We are joining our partner, Superion, in Nashville, TN this month to host a screening of our film preview and to discuss the ways data can inform the criminal justice ecosystem surrounding the intimate partner violence challenge. If you’re a Superion customer going to SUGA 2017, we look forward to seeing you there. Our film preview will be in Hermitage C at 2:15pm on June 20. We will feature our film team, as well as host a conversation with Chief Ken Shultz of the High Point Police and Shay Harger, victim services director at Family Services of the Piedmont.
Big Mountain Data was pleased to produce a local learning event for the League of Women Voters here in Seminole County. The topic was, “Guns and Domestic Violence: a Deadly Combination.” The event ran two hours and featured noted gun violence scholar, Dr. Thomas Gabor, as well as an expert panel including voices from law enforcement, victim services, and academia. Nearly 100 Seminole County residents attended the two-hour event.
Key takeaways included a better understanding of how the danger increases exponentially when a domestic violence offender has access to a firearm, the gaps in the existing process regarding the surrender of firearms, how “murder-suicide” in the headlines is nearly always a euphemism for domestic violence homicide, and the role the community can play in increasing pressure on local leadership to identify and safeguard the population from dangerous, high-risk offenders.
“We need to focus on the volatility of the perpetrator rather than the vulnerability of the victim.” – Carol Wick, domestic violence expert.
This post is cross-posted from the Private Violence team email. It’s authored by our longtime advisor, Kit Gruelle.
In January 2014, Private Violence premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Many people who watched the film were stunned and appalled by what they saw on the screen: Deanna Walters, rescued after her estranged husband kidnapped and terrorized her from one end of the country to the other, lying like a corpse in her hospital bed, every inch of her bruised and battered. Viewers were equally appalled by how little regard North Carolina’s criminal justice system had for prosecuting Deanna’s near-death assault. Deanna, it turns out, was lucky: her abuser was ultimately brought to justice in federal court and sentenced to 21 years in prison.
For the last three years, I have traveled throughout the country with the film, including spending a great deal of time in the South, both in small towns and big cities. After the credits roll and the lights come up, a Q&A session usually follows. The general feeling in the room is one of outrage. Again and again, people ask, “How can this be happening now in the United States? Aren’t we more evolved than this?” Sadly, the answer to that question is a definitive no. No, we are not more evolved than this. This sort of violence is a too-oft occurrence in homes all across this country.
At screenings, after the Q&A session ends, a line forms. People want to share their personal experiences. Many approach with tears in their eyes. Even more talk about how afraid they are to “say it out loud.” Too many are afraid to call the police. Some have lost loved ones to what we still call “domestic violence,” but what should be called “intimate or misogynistic terrorism.”
The stories are cut from the same cloth. I hear the same narratives, on repeat. Over and over, women say, “He seemed like such a nice guy when we first got together! The nicest guy I ever met!” They wonder what they missed, and often, they blame themselves for the abuse. They take their cue from larger society, and also, our criminal justice system. With deep, lasting, devastating consequences.
It is our addiction to victim-blaming that allows the abuser to carry on, almost completely unchecked, until there’s one or more dead bodies on the ground, and way too many children left to live with the legacy of family-based terrorism that alters their world view forever. I tell people that the abuser commits the act, but the system drives the getaway car for him. And we all pay for it in spades.
What will it take for this country that gives so much lip service to caring about women and children to actually start caring about them? When will we connect the dots between the abuse and violence that is used to control, coerce, and intimidate family members and the criminal conduct we read and hear about in our communities?
I wish I could say that the issues presented in Private Violence have been addressed and rectified, but they have not. Not by a long shot. The (reported) numbers remain the same: One in three women in the U.S. will experience intimate partner terrorism at the hands of their husband or boyfriend. Many abused women who attempt to leave their abusers will be hunted down and murdered in cold blood. Domestic violence murder/suicides are on the rise. Firearms are the weapon of choice. Over 50% of mass shootings have some connection to domestic violence. These are the hard truths, no matter how hard we try to turn away. It is now 2017, and a new administration is in place. And despite these dismal numbers, there is talk about doing away with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a bipartisan law that was passed in 1994. It seems that it’s now open season on women and children in the United States.
