Arizona inched up among states on rates of women murdered by men

A 2018 display in Mexico City meant to draw attention to murders of women. A report on murders of women by men in the U.S. in 2017 showed Arizona had the seventh-highest rate of such murders in the nation, after several years of being out of the top 10 states. (Photo by Dzilam Mendez, UN Women/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – For the first time in five years, Arizona was back among the top 10 states for highest rates of women murdered by men in 2017, the most recent year studied by the Violence Policy Center.

Its annual report, “When Men Murder Women,” analyzed homicide data from 2017 and found that the rate of women killed by men in Arizona stood at 1.92 for every 100,000 women, the seventh-highest rate in the nation.

“Arizona has actually been out of the top 10 of the Violence Policy Center’s calculations for several years,” said Jill Messing, Arizona State University associate professor of social work. “That we have moved back into the top 10 is very unfortunate for our state – and for women in our state.”

Alaska ranked at the top for 2017, with a male-on-female murder rate of 3.96 victims per 100,000 women in the state, followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Nevada, South Carolina and Tennessee. A total of 1,984 women were murdered by men nationwide that year, according to the report.

The report does not delve into motives behind the killings it studies, but counts the number of individual women killed by individual men and listing the demographics and other information for each crime in the top 10 states. The authors caution that while their work “does not focus solely on domestic violence or guns, it provides a stark reminder that domestic violence and guns make a deadly combination.”

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Arizona has been in the top 10 for 11 of the 22 years the report has covered – from 1996 to 2017. The report uses murder rates, instead of the total number of murders, to accurately compare states with different populations, said VPC Senior Policy Analyst Marty Langley in a statement.

One advocate with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence was not surprised by the latest findings, released in September.

“We’ve always struggled with equality issues here,” said Doreen Nicholas, domestic violence response manager. “We’ve struggled to make any headway on addressing domestic or sexual violence.”

Nicholas said male-on-female killings often occur in domestic violence situations, when victims try to resist the abuse or end the relationship. Out of the 68 Arizona victims in the report, 57% knew their killers as boyfriends, husbands or ex-partners.

“A lot of times, the last thing the victims hear is, ‘If you’re not going to be with me, you’re not going to be with anybody,'” Nicholas said. “The ultimate act of control is to take somebody’s life.”

The report also said that 60% of the women killed were victims of gun violence. But reforming gun culture in a state with a “Wild West” reputation has long presented challenges, Nicholas explained. She said background check procedures on gun buyers are “spotty” – in the few instances they’re required in Arizona.

While federally licensed dealers must run background checks, people in Arizona holding a valid concealed weapon permit are exempt from those checks. Private sellers are not legally obligated to conduct checks either.

Gun policy is just one of the areas that need to be addressed, one expert said, because “violence against women is in fact getting worse.”

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Dianne Post, an attorney in Phoenix, said one solution would be a red-flag law, which would allow the temporary confiscation of guns from residents deemed dangerous by a court.

For the past two years, Gov. Doug Ducey has tried – unsuccessfully – to pass the red-flag law included in his Safe Arizona Schools Plan.

“Arizona is certainly one of those states in which the people are far ahead, in terms of social justice issues and belief in equality, than the legislature is,” Post said. “They are standing in the way of many of these policies – and continue to do so.”

State law currently allows courts to take guns from owners against whom domestic violence protective orders have been served – but Post said those are often not enforced. She called for action on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which is currently stalled in the Senate. The report also said that bill contains several provisions designed “to keep guns out of the hands of abusers.”

But one advocate said Arizonans can fight gender violence themselves – starting at home.

Mesha Davis, CEO of the Arizona Foundation for Women, said parents should teach their children healthy ways to handle aggression because “those learned behaviors are hard to change later on.”

Messing said it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

“It’s important that, as a society, and as a state, and as a community, we recognize that men’s violence against women does have consequences,” she said. “And if we see violence, we work to do something about that.”