OPINION | DANA KELLEY: Unacceptable state ranking

In the 25th annual edition of "When Men Murder Women," published every September by the Violence Policy Center (VPC), states are ranked by the rate at which male attackers kill females.

Seven years ago, in the 2015 report, Arkansas came in at No. 28 in the nation. But then in 2016, the state moved up to 11th. Since then, Arkansas has been a perennial Top 10 finisher in VPC's data analysis. Here's the Arkansas state rank in the publication from years 2017-2021: sixth, fourth, third, sixth and ninth.

This year, Arkansas earned another fourth-place spot, meaning 46 other states do a better job at protecting women from brute males intent on murdering them.

Aside from a sense of state disgrace over the fact that anyone leafing through an analytical study of men killing women will see Arkansas as a national leader, there's also a sour taste of failure on several fronts.

First, domestic homicide is a character failure. Nine out of 10 times, in cases for which circumstances could be determined in the VPC report, when a woman is murdered by a man it's the only crime committed. The killings weren't related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.

That means the female victims were targeted specifically, and attacked for purely personal reasons. In Arkansas' cases, 97 percent of the female victims were murdered by a male they knew, and 63 percent of them knew their male killers intimately.

The U.S. rate of men killing women reached a 15-year high in this year's report, and Arkansas' rate is twice the national average. We're not raising our boys right.

Another failure is in government policy. In almost every case, before a man murders a woman he either harasses, intimidates, stalks, threatens or harms her. Each man-killing-woman homicide is rampant with red warning flags. It's a fair assumption that Arkansas likely also doubles the national rate for domestic abuse and violence against women overall.

These are situations where people close to the victim recognize the danger. They know who represents the risk. People see these horrible murders coming. And yet we can't figure out as a self-governing society how to prevent them. Indeed, we've gotten worse instead of better in the last few years.

On top of this, or maybe as corroboration to it, Arkansas ranked 49th on WalletHub's 2022 Best States for Women, and dead last in the Women's Health Care and Safety category.

Perhaps the most discouraging failure is the omission of outrage. Every female victim is somebody's daughter, and oftentimes somebody's mother. When Arkansas catapulted from 28th to sixth for the rate that men murder women in just three years, that should have been unacceptable.

It should be unacceptable for our small, wonderful state to be stuck in the VPC's Top 10 for six years in a row.

The fact that 13 percent of Arkansas homicides fall into the men-killing-women category--when in best-ranked Pennsylvania it's barely more than 1 percent--ought to push our unacceptable button.

The VPC report was followed by another study based on FBI data that ranked Arkansas fourth in the nation for its violent crime rate.

Statewide crime statistics, while useful for comparison with other states, rarely warrant statewide solutions. Craighead, Crittenden and Washington counties each had 13 murders in 2020, but the murder rate (which dictates the degree of the problem) is magnitudinally different: It's nearly six times higher for Crittenden County than Washington County.

But because of its unique nature and characteristics, the problem of violence against women is more broadly, if not uniformly, dispersed. General violent-crime-prevention measures, badly needed in certain areas of the state, aren't as effective at combating domestic violence.

It may not be wholly pertinent to link male-on-female violence with male-dominated leadership in government policymaking, but Arkansas has never had a female governor. Its largest city has only had two females among its 73 mayors, and across the state mayors and county judges are overwhelmingly male. The Arkansas Legislature is in the lowest quintile among states for female representation.

Even among the best ranking states in the VPC report, most have male governors. And most of the mayors in the largest cities in the top states are male, too. There's nothing to say existing leaders can't execute effective change; but sometimes the best path to faster change is changing leaders.

The bottom line: Arkansas and its people are better than these statistical measures indicate. We know we can do better because we have done better, much better, in the past. Just a short seven years ago we were nowhere near a national leader in male-on-female homicide.

And from 1960 to 2004, Arkansas' violent-crime-index rate was significantly lower than the U.S. rate--even in the violence-ridden 1990s. But since 2005, as the national rate has come down, Arkansas' has gone back up. In 2020, it was the highest it's ever been.

Polls consistently show voters trust Republicans on crime issues more than Democrats. As a solidly red state, experiencing wholly unacceptable violence rates, Arkansas needs to live up to that standard.

Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.