June 18, 2014, Washington, DC – Today in Washington, DC, Rob Valente, National Domestic Violence Hotline policy expert presented highlights from a recent focus survey conducted by The Hotline on the use of firearms in domestic violence situations. The survey revealed how the presence of a firearm in an abusive relationship intensifies the fear of abuse victims and escalates the violence directed towards them, regardless of whether or not the survivor is married, dating or being stalked by the abuser. Current laws offer protections for married victims of intimate partner abuse, but the same protection is not afforded to those who are in a dating relationship or those who are being stalked. Valente provided the preliminary results of the survey at a panel featuring Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, co-founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, as well as U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Saundra Rhodes, Chief of Police of Horry County, South Carolina and domestic violence survivor, Sarah Engle. Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, Counselor to the Center for American Progress Action Fund moderated the panel which discussed the intersection between gun violence and violence against women.
One in four women and one in seven men 18 and older in America report they have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. When the abuser has access to firearms, the survey confirmed that victims’ fears intensify and the violence escalates. Statistics show that it also turns deadly. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health, the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. More than half of women murdered with guns are killed by family members or intimate partners.1
The findings from the eight week survey conducted this spring by The Hotline shows how guns are being used to coerce, intimidate and inflict injury.
Of those whose partners have access to firearms:
- 22% said their partner had threatened to use their firearm to hurt themselves, their intimate partner, their children, family members, friends and even pets with a firearm.
- 67% believe their partner is capable of killing them
- 52% said they would feel safer if law enforcement took their partner/spouse/ex’s firearms
- Only 34% said they were aware that the court may be able to order their partner to surrender their firearms and ammunition
Of those who said their partner had threatened them with a firearm:
- 76% said their partner made verbal threats to use the gun
- 24% of them said their partner waved the gun around
- 25% said their partner pointed the gun at them or others
- 30% said their partner left the gun out to create a feeling of fear
- 54% said their partner had threatened suicide with the gun
Below are some of the anonymous stories told to The Hotline advocates during the eight week survey:
Hotline Survey Anecdotes:
One woman said that during a fight, her partner shot a gun at her. Someone called the police. Her partner was arrested on a violation of a restraining order, but the gun charges were dropped.
One participant in the survey said her partner sexually assaulted her with his gun by putting the gun inside her when she refused to have sex with him.
One caller said her abuser told their young child he would shoot the entire family and maybe others.
One woman’s partner shot her while she sat in her car, another said her husband threatened to shoot her in the face.
One of the women said her partner put a gun in his mouth while talking to her on an internet service. In another case, a husband recorded a video of how he would kill himself with his gun if she left him.
One caller told The Hotline advocate about her husband who sleeps with loaded guns under his pillow. Not long ago, she woke to the sound of him releasing the safety next to her head. His guns, she said, are regularly used to threaten her and abuse her.
Changes to Legislation Needed
Urging policy makers to take immediate action, National Domestic Violence Hotline policy expert, Rob Valente says, “We need stronger protections for victims now. The people who call the Hotline are brave and they are survivors. They’ve managed to stay alive. Every day at The Hotline, advocates listen to their stories and we hear them and we help them. Today, we must act as their voice, because if they were able to do so, they would tell lawmakers they’re scared, they want the fear and pain to stop and they need help.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline believes that in order for survivors to find safety and live lives free of abuse, changes are needed. Some of the specific ways in which the current legislation should be strengthened:
- Protecting victims of dating violence and stalking from firearms violence—in addition to the existing protection for victims of domestic violence
- Protecting victims at the time when they are in greatest danger—when they first go to court to seek help
- Giving law enforcement the authority to seize firearms when there is probable cause to believe the firearms were used to commit domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking
- Giving courts the authority to order that firearms used to commit domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking be removed from the abuser
- Improving the entry of state data concerning domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking into the National Crime Information Center databases, so that the FBI has the information it needs to prevent adjudicated abusers from getting access to firearms
Domestic violence offenders commit more than a million acts of domestic violence each year, resulting in hundreds of deaths2, approximately 22 percent of which are gun-related.3
“Doing nothing is not an option. Right now, women are being terrorized in their own homes,” Valente said.
1J.C. Campbell, D.W. Webster, J. Koziol-McLain, et al., “Risk factors for femicide within physically abusive intimate relationships: results from a multi-site case control study,” 93 Amer. J. of Public Health 1089-1097 (2003).
2U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, J.Truman, L. Langton, & M. Planty, Criminal Victimization 2012 (Oct.2013) (Table 1) (1,259,390 incidents of domestic violence in 2012),