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Domestic violence takes a deadly toll in Dallas and Tarrant counties

Audria Maltsberger-Safehaven.JPG
Ed Timms
/
KERA News
Audria Maltsberger works with SafeHaven of Tarrant County, a nonprofit that helps women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

If a white woman in Dallas County is the victim of a homicide, it’s most likely the result of domestic violence. But women of color are more likely to be killed.

That’s among the findings from a KERA analysis of 28 female victims in Dallas County and 13 female victims in Tarrant County whose deaths were ruled homicides in the first half of 2022.

All but one of the six white females killed in Dallas County were victims of domestic violence. That included an 18-day-old baby — the rest were over the age of 16. Police have not determined a motive in the sixth case. And the six white females killed in Tarrant County — all adults — were victims of domestic violence.

The KERA analysis also found that almost four out of every five female victims killed in Dallas County were Black or Hispanic. The youngest was 17. Black and Hispanic females over the age of 14 make up about a quarter of the county’s population. Teenagers and women of color also accounted for a slight majority of the female victims in Tarrant County.

In Dallas County especially, many women of color were killed by strangers or someone they barely knew — and even by random acts of violence.

Crystal Rodriguez was shot during a drive-by shooting while sleeping in her bedroom, according to a release from the Dallas Police Department. She was 18.

Women of color, too, were victims of domestic violence — including at least seven adult women in Dallas County. In Tarrant, out of the seven female victims who were not white, a 16-year-old and four adults were victims of domestic violence.

Kyaira Williams’ body was found under a freeway in Dallas County with multiple gunshot wounds. The Black woman was reported missing three days prior. Her husband, 26-year-old Brannon Williams, was arrested for her murder according to a release from Dallas Police.

But women of color were also killed other acts of violence — like Shanique Alex. The 25-year-old Black woman was shot in her car when she was leaving her apartment complex in Oak Cliff according to Dallas Police.

The pattern of death for women in North Texas’ two most populous counties may be at odds with perceptions influenced by crime dramas, in which the victims often are white women killed by strangers in dramatic and gruesome ways. And news coverage, too, often focuses more attention on white victims from privileged backgrounds.

In real life?

“It’s always the boyfriend,” said Kathryn Jacob, the president and CEO of SafeHaven, the family violence center for Tarrant County.

Fathers and sons, too, may be a threat.

Laverne Coggins’s 52-year-old son, Christopher Coggins, was arrested for allegedly killing her in February.

The Irving Police Department said in a media release that Coggins had been charged with abusing his mother in June 2021. He was released on probation from Dallas County Jail a few days before his mother was killed. She was 81.

Dr. Suzanne Enck works with the women and gender studies program at the University of North Texas. She said implying white women are in constant danger engages white media consumers. Black and brown women, she said, are overlooked.

Enck said women of color are more vulnerable to violence because of their marginalized identities.

“They are consistently at a higher rate of being multiple marginalized and more ultimately at risk just for living,” she said. “Just for existing.”

A shattered illusion

The well-to-do white women depicted in horror movies and crime shows often exist in a world where they’re the prime targets of random violence. Sinister villains carrying rusty machetes and machine guns hide in the shadows, waiting to snatch an invariably attractive white woman walking her golden retriever in the park.

Enck said that imagery perpetuates the narrative that white women need protection. She said white women do need protection — but not from strangers.

“The threat is coming from within the home,” she said.

Admitting that, she said, would shatter an idealistic view on the American marriage in which husbands are the protector — and that domestic violence is something that happens in lower-income neighborhoods.

“Domestic violence happens at the same rates in white Southlake as it does other places,” Jacob said.

The only white woman in Dallas or Tarrant County whose death has not been linked to domestic violence — so far — was Allisabith King. Her body was found in a vacant lot in West Dallas in May according to a tweet from the Dallas Police Department. Police told KERA her death is still undetermined.

Easy to hide

Domestic violence can be easily overlooked — and sometimes victims even try to hide it. Women who feel they can’t support their kids without an abusive husband’s income may be unwilling to leave — or be too afraid to risk leaving. So the domestic violence stays a secret — until someone is seriously injured or dies.

