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'It happens everywhere all the time': WaPo analysis looks at domestic violence in St. Louis, beyond

Zenique Gardner-Perry (at left) is Safe Connections' prevention education manager. Katie Zezima is a Washington Post national correspondent whose recent reporting looks into the killings of women in cities across the U.S.
St. Louis Public Radio & The Washington Post

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh went behind the headlines on a newly published investigation by the Washington Post. That report found that 48 of the 148 women killed in St. Louis from 2007 to 2017 were murdered by an intimate partner – and that one-third of those men were publicly known to be a potential threat before the attacks occurred.

“We analyzed homicide data of women in 47 major U.S. cities, and it was 4,484 killings of women,” national correspondent Katie Zezima explained while talking with Marsh and Zenique Gardner-Perry, prevention education manager for Safe Connections. “And what we found was that [overall] 46 percent of these women died at the hands of an intimate partner. What we did then was we closely analyzed the homicides in five of the cities, including St. Louis.”

Among the 280 men implicated in a domestic killing in Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City and San Diego or St. Louis, 36 percent had a previous restraining order against them or had been previously convicted of domestic violence or violent crime.

“There’s been some research on it but not a lot,” Zezima said, “so we really wanted to dig into it and see who was killing women across the country.”

Gardner-Perry, who regularly deals with cases of domestic and sexual violence in her role, said what Zezima and her colleagues at the Washington Post uncovered didn’t come as a surprise to her.

“We’re really familiar with some of the legislation that Missouri has around domestic-violence perpetrators and their access to weapons and guns … we know how prevalent it is, especially in the St. Louis city area,” said Gardner-Perry. Locally, Safe Connections seeks to reduce the impact and incidence of relationship violence and sexual assault through education, crisis intervention, counseling and support services.

Zezima noted that nationwide it’s a problem that “cuts across every age, demographic, race.”

“It happens everywhere all the time, and I challenge anyone to say that they don’t know someone who is in this situation or has been in this situation,” she said. “And I think we all need to have a greater awareness of that.”

Gardner-Perry outlined some of the warning signs she emphasizes in her work, such as growing isolation, jealousy and attempts to increase emotional control and financial dependency.

“There are ways to tell when someone is going to be violent to their partner … it’s important for women and girls to understand when they’re working and dealing with and loving someone who could be potentially violent and potentially put them in a situation where their life is in danger,” she said.

But both guests also stressed how difficult it can be to leave an abusive partner.

“It’s very hard for a woman to leave – she has to [consider] shelter options, she might have to quit her job – it’s not an easy thing to do at all,” Zezima said.

And that’s something that people need to grapple with when baffled by an abused partner’s struggle to walk away, Gardner-Perry said.

“That’s a huge question that folks ask, even families, friends – they [may] turn their backs on victims of abuse because they don’t understand why [you] keep returning back to a cycle of abuse … usually perpetrators are manipulative,” she explained. “And they know how to have their partners believe that they’re going through a hard time, that this isn’t something they’re going to be doing consistently, and that they will return to that great person they were at the beginning of the relationship.”

Many victims also do not want to prosecute their abuser or see their abuser go to jail or be punished for what they did, Zezima said.

“And there are numbers of reasons for that … it could be that the person is a source of financial support,” she added. “It could be that they’re afraid of losing their children, [like] one of the women in our story. They love the person, and that is an extremely powerful thing.”

As various communities seek to address domestic violence, one area of focus is work toward intervening earlier.

“What we’re seeing now on the law-enforcement side is that a number of agencies around the country are now starting to intervene much earlier in the relationship,” Zezima said, “basically saying to the woman, ‘He could kill you. There’s a very good chance he could kill you,’ and getting that across to her, because most women underestimate the amount of danger that they’re in.”

Gardner-Perry said getting a restraining order can be very helpful and important but is also not the only thing Safe Connections encourages people in potentially dangerous situations to do. She suggested “safety planning” and connecting to local resources for help in doing so.

Related Resources
In addition to contacting police, Safe Connections encourages people to make use of its 24-hour crisis helpline by dialing 314-531-2003.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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