In the three years since our Sundance premiere, Deanna has graduated from college and is ready to move on to the next phase of her life. But most importantly, she is safe. Living a life free of violence. But thousands upon thousands of Deannas wake up every day in the most dangerous place in the world for them: their very own homes. How is that acceptable in a so-called “free society?” It isn’t, and sadly, Private Violence remains as relevant today as it did at our premiere, and as relevant as it was 10 years ago when we started this project. If VAWA is done away with, it will send an even louder signal to abused and terrorized women and children that what’s happening to them is just fine with the government. In my mind, I can see the lines of women I’ve spoken with around the country, and I think about how nice it would be to say to them “your elected officials care about this and want to make sure you are safe at home.” At this juncture, in too many cases, that would be a lie.
Until we prioritize this crime and deal with it like we should, we will continue to simply play catch-up. Feminist icon and our Executive Producer Gloria Steinem suggested that, rather than lining up ambulances at the bottom of the waterfall, it might be a good idea to build a partition at the top to stop families from cascading over the edge. That would be the more humane and proper approach. Lives and money will be saved (the economic costs to domestic violence are staggering), and we’ll all be able to sleep safer at night. Until then, the work continues. We work until we #EndPrivateViolence.
Big Mountain Data is kicking off its U.S. speaking tour next week in Austin, TX. If you’ve been following along with us, you know we launched the company in Austin.
It’s our pleasure to return to town to tell our story and show a preview of our film about High Point, NC. We are also pleased to be presenting at the offices of our original advisor, Erik Huddleston. It was Erik, now CEO of TrendKite, who casually mentioned I should focus on offenders, rather than victims. He set in motion all our future plans with that simple, important redirect.
If you’re in the Austin area, or you know someone who’d be interested in our work, please sign up to attend our Lunch & Learn at the TrendKite offices. You’ll get free food and a lot to think about.
When: March 24, 2017, 12pm – 1pm
Where: TrendKite Office, 800 Brazos St #340, Austin, TX 78701
It was my honor to present at the Women in Data Science convening at the New College of Sarasota last week. The agenda featured prestigious speakers from Stanford streamed in, along with local speakers like me who could attend in person. I was extremely fortunate to discover this amazing event and get onto the agenda at the last minute.
My company, Big Mountain Data, is designed to solve one of the most horrific problems that impact women around the world – every day: Intimate Partner Violence a.k.a., Domestic Violence.
My presentation briefly described what we aim to do and how we can disrupt this seemingly intractable societal issue. I then described the success we’ve had so far in proving our thesis. I showed a short clip from our documentary about a town that effectively short-circuited its domestic violence problem. One woman told me she cried after she saw the short film clip. Crying absolutely permitted in social impact startups solving big world problems.
A career in data science is one of the most lucrative, interesting, and potentially ground-breaking pursuits in the tech field today. Name an industry, and it has an acute demand for data scientists and analysts.
But what if you could use your talent and passion to really make a difference on a horrific scourge that impacts women every day? Here is what you need to know: behaviors in this field follow a standard pattern. They are predictable. Much of the data we need to make these predictions, we already have in structured databases. If we layer on unstructured data, the possibilities are limitless to intervene – and disrupt –these cycles of violence.
Would you like to know more? Contact me. I would love to talk to your company, university or data science meetup about the possibilities.
*Of course, we are an equal opportunity startup. But, how cool would it be if women solved this problem? Very cool.
Law enforcement is on the front lines of domestic violence. Before we can implement policies and procedures to hold offenders accountable, we need to get an accurate portrayal of what is happening behind closed doors in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities.
