LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – The year 2020 marked the first time in several years that Nevada did not rank among the top 10 U.S. states with the highest rate of female homicide victims, according to the Violence Policy Center.

The VPC’s annual study When Men Murder Women, released around Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, details the circumstances of homicides where women are killed by men in single-victim/single-offender incidents.

The purpose of the study is to educate people on the realities of domestic violence and to push for new legislation to protect victims, leaders with the Violence Policy Center said.

In the study’s most recent 2020 data, Nevada ranked 18th with 27 female homicide victims and a homicide rate of 1.72 victims per 100,000 women. Every year until 2011, Nevada ranked in the top 10, often in the top five, for women killed by men.

Below are the state’s previous rankings over the last near decade:

  • 2020: 18
  • 2019: 3
  • 2018: 7
  • 2017: 4
  • 2016: 3
  • 2015: 2
  • 2014: 3
  • 2013: 5
  • 2012: 6
  • 2011: 16

Although Nevada has improved by dropping in its number of female homicide victims, homicide is just the tip of the iceberg, SafeNest CEO Liz Ortenburger said.

So far in 2022, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has reported at least 17 domestic violence-related homicides.

SafeNest is one of Las Vegas’ largest shelters for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“Just because there’s fewer homicides does not mean there are fewer survivors of domestic violence, there may be fewer instances per survivor,” Ortenburger said. “We are not seeing fewer survivors.”

While Ortenburger pointed out that rates of domestic violence are not down, homicides are down. She credits the decline to a program SafeNest launched with Metro police in 2017.

The program involves SafeNest advocates reaching out to victims who call the police, instead of waiting for them to seek assistance from the shelter and helping them get out of dangerous situations before violence can escalate.

“We intersect victims of domestic violence at their points of lethality when they are with Metro,” Ortenburger said. “Only 4% of women will reach out to an agency like SafeNest in the 12 months before they’re murdered, 86% will have a police interaction.”

The “lethality index” is a scale the organization uses to estimate the amount of danger individual domestic violence victims are facing.

(Violence Policy Center)

The VPC’s study found that nationally, 89% of women killed by men were killed by a man they knew, and 60% of victims were killed by intimate partners.

Most often, women were killed by men during an argument between the victim and offender, and more than half of female homicide victims were killed with a gun, according to the study.

“There are two massive red flag indicators that your domestic violence is escalating toward homicide… the second is the presence of a loaded gun or a weapon in the household,” Ortenburger said. “Murder in a domestic violence situation isn’t always premeditated, it’s often a crime of emotion and passion and rage, so if that weapon is available, that’s going to be the weapon of choice.”

Passing laws that keep firearms away from people with histories of domestic violence helps protect victims, according to the study.

Ortenburger also warned that strangulation is the biggest red flag indicating that a domestic violence situation will lead to homicide.

“Most women who are murdered, even with a gun, were strangled in a domestic violence incident prior to that before they were murdered. If you are being strangled, choked, or in any way having your airway constricted within your household, if any of that is happening to you, you are 750% more likely to be a victim of homicide,” she said.

In Nevada, a person cannot own or have a gun in their possession if they have been convicted of battery constituting domestic violence, convicted of a felony in any state, or have a protection order against them in Nevada.

While there are warning signs that can indicate a victim is more likely to be killed by their partner, Ortenburger said it is still hard to intersect victims when an offender has previous unknown domestic violence convictions or arrests.

“Our state does not track conviction rates. We know there were over 20,000 domestic violence charges in Clark County last year, in the ballpark, but we don’t know how many convictions there were,” she said. “Is felony strangulation being pled down? Are assaults with a deadly weapon being pled down?”

Although this is the first time Nevada is seeing positive changes because of efforts to save the lives of victims of domestic violence, there is more work to be done to get women out of their situations sooner, she said.

“As a state that spends millions in the space of domestic violence, the No. 1 call police are going to go on… the most number of charges we have in our court system, that we can’t tell you how many convictions that correlates to, that should be concerning,” she said. “We need a tracking system statewide on what domestic violence convictions look like.”

(Violence Policy Center)

While SafeNest is not seeing a decrease in survivors seeking refuge through the shelter, the nonprofit is seeing a shortage of funds. Though advocates and volunteers are helping women who are more likely to be killed, there may not be enough resources to help victims whose situation is not dire enough.

“The county has made no critical infrastructure investments in the ARPA applications we put forward, so how are we going to house more people as our community grows?” Ortenburger said about the organization’s funding.

She mentioned that in December, it is likely SafeNest will run out of money to put survivors in hotel rooms because the shelter is full, reducing the number of people they can serve and increasing the chances that victims might have to be turned away, and back into violent situations.

“We have to more strictly define our screening mechanisms” if funds run out, Ortenburger said. “Such that we might say you cannot find a bed with SafeNest unless your lethality is here. Unless you’re experiencing strangulation and/or assault with a deadly weapon, I don’t have a bed for you. That is a horrible statement to say.”

Ortenburger said the organization will continue to work with private donors and try to find solutions to help survivors while encouraging officials to do more in the fight against domestic violence.

Anyone involved in a violent relationship or who knows anyone in a violent relationship is urged to seek help immediately. For shelter information, legal advice, or protective order information, visit this link.