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Spencer Rendahl: Homicides Against Women

Despite the progressive image Vermont enjoys, statistically speaking it's a dangerous state for women.Last month, the Violence Policy Center released its annual report "When Men Murder Women.” The report analyzes incidents in which one man kills one woman - generally an indicator of domestic homicide. The most recent data available is from FBI homicide data for 2013.

South Carolina placed first, but Vermont and Maine fell into the report’s top 10 states with the highest homicide rate among female victims killed by a man, placing 8th and 9th. New Hampshire came in 38th.

The report gives details for the top 10, and it’s a chilling read. Five Vermont women were killed by male perpetrators in 2013. Two of the victims were age 65 or older. The average age for female victims was 50 years old.

For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 60 percent of Vermont’s female victims were killed with guns. All of the homicides followed arguments between the victim and the offender, and four out of five women were murdered by someone they knew.

New Hampshire also had 5 male-on-female homicides in 2013. But the Granite state has roughly twice the population of Vermont, making the homicide rate significantly lower.

The report doesn’t focus on guns, but it notes the majority of homicides against women nationally involved firearms. And the most deadly states for women have the weakest gun laws. The report notes that “Guns can easily turn domestic violence into domestic homicide.” The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which gives states an annual gun safety report card, gave Maine and Vermont an F and New Hampshire a D- for 2014.

This Spring, Vermont passed a new gun control law. It prohibits violent felons from possessing firearms, which had not been against state law, and strengthens background checks.

Laura Cuttiletta is a staff attorney at the Center to Prevent Gun Violence. She knows how difficult it is to pass even the least restrictive gun control laws, but she thinks this law is a step in the right direction. And she hopes Vermont will do more - like close a loophole in the federal law around mandatory firearms surrender for domestic offenders, something New Hampshire has already done.

In the Upper Valley where I live, there have been three domestic murders of women by men in Vermont and New Hampshire with firearms since 2012. I'm sure we can all agree that any domestic homicide is one too many and I hope we can do better to strengthen laws to help prevent them.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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