Domestic violence assessment could save lives (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis

Sometimes, by coincidence or otherwise, I get to have a fresh appreciation for the clients I’m fortunate enough to represent.  I was at a meeting last week at which part of the program included a presentation on the Attorney General’s Batterers Intervention Program (BIP).  With a little research I learned the BIP was created in 2005 and was originally administered by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.  In 2007 it was transferred to the Attorney General along with some money to contract with certified private providers to conduct group and individual educational programs for batterers who have been ordered by a court to attend. 

I learned some things about which I had no clue.  First, the BIP programs are mandatory for someone placed on probation for domestic abuse or violence.  BIP is a 52 week program and the defendant has to pay for it.  Programs are usually $25 to $50 per session.  Failure to attend and complete the course is a violation of probation.  The BIPs are NOT therapy.  The underlying philosophy of BIP is that, among other things, battering is never justified and is not caused by disease, mental illness or addiction.  No behavior of the victim causes or excuses domestic violence. Batterers are solely responsible for their illegal actions and because they choose to use violence they can choose to stop.  According to research, the likelihood a woman will be killed by domestic violence is greatly enhanced by four factors:  unemployment of the batterer; choking as a means of violence; access to a gun; and the victim’s preparing to leave or get away.

I listened and learned, but didn’t appreciate what I was hearing until yesterday morning when I read a story in the Tulsa World describing a new national report by the Violence Policy Center titled “When Men Murder Women” based on national data from 2012.  Unfortunately at 2.03 per 100,000 women murdered by a man, Oklahoma is reported to be third highest, behind Alaska and South Carolina.  The report focused on domestic violence where one woman was killed by one man.  But people are working to change things.

Because of HB 2526, passed last session by Rep. Kay Floyd and Sen. David Holt, beginning Nov.1 police will be required to complete a “lethality assessment” form each time they investigate an incident of domestic violence.  It’s encouraging that Rep. Floyd, a Democrat and Sen. Holt, a Republican could join forces to pass this kind of legislation.  The question is will the assessments be effectively used or tossed in a file somewhere?  In the Tulsa World story domestic violence professionals suggested extending the lethality assessment requirement to healthcare providers as they treat the victim.  The victim might be likely to reveal more information to them.  This might be an idea for (now Sen.-elect) Floyd and Sen. Holt next year. 

One worrisome note:  When Rep. Floyd introduced her legislation, among the requirements on the lethality assessment form was a question to determine if the perpetrator had access to a gun.  She later offered an amendment on the House floor to take out that question, I’m sure in order to get enough votes to pass the bill on the House floor.  Our Oklahoma gun proponents are ever vigilant, allowing nothing to suggest that guns may actually kill people.  So whether or not the alleged batterer owns or possesses a gun will not be part of the lethality assessment.  Rep. Floyd made the right choice.  It’s a shame she had to amend it, but she still passed a very good bill.  If used properly it will save lives.

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

One thought on “Domestic violence assessment could save lives (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

  1. It’s very sad for the victims of public official domestic abuse. They are discriminated against and oklahoma seems to have difficulty acknowledging police officers can abuse their spouses, judges can abuse their spouse, lawyers etc etc. Yet there is no specific legislation for the people in my position. My ex is former law enforcement, he pled guilty to domestic abuse and felony strangulation, it took tulsa 10 months to charge him, and i was denied services for conflict of interest by DV providers. My ex has my children. And won’t return them.

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