At least 91 people, including four children, died in 2021 in Colorado as a result of domestic violence, according to a report released Friday by the Attorney General’s Office.
The number marks the highest number of domestic violence deaths in the state since 2016, when the newly established Colorado Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board began tracking them.
At least 45 people were killed by their intimate partners and 14 were collateral victims, such as children, family members, coworkers, neighbors or bystanders who were with the victim at the time of the domestic violence, and 32 were perpetrators, the report said. Similar to years past, 88% of the victims were women and 90% of the perpetrators were men. The victims ranged from 1 month old to 91 years old.
Domestic violence is disproportionately happening in rural counties, according to the report.
The board, which was designed to review data and make policy recommendations, suggested more trauma-informed training for judges who are able to intervene in domestic violence issues inside the courtroom. Judges need more resources to help them understand domestic violence cases and to make evidence-based decisions that lead to better outcomes for victims, the report said.
The report also recommended that more money be invested into strategies to enforce gun restrictions and gun seizure laws, which the report called a “critical tool to stopping gun violence toward intimate partners.”
Nonprofit Violence Free Colorado has been pushing for more judicial training for years, said executive Monica Rivera calling it “huge” in curbing domestic violence.
“There’s so much social science around the components that go into relationship violence and interpersonal violence in general and to have such power over outcome without a requirement that there’s training on understanding some of those dynamics, I think that’s where we end up seeing the criminal legal system really fail survivors,” Rivera said.
Rivera, who leads the nonprofit in policy work and supporting local domestic violence organizations, said she supported the recommendations made by the board.
More than 80% of the domestic violence deaths in 2021 involved a gun, the report said, including the deaths of four children. Firearms are also used by abusers to exert power and control over their partners.
The report also advised for the investment in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts among agencies that initially respond to domestic violence incidents to build more trust between first responders and victims of domestic violence.
“We must continue to act decisively to reduce the number of people killed due to domestic violence,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser, who chairs the board. “We can do so by continuing to limit domestic violence perpetrators’ access to firearms, increasing judicial training, and offering added resources for advocates and law enforcement.”
The increase in deaths is likely partly related to the impact COVID-19 had on domestic violence, the report said. While no studies address the increase of fatal domestic violence incidents during the pandemic, research shows a significant increase in nonfatal domestic violence during the pandemic and those factors likely contributed to domestic violence-related deaths as well, the report said.
The legislature reauthorized the board for another five years in 2022.
Aside from legislation changes, Rivera said the community can show more support for domestic violence advocates and groups that are critical in bringing safety to families.
“Remembering those organizations, knowing those organizations in your own communities, donating when possible, and being aware of that resource, I think is a really important part of prevention,” she said.