PHOENIX - The violent murder of 26-year-old real estate agent Michelle Cohen in 1996 had led a former Valley cop's efforts to beef up safety procedures for female real estate agents.
According to data compiled last year by the National Association of Realtors, 39 percent of 3,000 realtors surveyed stated they experienced a situation that made them fear for their personal safety. Forty-six percent of those respondents were women and the majority of situations occurred in a suburban area.
"The predators aren’t going away," said Dr. Cynthia Scott, a former Phoenix Police Department detective. "They just are looking for available victims and really there is no other industry that provides available victims than the real estate industry."
Scott is Cohen's older sister. Scott says her family continues to struggle with her death, but through their pain they advocate for stronger safety regulations to protect all agents.
"[The agents] are sitting ducks," Scott said. "In my sister’s case, he went to a model home before he went to Michelle and he knew Michelle was over there so he went over there."
Two years ago, the real estate industry was rocked by the violent murder of Beverly Carter, an agent in Arkansas who was alone while showing a home to 33-year-old Aaron Lewis.
Lewis was found guilty of the crime.
A reporter asked, "Why Beverly?"
"She was a rich broker," Lewis said.
Don't be a victim
Julie Werhnyak, is a former Tempe police officer and founder of Artemis Self-Defense, which offers safety courses for real estate agents.
"[Real estate agents] are actually put in very vulnerable positions in meeting strangers in homes," Werhnyak said. "A lot of times when I teach these classes, I hear in these stories and learn more and more about what the realtors are dealing with."
During the class, agents are placed in real-life scenarios inside empty homes, creating teachable moments that emphasize tactics to ensure personal safety.
Self defense knowledge not required
Currently, no safety classes are required in order to obtain a real estate license in the state, something Scott is pushing to change.
In a statement to 12 News, Arizona Department of Real Estate Commissioner Judy Lowe said:
"The Arizona Department of Real Estate is committed to real estate professional safety.
Our office is actively reaching out to real estate educators to identify existing opportunities to further integrate professional safety training.We have met with community members and look forward to working with them to further amplify the important message of real estate professional safety."