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Wood County tracks deadly domestic abuse

BOWLING GREEN - Of the eight men who killed a wife or girlfriend in Wood County between 1991 and the first half of 2007, all had substance abuse problems, all had been jealous and controlling, and all but one had a known history of violence with the victim.

As for their nine victims - one man killed his wife and his girlfriend - all but one was employed, and all had left or were in the process of leaving the man who ultimately took their life.

Those and other statistics are contained in a report to be released today by the Wood County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team. The team, which started its work in January, 2006, was asked to analyze the cases in an attempt to find gaps in the system, identify high-risk factors, and make recommendations that might help prevent homicides.

"We reviewed each case in depth, which is why it's taken us so long to get to this point," said Kathy Mull, who headed the team. "We tried to go back as far as we could in the victim's life and the perpetrator's life, look at what was going on separately and together, and then take a step back to see where we see some gaps."

The review team, in its report, listed five things the county could do better:

•Increase interagency communication and collaboration.

•Increase community education.

•Hold abusers accountable.

•Increase outreach and support for victims.

•More clearly define risk factors.

Before making its recommendations, the team noted that several programs have been implemented since four Wood County women were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends between 2002 and 2005.

Among them, the Cocoon Shelter opened in 2005 in Bowling Green to provide safe emergency housing. And, in 2008, the Center for Access to Safety and Justice opened in Bowling Green to give abuse victims a "one-stop" location where they could get help.

"We have come together as a community in response to these tragedies … but I agree we have more work to do," said Ms. Mull, victims services program coordinator for Victims Services of Behavioral Connections.

The Center for Access to Safety and Justice was created through the efforts of Alicia's Voice, an organization that grew out of the 2007 murder of Alicia Castillon by her ex-boyfriend.

Ms. Castillon's mother, Kathy Newlove, said the center has served 200 women and their children, and she knows it is helping to save lives because women who have been helped there have told her that in no uncertain terms.

"Before, they had to go up to 18 different agencies to get the help they needed and most of them were there with kids and the clothes on their backs and no money or transportation," Ms. Newlove said. "It was too overwhelming so they would go home and hope for the best."

In Wood County, 12 of the 27 homicides that occurred between June, 1991, and June, 2007, were domestic violence homicides, which translates to 44 percent compared to a national average of 9 percent. In addition to the nine wives or girlfriends who were killed, two of the victims were children, and one was the boyfriend of a victim.

Ms. Mull said she was taken aback by the number of children who lost their mothers because of domestic violence. In Wood County, 20 children were impacted, 12 of whom were present in the home when their mothers were killed. "That was really startling to us," she said.

Committee member Dan Schaefer, who runs a therapy group for abusive partners at Person to Person Resources in Perrysburg, said he took note of the role that substance abuse and other factors "inside" the perpetrator played in the homicides - possessive and controlling behavior, jealousy, and a history of violence with the victim.

"That's disturbing," he said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.

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