Domestic violence rears its ugly head every day where at least three people are murdered at the hands of someone they know intimately. On average, across the U.S., domestic violence homicides constitute at least a third of all homicides every year. Moreover, it’s one of the most predictable homicides law enforcement must confront on an annual basis. Officers new to the force start to see the predictable patterns emerge soon after they begin their careers. It’s for this reason, Big Mountain Data works with law enforcement to demonstrate how the data they have already in their RMS and CAD systems can reveal answers today.
Our longtime partner, SunGard Public Sector, invited us to orchestrate a panel at this year’s International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference to discuss how data analysis played a major role in the highly successful High Point Model, now recognized by the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women.
The workshop will be moderated by V.P. Kevin Lafeber, of SunGard Public Sector. Participating on the panel will be retired Chief Marty Sumner, who led the domestic violence initiative for High Point for the past 7 years, as well as the crime analysis team from High Point and SunGard PS that had to modify the RMS in order to effectively implement the ground-breaking tracking system. Chief Ken Shultz will talk about future improvements and enhancements to the OFDVI strategy.
The IACP conference will be held October 15-18 in San Diego, CA. This session will fill up early, so be sure to reserve your spot.
In January of 2015, I was invited at the request of the High Point Police Department, to learn about the agency’s incredible work on domestic violence. It was a full two-day workshop and law enforcement agencies from around the country attended. Also present were representatives from The Battered Women’s Justice Project, the Department of Justice, John Jay College, and The Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR).
Sandra Tibbetts Murphy, BWJP
Before I got to the meeting, I met a woman in line at the car rental counter. We exchanged jokes and pleasantries about the inefficiency (understatement) of the car-renting process. When I got to the HPPD workshop, I spotted this same woman in our session! That woman was Sandra Tibbetts Murphy. She asked tough questions in our workshop, and I made a mental note to be sure to connect with her after the two-day training class was over.
Sandi is a world-class attorney who’s written extensively on scholarly and legislative aspects of domestic violence law. Many times, I’ve reached out to her over this past year and asked her to clarify aspects of the law I didn’t fully comprehend. She has always been patient and kind to give me her best insights on her interpretation of the law or the issue I was addressing.
Today, I’m proud to announce Sandi is joining our esteemed Board of Advisors. She will now be able to engage with our extended team on our enterprise social network, and help guide and inform our understanding of the law.
Retired Chief Marty Sumner, HPPD
The second superstar joining our board is someone I’ve come to know and admire since our very inception. In fact, it was his words spoken on national television in September 2014, that compelled me to jump out of my seat and demand to know more. At the height of the Ray Rice saga, ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos ran an investigative segment on domestic violence. I will never forget the words I heard that day:
“In the five years before we began this, we had 17 domestic-related violence homicides. In the five years since, we’ve only had one.” – Chief Marty Sumner, September 2014.
Chief Sumner retired from his 31-year in law enforcement last May. He has an unparalleled understanding of crime data, and especially domestic violence data. For the past 7 years, he led the initiative to apply focused deterrence to High Point’s domestic violence problem that was once over a third of the city’s homicides. What has come to be known as the High Point Model has now been recognized by the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women, resulting in a $1.6M contract to the National Network for Safe Communities for replication and further evaluation. The High Point story is the subject of our documentary. It was Chief Sumner who led the effort to perform a thorough analysis of the city’s domestic violence data, make necessary modifications to the law enforcement software, and implement a system of reporting and alerts that established the baseline that fueled the High Point Model’s success.
The addition of these two strong advocates for change have added a new layer of credibility and strength to our mission.
Readers of this blog should know we’ve been working on a film since our inception. The story, which we have been calling, Turning Point, is a documentary about a city in North Carolina that got serious about its domestic violence problem. With documentaries, the power of the story sometimes reveals itself the further you get into the process. This is exactly what happened with our film team. At some point last year, we all came to the same conclusion: This story is bigger than us. We knew we had a tiger by the tail that deserved a mass audience and higher production values.
