Great expectations

Our Fatality Review project just issued its annual report of the number of people across Washington State who died as a result of domestic violence last year. I drafted a press release of the findings before I ever saw the report. I planned to fill in the exact numbers once I got them from my colleague, but figured I already knew what the stats were going to tell us. 2000FR-Cover

We’ve been collecting this data since 1997. And every year, the numbers are eerily similar to the last. It seems no matter what else happens in a year—other violent crime going down, the economy getting better or worse, new laws passed—the domestic violence murder rate stays relatively steady. It’s incredibly sad, and I guess I’ve been feeling pretty hopeless about it.

But this year turned out to be different. A total of 35 people died in domestic violence fatalities. This is significantly fewer than the 54 deaths the year before, and the lowest in the 17 years we’ve been keeping track. I had to re-write the press release, but also re-think my assumptions.

Even though I truly believe domestic violence is preventable, and I see great work happening all around me, at the end of the year I don’t expect to see that reflected in the homicide numbers. Why not? I suppose it has to do with how complex the problem of domestic violence is and the slow pace of social change.

Every single life lost to domestic violence is one too many, and my heart aches for all those we lost this past year. But I feel encouraged at the same time. Maybe this is the start of a trend. After decades of work to end domestic violence, maybe it is time to expect change.