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U.S. Attorney: Domestic Violence Feeds Other Types of WV Crime

July 12, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In West Virginia, one-third of all murders have been linked to domestic violence, and studies show a strong connection between domestic violence and other crimes. By one count, four-fifths of female prisoners across the country have been victims of some kind of abuse.

A federal prosecutor plans to address that issue as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce violent crime. As U.S. Attorney for West Virginia's Northern District, William Ihlenfeld says his office will work to get women inmates out of the cycle of abuse by the time they leave prison.

"That's to try and help them avoid going back to prison, and to also help them avoid going back into a violent relationship. If we can do that, then we'll meet our goal, and our goal is to reduce violence."

Ihlenfeld's plan also includes crime prevention outreach to high school pupils and young offenders, and targets especially-violent criminals for federal prosecution. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has asked all federal prosecutors to find ways to reduce violent crime.

According to the federal Office of Violence Against Women, which is part of the Department of Justice, an abusive situation can end with a woman being convicted of a crime, even if she's not aware of the connection. Director Sue Carbon explains a woman might react violently to the abuse, or could be coerced into committing or accepting responsibility for a crime.

"Women often are incarcerated as a result of either committing a crime or accepting culpability for something they might not have done, had they not been in an abusive relationship."

Ihlenfeld says they also want to make sure the women know they should not buy firearms for people who are not legally allowed to have them.

"They perhaps were the 'straw purchaser' of a firearm, doing something that enabled a boyfriend or a husband to commit an act of violence."

Gun rights advocates are critical of the purchasing rules, arguing that they abridge the Second Amendment. Others contend that some women accused of crimes falsely use domestic violence as a legal defense.

The number of the national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV