Chattanooga homicides by year
Year Total Number of women
2016 YTD 27 9
2015 30 6
2014 27 5*
2013 19 1
2012 24 8
2011 25 4
*Includes 3-year-old girl
Sources: Times Free Press records and Chattanooga Police Department
WOMEN KILLED BY MEN IN TENNESSEE, 2014
53 women killed by men
34 killed with guns
8 killed with knives
4 killed with bodily force
7 killed by unidentified weapon
Source: Violence Policy Center
More women have been killed in Chattanooga this year than any other year since at least 2011, records show.
And while domestic violence has historically been responsible for the majority of the women killed in the city, this year, nearly half of the women slain have been part of gang violence, police said.
Nine women have been killed in Chattanooga so far in 2016, and at least four cases were likely motivated by gang disputes, Lt. Glenn Scruggs said.
"This year has just been different," Scruggs said. "In 2014 and 2015, the homicides that involved women have been domestic in nature. This year, not so much."
Women are taking on more active roles in Chattanooga's gangs, Scruggs said, which is putting them in harm's way.
"In years past, if a woman or a girl had a boyfriend or husband involved in crime, she was his support system, to a degree," Scruggs said. "She might help him hide drugs or decide where to put money — but now, women are driving their boyfriends and husbands to actual locations to shoot at people. So when those people who got shot at come back, if the woman is around, she doesn't get a pass. She's fair game.
"That's a new phenomenon. That hasn't always been the case. That's popping up a lot more now."
There are nine women in Chattanooga who are validated gang members, police said, and 13 women who are known associates of gangs. There are about 1,200 total validated gang members in the city.
Police use a standardized point system to evaluate whether a person is a validated gang member, awarding points for various indicators of gang membership, like gang tattoos, throwing gang signs in photos on social media, and self-profession of gang membership. Validated gang members tally more points than known associates.
Many women who are involved with gangs are simply in the same circles as gang members and may not meet the legal thresholds to be labeled associates or validated members. They're relatives, girlfriends and wives to gang members, Scruggs said.
"So she's not necessarily a Rollin 20 Crip, but she's just as loyal as her boyfriend is to that crew," Scruggs said.
There's not much research that examines the role of women in criminal street gangs, said Meena Harris, director of the National Gang Center, and it's hard to make a generalized statement about what roles women play in gangs because women fill a wide variety of functions.
Additionally, the roles women fill aren't static, she said, but evolving and complicated. Anecdotally, it does seem like women are more involved in gang decisions and actions than past years, she said.
"And that just reflects the larger societal pattern of women becoming more engaged in all kinds of activities," Harris said.
In addition to the four Chattanooga women who were shot and killed in gang disputes this year, two women were strangled, one was shot accidentally, one killed by an intentionally set house fire, and one woman was shot in an incident not motivated by gangs.
Women make up 33 percent of this year's homicides, which is higher than the previous five years, when women typically made up between 15 and 20 percent of annual homicides. Six women were slain in 2015, five in 2014 and one in 2o13. Eight women were killed in 2012, and four in 2011.
All of the suspects in this year's slayings of women are men, Scruggs said, which is typical.
As a whole, Tennessee ranks among the top states in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men, according to a new analysis from the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit focused on reducing gun violence.
Men killed 53 women in Tennessee during 2014, according to the study, which puts the state ninth in the nation for the pace of such murders. It's the seventh year in a row Tennessee has made the top 10 states, according to the center.
Just over 1,600 women were killed by men across the nation that year, with the highest rate of such homicides in Alaska, where about three of every 100,000 women is killed by a man. The study focuses only on slayings with one victim and one offender.
Georgia also made the top 10 states, with 84 such homicides in 2014, and a rate of 1.62 women killed per 100,000. Tennessee's rate that year was 1.58 per 100,000, according to the study.
Four women and a 3-year-old girl were killed in Chattanooga in 2014, the year the study analyzed. Men were arrested in four of those cases, while the fifth remains unsolved.
At least three of those cases were domestic — two boyfriends were arrested and charged with their girlfriends' deaths, and investigators believe the 3-year-old was killed by her mother's boyfriend. Another woman was killed by a man she knew after she posted a photo of herself with money on Facebook.
Across the state, nearly all victims were killed by men they knew, according to the study. Only two women were killed by strangers.
Even in cases of gang violence, most women aren't killed by strangers, Scruggs said.
In June, 22-year-old Jerica Jackson was shot seven times while she was sitting inside an SUV on Trailwood Drive. Her cousin, Courtney High, 25, was later charged with first-degree murder after he allegedly bragged to another man about killing Jackson.
That witness testified in court that High killed his cousin because he thought she was trying to set up a member of the Athens Park Bloods.
"She's a good example of a young lady who put herself in the game," Scruggs said. "She put herself in harm's way dealing with a bunch of nefarious cats, and unfortunately she ended up being killed because of it."
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