Today, after a few months of deliberation and putting the pieces together, we’re announcing we’re partnering with a world class documentary filmmaker to produce the High Point story. We’re starting over to create a feature film with an ambitious budget and with professionals who are expert filmmakers and storytellers. The amazing news is, we will continue to work on this project creatively. Our two directors will be filming and editing the story. My role will be to continue to advise on the story, and pitch in on fund-raising.
Our partner is The Documentary Group. The “Doc Group,” as its known in the film industry, is one of the leading documentary filmmakers in the world. The company was founded in 2006 by core members of PJ Productions following the death of legendary broadcaster Peter Jennings. The producers and directors were the team behind Jennings’ documentaries at ABC News. We had our first meeting with the doc group in November, and decided to move forward together to tell this incredible story. This week, the film team is back in High Point kicking off the first of many on-location shoots.
Our producer on the film, Tom Yellin, was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Cartel Land. Cartel Land is a feature documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015. It has since won a series of high profile industry recognition awards and accolades including the 2015 George Polk Award for Documentary Film. Next Sunday, February 28, we hope you’ll tune in to the Oscars and wish Tom well.
The High Point story has the potential to make a difference in the field of domestic violence unlike nothing else we could have imagined when we started thinking about fresh, new ways to look at this age-old social problem that results in injuries, broken families, and deaths every day. We hope you share in our excitement and anticipation for the completion of this game-changing story.
Last spring, the White House announced the Police Data Initiative (PDI). When we saw the announcement, it immediately piqued our interest. Big Mountain Data’s mission is predicated on openness and transparency with regard to the data that can be collected, analyzed, and reported on intimate partner violence. Via our partner Socrata and our contacts at the Sunlight Foundation, we reached out to see if we could begin to form a community of interest for knowledge-sharing and best practices specific to intimate partner violence data within the PDI.
We were thrilled to hear last summer that Orlando joined as the first city in the state of Florida to join the PDI. Orlando has an excellent reputation for community engagement, a strong technology base, and a progressive law enforcement agency keen on innovation. Orlando Police Chief John Mina even attended a forum with President Obama in October to discuss criminal justice reform and specific ways data can be made available to the public.
As the Orlando Police Department (OPD) prepares to release data on the open portal, the agency has been exploring how featured areas of interest can be examined in a “data dive” forum that will bring together subject matter experts in the community, law enforcement, and city government. Lucky for us, the first data dive effort to explore this new form of collaboration will be focused on domestic violence and sexual assault data. The event is invitation-only, and we are pleased to be taking part in this exciting inaugural event. Representatives from the state involved in advocacy work, as well as local advocates and data experts will be sharing their expertise along with local government officials and law enforcement. The goal of this session is to bring people together to preview the datasets, provide feedback before final public release, and generally kickstart conversations on how increased transparency can help inform programs and introduce new approaches in the spirit of better protecting and serving the community.
The Director of Innovation for the City of Orlando, Matt Broffman is leading this effort on behalf of the city. He’s done a terrific job of coordinating the stakeholders involved in the event, as well as setting expectations. The event will take place on January 27th in the afternoon. Big Mountain Data has provided input for suggested themes worthy of exploration by the participating teams and will be contributing the talents of Stacy Sechrist and John Weil from University of North Carolina – Greensboro who have worked together over three years analyzing a decade’s worth of domestic violence crime data. We are very optimistic that this workshop will be an excellent catalyst to launch many conversations on the strategic use of police data to thwart violence against women in central Florida. We are thrilled to be a part of this historic event. If the workshop yields good results, this model could be replicated to other PDI sites.
Every day, for the past fifteen years, Christine Armstrong sits at her computer and scans the overnight news stories for deaths related to domestic violence. These days, she limits her research time to four hours a day. Well, she tries anyway.
Her quest began in 2000 when Armstrong had a personal brush with domestic violence and then helped a friend escape an extremely dangerous marriage. At the time, she was living in New York City working in the television business. Her experience prompted her to learn everything she could about domestic violence. After her research revealed how prevalent domestic violence homicides were around the country, she was surprised she wasn’t able to find any documentation other than a few hundred names on a national organization’s web site. Horrified, and knowing there there were many, many more victims as a result of her own investigation, she began searching them out and documenting them with calendars.
