Georgia Domestic Violence Project Fatality Review Project – Executive Summary – The Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project (the Project) critically examines the circumstances that precede domestic violence-related homicides by identifying systemic gaps in service delivery to victims and perpetrators, and putting forth recommendations for change. Over the past 12 years, the Project’s analysis has revealed gaps in services, policies, practices, training, information sharing, communication, collaboration, and resources. Concentration has been placed on identifying gaps prior to the homicide, as well as recommendations, which, if addressed, could have a significant impact on the lives of domestic violence victims and reduce the number of domestic violence-related deaths in Georgia.

The focus of the Project has broadened as we continue to learn about the gaps in service delivery that exist after a homicide occurs. Through in-depth fatality reviews, we have interviewed numerous family members and friends of domestic violence homicide victims who have provided us with some of the most valuable insights into the experiences of the deceased. We have learned intimate details about families who are torn apart: often we hear of loving mothers (sisters and daughters) who were navigating an abusive relationship; children (nieces and nephews, grandchildren) with promising futures; and men (brothers and sons), who were once loving fathers and husbands, who killed their wives and families. These interviews have also given us a window into the profound, enduring pain of a family’s loss as they try to pick up the pieces and carry on without their loved one(s). We also learn about the vast numbers of grieving aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters facing every holiday, every birthday, and every family gathering without their loved one.

While families lose so much from these tragedies, our society loses much as well. The ripple effects span entire
communities–we lose women and men who were co-workers and friends, families who were part of faith communities, and children who were schoolmates. Media reports that follow these tragedies often convey a community’s sense of shock
and an outpouring of love, support, and memories of those lost. As time passes and media coverage fades, we do not
usually hear about what happened to the family and children who survived. Even through our fatality review process, we
often do not know what happened to these surviving children and we certainly cannot measure the long-term, lasting
impacts the tragedy of losing a parent will have on their lives.

Over the last two years, the Project’s annual reports have highlighted 10 key findings from the first 10 years of the Project. In 2013, we explored these findings in depth, providing essays on each topic supported with vignettes to give specific examples of how we saw these findings in the cases we reviewed. We then provided strong recommendations by system to address these findings. In 2014, we offered examples of communities implementing innovative and promising projects based on recommendations from fatality review cases. In this year’s report, we dive deep into one of the key findings from our Project and a particularly compelling aspect of domestic violence: children exposed to domestic violence.

In early 2015, the Project was contacted by a woman named Trisha* after she searched the internet for her mother’s name and discovered her mother’s death was one of the first cases reviewed by the Project.

Trisha, who was only 14 years old when she lost her mother, was in the process of piecing together the events of her childhood and was hopeful we could help her fill in the gaps of what happened to her mother. We quickly realized Trisha knew more than we did about her mother’s life and untimely death. We also learned more details about Trisha’s life, including what happened to her family after her mother’s death, and Trisha’s own journey to escape an abusive relationship as an adult.

Over the course of several months, we had the honor of working with Trisha to write her story, one of a resilient young woman who has overcome tragedy and trauma. Trisha shares her experience so we can understand more clearly what happened to her mother, what Trisha went through in the aftermath of her mother’s death, and the continued influence of her mother’s death on her life. As her story unfolds, we explore the lasting impact these deaths have Executive Summary
Impact of Domestic Violence and Familicide on Children and Families on surviving children, family members, friends, and the community who must go on without them. It is our hope Trisha’s story will shine a light on the many struggles  children and families face, and gaps in the support available to help them heal.

Trisha’s story is only one of the 134 minor children who lost a parent or caregiver in the 100 cases reviewed by the Project between 2004 and 2015. We know there are many, many more survivors who have experienced the death of their parent(s) due to domestic violence in our state. Trisha’s story, remembered and retold as an adult, offers us a glimpse into the lived experiences of these children. We invite you to reflect on Trisha’s perspective as a child navigating domestic violence and various systems at her mother’s side.

In particular, think about the lasting impact her observations of services available to help her mom had on her own life. Where do you see yourself in Trisha’s story? What do you wish could have been different for her? What are the stories of children in your community whose parent is experiencing domestic violence? What are the stories of children in your community who have lost their parent(s) to domestic violence homicide? Where are they now and how are they doing? What can you do differently to help them?

Interspersed with Trisha’s story, there are several topics presented in this report that relate to childhood trauma and considerations for families and children who survive the homicide of a loved one. We detail one of the largest investigations ever done on the associations between adverse childhood experiences and later-life health and well-being.
We shed light on the heartbreaking challenges families and children are faced with in the aftermath of domestic  violence-related murders. We also highlight the resiliency of children, provide recommendations for change, and offer resources to
help communities get started with implementation.

This report also includes a section on another tragedy impacting children exposed to domestic violence: murder-suicides and familicides. Murder-suicides account for a significant portion of domestic violence-related fatalities, both in the cases we reviewed and in all of the Georgia deaths tracked by the Project. Previous reports have highlighted our key findings on these topics, such as how an abuser’s depression and suicidal thoughts are high risk factors for domestic violence  homicide. In a continued effort to understand these tragedies and craft recommendations for change, the Project will take a closer look at familicides in our state. We plan to work closely with Fatality Review Teams over the next year to review cases involving familicidal tragedies that have occurred in our communities.

Within the pages of this report, we hope you find a renewed sense of urgency and commitment to creating the true social change necessary to end domestic violence and create safer communities. We also hope you see how important you are in the lives of children exposed to domestic violence and in the lives of children who survive domestic violence homicides. While these tragedies often shape and form who a person is, we have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure children are getting the services they need to heal from the hurt and trauma they’ve endured.

*Pseudonyms used throughout

To read complete report click here: GCADV Annual Report 2015