Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on a pilot program created to address domestic violence in West Virginia.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Mountain State has such a high rate of domestic violence that its Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury characterizes it with a dark aphorism: “In West Virginia, we only kill the ones we love.”
Domestic violence affects the lives of tens of thousands West Virginians every day. Statistically, the average West Virginian is more likely to harm or be harmed by a loved one than a stranger, and outside-the-box thinking is needed to untangle the vicious web of domestic violence in the state.
There were 12,180 domestic violence petitions filed in West Virginia in 2014, according to Lisa Tackett, director of the state’s division of family court services. She said 2,039 of those petitions were filed in Kanawha County.
Domestic violence petitions are similar to what most people call restraining orders. They’re court orders that limit or eliminate contact between the filer and respondent, and include such prohibitions as preventing the respondent from purchasing a firearm.
Those petitions are one of the few tools the state’s judiciary have at their disposal when working with domestic violence, a crime whose simple description belies a dense and complicated interwoven fabric of personal relationships and powerful emotions. Because of the often complex nature of domestic relations, the crimes that result from them often defy simple explanations.
Canterbury related an anecdote.
“Two police officers show up and this guy has been whaling on this woman,” he said. “So as they’re cuffing him and putting him in the cruiser, she shoots them both with a shotgun and kills them both.”
“That’s the kind of emotional madness you’re dealing with,” he said. “There’s so many layers there, and you can’t expect a victim to react the same way a victim of, say, a burglary would act.”
Even more problematic is the propensity for violent domestic abusers to slip through cracks in the system…