In the most current FBI data, Georgia had the nation’s sixth-highest rate in 2009. The previous year, in the Supplemental Homicide Reports submitted to the FBI, Georgia was No. 10.
The Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, releases the data every October in its “When Men Murder Women” report as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Although the report does not focus solely on domestic violence, the center says it serves as a reminder of how domestic violence and guns make a deadly combination.
In Richmond County, the number of domestic violence reports has been increasing since 2009.
Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles said it’s unclear whether the actual number of incidents is rising or more people are reporting abuse.
“The economy does have an impact on stress level,” Peebles said.
In 2009, there were 2,247 cases of domestic violence in Richmond County. In 2010, the number increased to 2,638. As of the end of August, 1,969 cases had been reported – a number that exceeded those reported through August 2010 by more than 250.
According to data compiled by The Augusta Chronicle, 16 women have died since 2005 as a result of domestic violence.
Peggy Walker, the chairwoman of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, said the announcement that the state’s rate of men killing women had risen yet again was disappointing, but not surprising.
“We’re working very hard on the issue, and we have great hopes for the work we’re doing,” she said. “At the same time, we have to be realistic. When we look at the numbers, we know that we’re not doing as much work in the areas that we need to do the work in.
Georgia is not the only Southern state that rated high. Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and South Carolina all ranked in the top 10.
Walker said although there’s no exact data to show why domestic violence deaths are higher in Southern states, there is evidence that suggests the region’s concentration of poverty is a contributing factor.
“When you’re living in poverty, your options are much more limited in making decisions for safety,” she said. “Economic dependence is a huge factor in keeping women in abusive relationships.”
Firearms being more prevalent in the South also contributes to the statistics.
According to the Violence Policy Center, two-thirds of women who own guns acquired them primarily for protection against crime.
However, a 2003 study found that women living with a gun in the home were nearly three times more likely to be killed than women with no gun in the home.
The report examined all instances in which a single female was killed by a single male. Georgia had 90 such incidents in 2009.
In Richmond County, five women were killed by men in 2009. At least two of the women’s deaths were a result of domestic violence. Both ended in murder-suicide.
On June 16, 2009, Alabama authorities discovered the bodies of Scottie and Jessica Murphy, of Augusta, at an interstate rest stop.
Local authorities say Scottie Murphy killed his 30-year-old wife, put her in the trunk of the car and drove to Alabama, where he shot and killed himself.
The couple had separated at the time of the incident.
Tonya Sims, 33, was shot multiple times Aug. 1, 2009, by her common law husband 33-year-old Johnnie Lee Lewis. He then committed suicide.
Sims family members told The Augusta Chronicle following the incident that the couple, who had been together for 17 years and had six children, had a long history of domestic violence.
Sims had left Lewis and was staying with her mother when he showed up and killed both of them, police say, adding that one of their children witnessed the incident.
“When you decide to leave an abusive relationship, that is the most dangerous time because that power and control the abuser has is being altered and they’re losing control,” said Aimee Hall, the executive director of SafeHomes of Augusta.
SafeHomes works with domestic abuse victims in 10 counties to assist in successfully ending an abusive relationship and starting over again. Hall said Richmond County has the largest clientele.
“The stats say it takes seven to nine times of coming and going to break the cycle, and the stats prove to be true,” Hall said.
“Mary,” a 27-year-old victim at SafeHomes who asked not to be identified, said she was lucky that she was able to get out of her abusive relationship before it turned deadly.
She had been in the relationship for about two years when her boyfriend started turning abusive. For two more years, she stayed in the relationship but was looking for a way out.
Without a job or vehicle of her own, she said it was difficult to separate herself from the man she shared a home within a rural area. When she could get a ride into town, she would pick up housing applications. Back home, she would hide them around the house while she waited for her next trip.
“I’d hide them under clothes and everywhere, but he would always find them,” she said.
Memorial Day 2011 was the beginning of the end.
The couple began arguing, and it escalated.
Mary said he hit and pushed her, and then threw food from the cabinets around the house.
Mary still has a scar on her hand where she pushed away the knife he had put to her head.
The next morning, she put her three children on the bus and prepared to leave for good.
“I knew then it was time to go,” she said. “I just started walking.”
She wasn’t far down the road when she saw her boyfriend behind her.
Mary said he screamed and ripped off her clothes until she was naked from the waist up.
The violence continued for several hours. Mary said he dragged her by the feet and beat her with an outdoor chair while she waited for help.
A phone call for help led her to SafeHomes.
Since her arrival in June, SafeHomes has helped Mary get a job. Now, she is applying for places to live.
“Everything is looking so much better. If you could just understand this feeling I have. It’s beautiful,” she said.
“If I haven’t done anything else, I’ve laughed. All I can describe is happiness. I couldn’t have told you I was happy a month or two ago. I’m smiling and laughing and getting things accomplished.”