were victims of domestic violence and seven of them were women.
“We may not be comparing apples to apples here, but that does not discount the fact that domestic violence has played a huge role in our homicides and continues to do so,” McCausland said. “You are far more likely to be killed in Maine by someone who loves you or has loved you,” McCausland said.
Nationally, there were 1,615 females killed by males in single victim-single offender incidents, according to FBI statistics quoted by the study. The most common means was with a gun.
The highest rate was in South Carolina, where 2.32 women were killed for every 100,000 women residents.
Vermont, at number eight, was the only other New England state in the top 10.
The national average is 1.09 women killed by men per 100,000 women, down from a rate of 1.57 in 1996.
The Violence Policy Center is a national group that works to reduce gun violence and injury and advocates for stronger gun laws.
The study was released in anticipation of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is in October. While it did not include recommendation, it did say that laws that keep guns away from domestic abusers are a positive step in helping keep women safe.
LEGISLATION IN MAINE
Maine has taken steps to reduce domestic violence and domestic violence homicide. Women are more likely to be victims of such crimes than men.
Gov. Paul LePage signed legislation in 2012 requiring judges to deny bail when there’s a danger that the defendant could commit more domestic violence and requiring notification of a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking when the defendant is released on bail.
“The most dangerous time is when there is a change in a relationship,” said the statement from Mills and Marchese. “We always warn women not to return to the residence alone and, if any violence is suspected, call the police.”
Maine’s Domestic Violence Homicide Review Panel issued a report last year that made several recommendation intended to reduce the risk of domestic homicide.
The panel’s 2014 recommendations included:
• Having the state take firearms away from anyone who makes homicidal or suicidal statements and creating a repository of concealed-handgun permits accessible only to law enforcement.
• Create programs that enhance collaboration between law enforcement and resource centers.
• Urge health care providers to screen all patients for abuse and controlling behavior. The screenings should be private, regular and occur especially frequently during pregnancy.
• Offer consistent and ongoing school-based education about domestic abuse and dating violence.
• Create high-risk response teams that include multidisciplinary professionals in each county or region.
• Assign an investigator in each state police troop to receive specialized training in domestic violence investigations.
• Ask judges to use legible handwriting when filling out protection from abuse orders. “If court orders are not legible, they cannot be enforced,” the panelists wrote.
• Increase training for court clerks, lawyers and judges about intervention programs.