California Women's Law Center

Murder at Home: A Study of the Violent Deaths of Women at the Hands of Their Intimate Partners

Women in California are more likely to be killed by their intimate partner than by a stranger.1 Indeed, although women accounted for only 19 percent of all homicide victims in 2002,2 they constituted almost 80 percent of all intimate partner homicide victims that year. 3

In order to better understand the dynamics that cause women’s most intimate relationships to erupt into violence and murder, the California Women’s Law Center’s Murder at Home Project conducted a survey of 100 homicide cases in California, occurring from 1998 – 2002, where a woman was killed by a male intimate partner. Preliminary results from our 100-case survey reveal disturbing and dangerous similarities in the lives and deaths of women murdered by their intimate partners:

Trends Among Women Murdered by Their Male Partners

· A majority of homicide victims experienced an escalating pattern of abuse by the perpetrator. Fifty-nine percent of the perpetrators had a confirmed history of domestic violence against the victim. Forty-six percent of these abuser-perpetrators made prior threats on the victim’s life. Sadly, 17 percent of the victims told a family member or friend shortly before their murders that they feared the perpetrator was going to kill them.

· Most homicide victims who were abused by their partners never sought help from legal or community resources for domestic violence. Only 14 percent of victims who were abused sought domestic violence-related services from hospitals, shelters or community-based organizations prior to their murder. Seventy-three percent of abused victims never obtained a protective order against their abusive partner and only 19 percent had an active restraining order against their abuser at the time of the murder.

· Regardless of whether there was a history of abuse in the relationship, victims were just as likely to be killed after they had taken steps to leave their partner. Forty-seven percent of the couples were either separated or in the process of separating at the time of the murder. Thirteen percent of the victims were killed within three weeks of leaving, or threatening to leave, the relationship.

Trends Among Men Who Murdered Their Female Partners

· A significant number of perpetrators had prior contact with the criminal justice system for domestic violence against the victim. Thirty-three percent of the perpetrators had prior contact with law enforcement, 23 percent had prior arrests, and 15 percent had prior convictions for domestic violence perpetrated against the woman they ultimately killed. Twelve percent of the perpetrators were on probation for domestic violence and 8 percent were actually attending a court-ordered batterer’s treatment program at the time of the murder.

· A perpetrator’s history of substance abuse and mental illness were contributing factors to many homicides. Twenty-two percent of the perpetrators had a history of substance and/or alcohol abuse problems. Fifteen percent suffered from a mental illness at the time of the murder, with conditions ranging from depression and suicidal tendencies to paranoia and psychotic episodes.

· The violence inflicted by perpetrators was not limited to the victim of domestic violence. In 1 out of every 5 cases, a person other than the victim was either injured or killed at the time that the murder took place. A total of 15 children and 11 adults were killed in addition to the 100 victims surveyed. Moreover, children were present at the time of the murder in 29 percent of the cases.

The complete results and analysis of the 100-case survey will be included in a comprehensive report on the prevention and punishment of domestic violence homicide in California that will be released by CWLC later this year.

Our 100-case survey revealed that, in 66 percent of the cases where there was a history of abuse in the relationship, a family member, friend or co-worker was aware of the perpetrator’s violence and/or threats against the victim. When someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, it is often difficult to intervene or even feel that it is your place to do so. Take action to prepare yourself to help a friend or loved one who is being abused.

· Learn more about domestic violence by contacting the National
Domestic Violence Hotline [1-800-799-SAFE; TTY 1-800-787
3224] or visiting the following web sites:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Women Escaping a Violent Environment (WEAVE)

Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles

· Visit the California Department of Health Services’ Family and
Domestic Violence Referral Directory to learn about domestic
violence resources and services in your area.

· Learn about what you can do as a family member, friend or co
worker to better identify and respond to domestic violence
perpetrated against someone you know by visiting the following
web sites: NETWORK, INC.

An Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource

· Contact your Human Resources office or local professional
association to ask whether they have information and/or
guidelines about how you, as a professional, can identify and
respond to domestic violence.

· Volunteer at a local domestic violence services agency.


The politicization of the parole process in California has effectively eliminated any chance for battered women or other deserving prisoners to win their freedom. Parole decisions are made by the Board of Prison Terms [BPT], whose members are appointed by the Governor; however, the Governor has the final approval of all parole grants for persons serving life sentences. Immediately following his election 5 years ago, Governor Davis stated that no prisoner who had killed someone would parole during his or her term unless they did so "in a pine box". We are hoping that the current governor will take a different stance.

Currently, in the California prison maximum security system, approximately 600 women are incarcerated serving either life or long term sentences for killing their abusive partners. Many of these women were convicted prior to 1992 when California law did not permit evidence of battering or abuse to be presented during a woman's defense. This has made it very difficult for them to prove their claims of domestic abuse when they face the BPT at their parole hearings. Battered women who were convicted after 1992 were able to present evidence of abuse in varying degrees; however, they have had equal difficulty in obtaining freedom due to the Governor Davis' stance on parole. Changes in the law and the regulations governing decisions of the BPT have been implemented by the Legislature in an effort to obtain justice for the victims of domestic violence, yet Governor Davis and his appointees on the BPT effectively blocked release for these women. Moreover, even in those cases where the BPT has done an investigation which substantiates a woman's claim of abuse and violence, Governor Davis continued to override the BPT and reverse their parole grants.

Ironically, Governor Davis had no hesitation in publicly declaring his support for the victims of domestic violence as evidenced by his visit to a battered women's shelter in San Francisco last week. It proved an excellent campaign tactic as the article was carried in the major California newspapers. It was also a clear display of the ex-Governor's political cynicism since dozens of battered women, who were clearly acting in self defense, are trapped in California prisons by Governor Davis' reversal of their parole dates. Quite obviously, the Governor's concern for victims of domestic violence did not extend beyond a photo opportunity to boost his sagging political career.

In California, the community of battered women's advocates have relied upon the strong public support for the release of these women. So, it is crucial to get this message out to the voters of this state. Publicity on this topic usually results in substantial interest and concern for incarcerated battered women. It was the contention of prisoners' advocates that Gray Davis pandered to the most powerful lobby in the state: the prison union. Yet, in the end, it did nothing to achieve his political gains. Let's demand that Governor Schwarzenegger to do something to release battered women in prison!

Contact: to see how you can help!

Battered women abused by welfare system

Mothers protest state’s failure to protect them and Bush’s proposal to marry them off

San Francisco - A dramatic new report indicates that under welfare reform in California, the state failed to protect thousands of poor mothers and their children fleeing domestic violence. The survey of 900 CalWORKs mothers found that nearly a third of respondents were battered women who had been denied domestic violence counseling and services under state implementation of welfare reform.

The survey was conducted by LIFETIME, a statewide organization of low-income parents, who held a press conference Tuesday in front of the San Francisco office of Gov. Schwarzenegger to demand an investigation of the failure of the California Department of Social Services to protect battered women and their children under the state’s implementation of welfare reform.

“Battered mothers in California are abused by their men, only to be abused by The Man -the welfare system,” declared Kalia Mullin, a CalWORKs mother from Oakland. “For three years, I suffered from constant physical and emotional abuse, but I had to show up with a black eye before I was told about my eligibility for a domestic violence waiver.”

According to LIFETIME Executive Director Diana Spatz, Mullin’s experience is not unique. “State data indicates that less than 800 mothers in California were granted domestic violence waivers in 2003 even though recent studies show that as high as 80 percent of welfare mothers in California are victims of domestic violence. Statewide, less than one-third of one percent of CalWORKs mothers were granted domestic violence waivers, and less than 2 percent are receiving any domestic violence services at all. Something is terribly wrong with this picture.”

