An alarming report from the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence reveals that the state’s decision to ignore the urgent need to expand existing legislation to include coercive control has made it a hotspot for intimate partner abuse in the United States.1
According to Arizona’s Family, the state has one of the highest rates of domestic violence fatalities in the country and the numbers are on the rise. The Domestic Violence Fatality Report listed 101 domestic violence fatalities, including 50 femicides, 6 homicides, and 6 filicides. Others killed included family members, bystanders, and law enforcement officers.
For over a decade, Arizona has willfully disregarded peer-reviewed research and recommendations from domestic violence experts. Instead, the state chooses to uphold existing norms that enable abusers to commit human rights violations with impunity, leaving victims to their fate.
Existing Measures Fail to Safeguard Victims in Arizona
The report found that orders of protection fail to deter abusers; on the contrary, such legal measures can trigger a deadly response. Donna Bartos, Founder and CEO of BLOOM365, explained how some perpetrators view orders of protection:
“Sometimes that moment and that piece of paper cause the individual to unravel. ‘If I can’t have you, no one can.’”
Another disconcerting revelation from the report is that 23% of intimate partner deaths in Arizona occurred despite documented prior reports of abuse to law enforcement and existing orders of protection.
Victims are told to establish boundaries with abusers, yet the inherent dynamics of domestic violence involves the violation of these boundaries through intimidation and force. The expectation that victims of domestic violence should establish boundaries with abusers is unrealistic. How can victims reasonably be asked to uphold boundaries when law enforcement can’t uphold orders of protection?
Despite the facts, the government is reluctant to meet the lifesaving need for enhanced protection measures for victims, even though it is well aware of the dangers associated with neglecting them, and which increasingly result in catastrophic outcomes.
Arizona State University’s Research Ignored as the State Clings to the Status Quo
In 2010, the University of Arizona published a study called Sex Differences in Intimate Partner Violence and the Use of Coercive Control as a Motivational Factor for Intimate Partner Violence.2 It examined trends among 762 divorcing couples and found that coercive control was a predictor for domestic violence. Furthermore, it found that domestic violence was an instrument used to enforce coercive control.
Because of the role of domestic violence as part of a wider dominance strategy, perpetrators usually remained calm when inflicting violence. In other words, the abuse was tactical and not the result of a loss of control. Research shows that abusers have lower heart rates while their extreme control can have devastating short and long-term health consequences for victims.3 4
Persistent Denial: Arizona’s Legal System Fails to Implement Crucial Changes Despite Thirteen-Year-old Recommendations
Arizona’s legal system fails to recognize coercive control as the context in which domestic violence occurs leaving victims vulnerable to perpetrators’ aggression.
Joan Meir, a Professor of Clinical Law and Director of the National Family Violence Law Center at the George Washington University Law School, consulted on a proposal to expand Arizona’s domestic violence legislation to include coercive control in 2011.5
Professor Meir highlighted the disparity between real-world events and the workings of the legal system:
Coercive control isn’t in the statutes and isn’t in the cases. Yet it’s what everyone knows on the ground is the key dynamic that makes a relationship really dangerous. Everyone is talking about it in literature and policy arenas.
Arizona remains in a state of denial, neglecting to implement the recommended changes even though the enhancement of the state’s domestic violence legislation was proposed thirteen years ago. The state’s failure to adapt its laws to address the prevailing reality has directly contributed to its shocking domestic violence death toll.
An Arizona family law attorney took to TikTok to explain the Arizona legal system’s laissez faire view of coercive control despite the fact that it is a proven indicator of domestic violence and related fatalities.
“It’s important to understand if you are trying to make the case in Arizona Family Court that significant domestic violence has occurred, coercive and controlling behaviors will not get you there. The legally do rise to the level but what the do serve as is red flags.”
In other words, in the domestic sphere, Arizona residents are left without the support of the legal system when facing a clear and present danger. Despite the government’s awareness of the devastating impact of the coercive control, victims in Arizona are left to fend for themselves.
While some Arizona attorneys acknowledge coercive control and can identify it as a distinct pattern; it is misleading to suggest to victims that simply setting boundaries will solve the problem. The state’s ever-increasing domestic violence fatalities show the peril and inadequacy of such of advice.
The recently released domestic violence report by the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence has pulled back the curtain on the state’s escalating domestic violence crisis. The shocking data lays bare how a glaring gap in the legal system exacerbates the plight of victims. Despite the government’s awareness of the impact and dangers posed by existing laws, its failure to adapt and implement necessary changes leaves victims in Arizona without sufficient protection. The government can no longer ignore the need for comprehensive reforms that recognize the role of coercive control in domestic violence.
- Arizona Coalition To End Sexual And Domestic Violence (2023) Fatality Report 2022. ↩︎
- Marieh Tanha et al. (2010, October 25) Sex differences in intimate partner violence and the use of coercive control as a motivational factor for intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2010 Oct;25(10):1836-54. doi: 10.1177/0886260509354501. Epub 2009 Dec 16. PMID: 20018921. ↩︎
- John M. Gottman et al. (1994, June 28.) The Relationship Between Heart Rate Reactivity, Emotionally Aggressive behavior, and General Violence in Batterers. Journal of Family Psychology 1995, Volume 9, Number 3, Pages 227-248. ↩︎
- Manya Wakefield (2023, Febraury 18.) PTSD And Depression Comorbidity Increase Risk Of Mortality In Women. Narcissistic Abuse Rehab. ↩︎
- Gary Grado (2011, June 26) Proposed child custody changes explore ‘coercive control’ in domestic violence. Arizona Sun Times. ↩︎