Today in 2015, she has honed a sophisticated practice of conducting news searches that scour the web using over 27 different keyword combinations that turn up homicide stories every day that the media doesn’t always correctly identify as domestic violence related. This unfortunate practice of “missing” the domestic violence connection to homicides is one that has been well-documented in academic and journalism circles. According to researcher Lane Kirkland Gillespie, assistant professor in the department of criminal justice at Boise State University, “Recent studies find only about one-quarter to one-third of news stories utilize language that identifies the homicide as domestic violence; and a lesser amount, 10-15%, specifically discuss intimate partner homicide in the context of domestic violence as a broader social issue.” (See her academic paper on the subject.)
Soon after she began her record-keeping, Armstong started volunteering in the field educating others about domestic violence. She kept up the chronicling of domestic violence homicides from 2001 to 2004. In 2005, she relocated to Alabama and went to work for a local shelter where for the next seven years she would continue to research the stories, keep calendars, notebooks, and spreadsheets of data as part of her day job. She eventually built a web site, and launched a Facebook page where she could post daily stories for the public. That Facebook page has grown to more than 28,000 fans with thousands of posts over the last few years. She left the shelter in 2011, and two years ago she had to take the web site down, as it was difficult to justify the expense and time maintaining the platform.
Yet, her work has continued even though now she is employed outside the field. Publishing at least a half dozen different news reports a day, she tracks it all: women, men, parents, grandparents, children, neighbors, co-workers, law enforcement officers, and any other bystanders impacted by these crimes. On average, Armstrong is documenting approximately 1,800 names a year that have been directly touched by domestic violence homicides. Her spreadsheets contain over 14,000 names. She keeps a running list of missing and unsolved cases she’s turned up over the years. The list includes more than 800 missing women where domestic violence is known or is believed to have been a factor in their disappearance. You can see their photos on her Facebook photo albums.
“I do this work because, to my knowledge, no one else is doing it and many of these victims aren’t even included in domestic violence statistics. A lot more people are dying from domestic violence crimes than most people realize. These are real people with lives. Their loved ones have been in touch with me and would like to see some good come from their loss.” – Christine Armstrong
As difficult as this work is, Armstrong perseveres. What’s most alarming to her is how little things have changed over fifteen years. She sees the same stories in 2015 she saw in 2001. The stories reveal how common it is for a domestic violence homicide suspect to have several contacts with the police and the courts with little or no consequence. She notes that with 18,000 separate police departments and justice systems in the country, progress is sketchy and piecemeal. The quality of service a domestic violence victim receives largely depends on where they live, and sadly, the majority of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges don’t know how to recognize a domestic violence case when the clues are so obvious. “Rarely does a day go by that I don’t see a story where some law enforcement officer, prosecutor or judge declined to intervene in a high risk case and now another person is dead,” she says.
Armstrong points out some of the worst to suffer are the thousands of children who have lost one or both parents to domestic violence. Even worse, many have witnessed the violent deaths of one or both of their parents. Left orphaned, many end up in the custody of the state and in foster homes.
One trend Armstrong has observed is particularly troubling. Her data reveals there are more homicides stemming from dating relationships than married relationships in the past few years. Advocates have long been seeking equal protection in dating relationships, particularly as it relates to protection orders and removal of firearms. Progress has been slow, yet the body counts mount.
As a whole, Armstrong feels we don’t seem to be learning much from our mistakes. A lot of the change that does take place, seems to take a tragic death and a high profile lawsuit to make it happen. She’s disappointed and somewhat shocked in light of recent national media attention that there isn’t much unity in our national response to this chronic social epidemic. She says, “While response has improved in some of our communities, much work still needs to be done – an incredible amount of work.”
Armstrong is doing her part.