Moms who endure domestic violence may cover their bruises with makeup and long-sleeved shirts when they’re picking up the kids from soccer practice. And because of the privacy that homeowners cherish in the suburbs, as well as middle- to upper-income neighborhoods in large cities, people might not hear cries for help, or even a gunshot.


BY THE NUMBERS


Dallas County

Total female victims: 28

White domestic violence victims: 5 of 6

Minority domestic violence victims: 7 of 22

Youngest domestic violence victim: 18 days-old

Oldest domestic violence victim: 81

Tarrant County

Total female victims: 13

White domestic violence victims: 6 of 6

Minority domestic violence victims: 5 of 7

Youngest domestic violence victim: 16

Oldest domestic violence victim: 69


Audria Maltsberger said she kept her abuse a secret. Maltsberger, a board member at SafeHaven of Tarrant County, said she didn’t want people to find out she was being abused because it would cause problems in her marriage.

“I hid from people,” she said. “I didn't want to be seen.”

It took broken bones for Maltsberger to make the decision to leave. That was after her then 11-year-old son called 911. She arrived at a domestic violence shelter in Fort Worth operated by a nonprofit called SafeHaven with a laundry basket full of clothes and her three young children.

Sixteen years later, her family is thriving. And she’s remarried, to a man she describes as “inspiring.”

She hasn’t forgotten women who weren’t so fortunate. Maltsberger remembers gold plaques that were once on the doors at SafeHaven’s shelter in Fort Worth when she stayed there with her children. Each plaque had the name of a women who’d stayed at the shelter who later returned to their abusers — and were killed.

“I think about those plaques all the time,” Maltsberger said. “So, because I was able to get out and put my life back together, I feel responsible. I feel a duty to help.”

Leaving isn’t easy — Maltsberger said it takes survivors an average of seven tries before they successfully escape an abusive relationship. It’s also dangerous. Women leaving abusive partners are almost four times more likely to be killed while leaving an abusive relationship than any other time with that partner according to a report from the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Maltsberger said she was scared to leave. She worried her children would be raised without a mother or be killed themselves. Her former husband had access to guns in the home.

Most of the women who died from domestic violence in Dallas County were killed with a gun. Maltsberger said that doesn’t surprise her.

“There’s desperation to regain that control over the women, and guns are so easily accessible these days,” she said.

Mikisha Hooper, the coordinated community response manager at Texas Council on Family Violence, said the presence of a firearm is one of the leading risk factors for intimate partner homicide in Texas. A gun in a family violence situation increases a woman’s risk of death by as much as 500% according to a 2021 report from the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Hooper said it’s easier to do more damage with a firearm – all it takes is pulling the trigger. She said that heightens the risk for the victim.

“The chance of surviving is really slim,” Hooper said.

Preventing the worst

The Dallas Police Department has several approaches that are intended to improve a domestic violence victim’s chances of survival.

Sgt. Paulo Betancourt is with the DPD’s domestic violence unit. He said officers will fill out an emergency protective order on behalf of victims when they make a domestic violence arrest. An abuser may be required to maintain a certain distance from his spouse and children.

Betancourt said magistrates also set bond conditions that can help prevent future homicides, such as forbidding the abuser from contacting his victim.

Betancourt said Dallas police started working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this past year to help bring federal charges against abusers who’ve violated firearms laws.

These tactics seem to be succeeding. Monica Igo, a lieutenant with the DPD’s domestic violence unit, said they’re anticipating a decrease in domestic violence incidents this year. The hope is that there will be fewer women like Williams, Coggins and Brumit — and more like Maltsberger who make it out and survive.

Maltsberger said being a survivor is an honor. It’s why she shares her story.

“We go through the fire,” she said. “But we go back in, and we help others out.”

Methodology: KERA analyzed data obtained from the medical examiner offices in Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties for suicides and homicides, Jan. 1-June 30, 2022. The analysis also included data from U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual County Resident Population Estimates by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021. Information on specific cases was obtained from police press releases.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at clove@kera.org.

Caroline Love is a Report For America corps member for KERA News.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.