‘I'm sorry it wasn't safe to leave’: Tarrant County remembers lives lost to domestic violence
Seven cardboard cutouts of women stood on the lawn at SafeHaven of Tarrant County’s office in Arlington. Seven cardboard cutouts to represent the seven women killed by abusive partners in Tarrant County in 2021.
Tarrant County leaders gathered to remember those women on Thursday, commemorating their lives and reflecting on steps the county has taken to prevent more deaths.
"Seven of our Tarrant County neighbors lost their lives at the hands of an intimate partner, and I really hesitate to use the word partner because partnership, to me, means partnership. It means an equal partnership,” said Kathryn Jacob, the president and CEO of SafeHaven. “And those relationships clearly were not that."
Jacob didn't name any of the women but shared the circumstances leading to their deaths. One Hurst woman regularly got threats from her abuser, including “I will destroy your life.” Two others lost their lives alongside their children.
“If these women could hear us today, I would say to them, I am sorry,” Jacob said. “I'm sorry it wasn't safe to leave. I'm sorry your relationship, the thing that you thought you could trust, ended up killing you."
Each year, SafeHaven and a group of local law enforcement agencies, hospital networks and nonprofits release a report tracking the number of intimate partner homicides in Tarrant County. In 2021, seven women died at the hands of abusive partners, down from a pandemic spike of 17 in 2020.
Offenders in intimate partner homicides can be former or current partners of the victim, according to the report’s definition. These relationships show “an ongoing pattern of abusive behavior that can include physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological aggression" before the homicide.
The partnership that compiles the reports, called the Adult Fatality Review Team, also works to produce new policies and programs to prevent intimate partner homicides.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson spoke at the remembrance event. When she took office, victims of domestic violence could drop charges against their alleged abusers if they went to counseling, but she got rid of that option, Wilson said. In her view, it put too much focus on the victim, not the defendants.
“When somebody breaks into your house, we don't tell you that you need to learn how to get locks on your doors or replace your windows. We don't do that. We go after the defendants,” Wilson said.
County leadership is about to undergo a big change. Both Wilson and longtime Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley are not running for reelection. They’ll be replaced in the upcoming midterms.
After he leaves office, Whitley hopes to see the county get stricter with perpetrators of domestic violence and wants protective orders to be easier for victims to obtain, he said. He’s also willing to sit down with his successor to talk to them about the importance of this issue – and any others.
“I've already got times blocked out on my schedule to offer to meet with the next members of the Commissioners Court, to make the transition as smooth as possible," he said.
Including Tarrant County, 63 Texas counties saw at least one intimate partner homicide in 2021, according to a statewide report from the Texas Council on Family Violence. The Council identified 204 intimate partner homicides across the state last year. That number includes 169 women and 35 men, including 12 LGBTQ+ victims.
The Council uses a broader definition for intimate partner homicide than Tarrant County’s Adult Fatality Review Team, and the report includes the number of people killed by intimate partners and stalkers. Under the Council’s definition, 11 people in Tarrant County died due to intimate partner violence in 2021: nine women and two men.
Dallas County saw 22 intimate partner homicides, the Council report states, and Denton County saw 6.
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