Domestic violence-related deaths increased by nearly 63% in 2019, report finds

Experts, advocates fear steeper increase in 2020 due to pandemic

(Getty Images)

At least 70 Coloradans died as a result of domestic violence in 2019, a nearly 63% increase compared to the previous year, according to an annual report released Friday. 

Nearly 60% of the fatal incidents in 2019 involved firearms and 20% involved children, and in the majority of the cases the perpetrator was a white male. Denver County had the highest number of fatal domestic violence-related incidents, accounting for 25% of the total cases, followed by Adams and Jefferson counties.

The numbers of domestic violence-related deaths in Colorado have been steadily increasing since 2017. Experts and advocates fear a steeper increase in 2020 due to the pandemic.

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“Since COVID started, our calls have tripled on our crisis line and we definitely anticipate in the future for those to continue trending up,” said Jeneen Klippel, director of community development and public relations for Gateway Domestic Violence Services in Aurora. “It’s alarming, and it’s terrifying and it’s very disheartening.”

Domestic Violence Resources:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: Free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-799-7233

Violence Free Colorado: map of resources by county

SafeHouse Denver: 24-hour crisis and information line at 303-318-9989

Gateway Domestic Violence Services: 24-hour crisis and information line at 303-343-1851

The annual report, which was released on Dec. 4 by the Colorado Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, was authored by Jenn Doe, executive director of Denver Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and Joanne Belknap, professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The review board was established by the Colorado General Assembly to examine data related to domestic violence fatalities, identify ways to prevent such deaths and make policy recommendations to the Legislature, according to a press release. The board is overseen by the Colorado attorney general’s office.

The DVFRB team evaluated 11 cases more thoroughly and found that in all cases, the victim’s social support network — parents, friends, and/or siblings — were aware of prior abuse.

Among the nine cases where the couple had minor children, child care staff and teachers knew about the domestic violence in 40% of the cases, according to the report, highlighting the need to improve training of child care staff, teachers and school administrators on recognizing and responding to domestic violence reports. In six of the nine cases involving children, police officers or sheriff deputies were aware of prior domestic violence.

“The 2019 data and cases offer several vital lessons, including the toll that these cases take on children,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser, who chairs the board, in a statement. “Nineteen children were affected in 2019 by domestic violence, which has direct consequences to their physical and mental health.”

The report outlined a handful of recommendations, including the need for developing policies and resources to support children exposed to domestic violence. Research shows that many perpetrators of domestic violence have witnessed and/or experienced abuse as children, according to the report. 

 “Year after year, we see that issues related to housing insecurity and financial struggles put victims of domestic violence at higher risk of lethality.Colorado Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board report

Other recommendations include implementing assessment programs to help first responders better identify and respond to instances of domestic violence; improved coordinated services; prohibiting perpetrators of domestic violence from possessing firearms; and improving overall economic stability for victims and perpetrators.

“Year after year, we see that issues related to housing insecurity and financial struggles put victims of domestic violence at higher risk of lethality,” the authors wrote in the report. 

“This tells us that more resources for safe and affordable housing are needed, along with safety net programs that help ensure victims/survivors and perpetrators have access to resources that help them meet their basic needs and achieve economic stability,” the authors said. “This is especially important while COVID-19 restrictions that have led to job loss and reduced hours remain in place.”

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