One-third of Vermont homicides a result of domestic violence


MONTPELIER >> Domestic violence was a factor in more than a third of all homicides in Vermont in 2015, according to a report released this week.

Six of the 16 homicides in Vermont in 2015 were related to domestic violence, according to the 2016 report from the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission, a group formed under a 2002 law to review data and make policy recommendations.

The victims were between the ages of 21 and 73, and all six fatalities involved firearms.

Domestic violence-related homicides were a smaller percentage of the total number of homicides in 2015 than in the previous year. Six of the 11 homicides in 2014, or 55 percent, were related to domestic violence. It was a factor in six of 16 homicides, or 38 percent, in 2015, the report shows.

Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Hanson, a member of the commission, said the report shows that domestic violence remains a "persistent and pervasive" issue in Vermont.

"We have a big problem with domestic violence, and it just goes on year to year to year," Hanson said.

According to the report, since 1994, 131 of a total of 264 homicides of adults were domestic violence-related.

Hanson said such deaths are preventable.

In 2015, four homicides were committed by family members, one by a former intimate partner, and one by a current partner.

"There's this misperception out there that these things happen out of the blue, and that's just not the case," Hanson said.

The report shows that over the last two decades, 59 percent of domestic violence-related homicides were carried out with guns, and 78 percent of murder-suicides involved guns.

"I don't think we are as a state doing what we need to do to address that," Hanson said.

Hanson said she sees an opportunity for the state to build up systems that would remove guns from domestic situations that are at high risk of violence. Greater access to gun storage or abuse prevention orders may get firearms out of the hands of abusers when they are at risk of using them, she said.

Sarah Robinson, special initiatives director for the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said firearms raise the risk for victims of domestic violence.

The group is supportive of efforts to keep abusers from having access to guns after a domestic violence incident.

Robinson also said that homicides and suicides related to domestic violence tend to occur after a pattern of escalation.

Before a fatality occurs, most victims and perpetrators of domestic violence connect with multiple community services, whether medical providers, law enforcement, courts or others, she said.

"Risk can be identified at those places, and at the end of the day these are truly predictable and preventable crimes," Robinson said.

Elizabeth Hewitt is the criminal justice reporter for VTDigger.


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