Speakers at the event included CalWORKs mothers who, as battered women, were denied services and waivers for domestic violence under welfare reform. Said Pepper Moore, a single mother and CalWORKs student at Cal State Hayward, “I was in an abusive relationship for four years, but I was never told that I could receive counseling or a waiver for domestic violence. When I requested help, my caseworker said I had to have ‘bruises all over my body’ and still be living with my abuser to get a domestic violence waiver.

“With LIFETIME’s help, I learned this was illegal. But most mothers in my situation have no clue, and are abused all over again when they turn to the welfare system for help. So I’m here to demand that Governor Schwarzenegger investigate the state department of social services for failing to protect battered women like me under welfare reform.”

The event featured a mock wedding to protest the president’s proposal to spend $1.5 billion on marriage programs for welfare moms, which was promoted at a forum this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. According to protest organizers, the Bush proposal is particularly troubling, given the findings of their survey.

“Because of domestic violence, I lost my home and my job. Now the president wants to make me quit school and get married,” said Pepper Moore. “Mothers like me need access to education, not marriage counseling. My degree will get my family off welfare, not a husband.”

Mothers in two-parent families also agreed. “The welfare department forced me to stay in an abusive relationship so that my children’s father could stay home and take care of our kids - at no cost to the state - while I did my mandatory welfare-to-work activity. Marriage is not a solution for mothers like me,” said Vivian Hain, a CalWORKs student at Vista College in Berkeley and LIFETIME board member. “The president needs to spend that $1.5 billion on child care and domestic violence counseling and services instead.”

Even more troubling was what organizers described as a pattern of discrimination in the delivery of domestic violence services under welfare reform. Protest organizers cite the fact that 343 of the 783 domestic violence waivers (43 percent) granted statewide in November 2003 were in Orange County alone, a county whose population is predominantly white. Moreover, organizers pointed to previous studies that found that 75 percent of immigrant mothers on welfare were never told about their eligibility for domestic violence counseling and waivers, and when they were, they were often given forms in English and not their native language, as required under state and federal law.

According to Spatz, “welfare reform, as we know it, has put the lives of battered mothers and children in danger. Immigrant mothers fleeing domestic violence were basically being told to go home and not ‘talk back’ to their husbands. In one case, a Vietnamese mother living in a battered women’s shelter in San Jose was denied welfare benefits because she refused to identify her children’s father, who had threatened to kill her and her children if she did. Out of fear, she provided a false name. She was later charged with felony welfare fraud for giving false information, even though battered women have the right to withhold the name of their children’s father if their safety is at risk.”

LIFETIME parent leaders demanded a meeting with the governor to discuss this widespread problem. However, despite having made three requests for a meeting with the governor since December, mothers were forced to sit in his office, only to meet with a staff person who promised to relay their concerns to the governor.

“My dad and relatives voted for Gov. Schwarzenegger, so we hoped that a new governor would meet with ‘the people’ being affected by his decisions,” said CalWORKs student Melissa Johnson of Davis. “So much for his campaign promise to represent ‘the people!’”

Said LIFETIME Program Director Anita Rees, “The governor declared that he would review the performance of state agencies. Given the mistreatment of battered mothers under welfare reform, the Department of Social Services is where he should start.”

CalWORKs mothers from more than 15 California counties participated in the LIFETIME survey, including San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Sacramento, Yolo, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego, Sierra, Butte and Shasta counties.

LIFETIME, Low Income Families’ Empowerment through Education, is a state-wide, membership-based grassroots group of low-income mothers and fathers throughout California organizing for public policies that will get their families out of poverty. LIFETIME has been waging its statewide End Poverty, Not Welfare campaign since January 2003 to gain improvements in the State’s CalWORKs program and for the creation of state welfare and budget policies that will help low-income parents get off welfare and out of poverty for good. Call LIFETIME at (510) 452 5192.

Irene Weiser

Stop Family Violence

331 W. 57th St #518

New York, NY 10019


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