Friday, March 2, 2012

Article: Agencies look for red flags in domestic violence cases, weigh reviews of deaths

Yvonne Clavier lived in fear of her abusive husband for years before he stabbed her to death in July in a murder-suicide.

Clavier sought help from authorities in 2008, saying Michael Clavier had stabbed her. Later, she misled authorities by saying she had harmed herself. He was convicted of stabbing her anyway and received probation.

After her death at age 51, advocates for victims of domestic violence wondered what they could have done better to help Clavier and other women like her. Advocates, Springfield police and a prosecutor met Wednesday to talk about reviewing deaths from domestic violence.

“When you look, you see a lot of red flags across the systems,” said Kendall Seal, an attorney for Legal Services of Southern Missouri. “Clearly, she was trying to access services. Ultimately, she along with the abuser ended up dead.”

Most other states — including Montana, Florida and Nevada — review deaths from domestic violence. They look to see how agencies handling prior complaints communicated and what could have been done differently. Sometimes the review includes the families of the victim and the abuser.

Matthew Dale, director of the Office of Consumer Protection and Victim Services in Montana, had participants do two mock reviews of deaths so they could see how they are done. He said often different groups involved in domestic violence cases don’t get along well, and the reviews help them learn to communicate better.

“Clergy tends to see advocates as home wreckers,” Dale said. “Advocates tend to see clergy as saying just be a better wife. Be submissive. Stereotypes tend to get in the way.”

A bill to establish review of domestic violence deaths in Missouri was considered by the General Assembly in 2011 but didn’t pass. Missouri currently reviews all child fatalities.

Cheryl Robb-Welch, chief operating officer for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the coalition does not favor the state mandating reviews. She said the coalition favors communities doing them voluntarily because not all communities have the resources to do them.

“I think they can have a lot of benefit to their communities when there’s a thoughtful process in putting them together,” she said.

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