Editorial: A Stronger Safety Net

It has always proved true in our community that murder victims were more likely to have died by the hands of a family member than by any random act of violence.

The case histories show that the domestic killings are most often sudden, heat-of-passion episodes. Rarer are the calculated, planned-out variety, although we’ve had those, too. A common factor between those two types are the lingering feelings among survivors that more could have been done to prevent these family tragedies. Those same questions haunt law enforcement officers and prosecutors, as well.

Already this year, there have been three domestic homicides in Loudoun. At the same, juries and judges in Leesburg are being asked to weigh the circumstances in several family murder cases that happened in previous years. The local impacts of deadly domestic violence, perhaps, have never been more prominently on display.

The announcement of a multi-jurisdictional, multi-discipline campaign aimed at better protecting abuse victims is significant. It is reflective of the frustration experienced by those on the front lines in the daily battle to combat violence aimed at spouses, exes, children, siblings and parents. They operate in an arena where there are too few tools available to those brave enough to challenge the cycles of violence and where too many victims lack hope for a different life.

This new program is aimed at identifying the extreme cases—those in which a life is at risk. It should enable the law enforcement and community organizations to better coordinate public and private resources and provide a more protective shield for those in mortal jeopardy.

It’s an important step, but not the only one that should be pursued. Efforts also should be made to strengthen existing protection tools. Chief among those are protective orders that are designed to create a safety zone for abuse victims. Even for those with the willingness and means to bring a civil case and to meet the relatively high legal bar to win the court-ordered protection, the outcomes are far from assured. The most recent domestic murder victim, a Leesburg mother of three, succeeded in obtaining a restraining order against her former boyfriend. Just a few weeks later, he showed up on her doorstep—with a gun in hand. The system failed her, as it fails other victims each day, albeit without fatal results.

The initiative of the Loudoun’s Domestic Abuse Response Team is an important effort to save lives. But that is only one element in building a stronger safety net for these endangered residents. Shelter workers, deputies and police officers can readily identify other actions that could make a difference and they deserve the legislative and financial support to move those forward, too.