The number of domestic violence deaths in Santa Clara County increased by more than a fifth in 2013, rising from nine in 2012 to 11 last year, according to an annual report released this week by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee.

Regretful as any increase is, another change has prosecutors and advocates on the committee even more concerned.

The number of people who died from being stabbed increased to seven last year, from none in 2012, three in 2011 and none in 2010.

In contrast, the use of firearms declined this year as a percentage of annual deaths, as advocates focused on passing laws that give authorities more power to seize registered firearms from people served with restraining orders.

Prosecutors said the problem is that knives are nearly impossible to regulate compared to guns.

"Are the stabbings a trend or is it an anomaly?" asked prosecutor Steve Dick, who heads the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, which issued the annual report. "We're not sure. It's extremely disconcerting.''

Last year's nine incidents all involved heterosexual couples.

In one case, a boyfriend shot his 22-year-old girlfriend to death on Valentine's Day and then committed suicide; in another, a man fatally stabbed his ex-girlfriend near a Togo's while horrified patrons looked on.

Only one of the nine killers was female. The woman had a history of mental health issues, according to the report, and repeatedly stabbed her 69-year-old boyfriend because he was "making noise while he was sleeping."

In at least one case, the assailant was out on bail on a criminal threats charge when he stabbed his girlfriend while their children huddled in another room. The committee, made up of prosecutors, police, domestic violence agencies and others, is trying to get local judges to increase bail for certain crimes because it is lower here than in some counties. For instance, the bail for felony domestic violence in Santa Clara County is $25,000, compared to $50,000 in Alameda County.

One other area of concern is the prevalence of Latino victims and perpetrators, Dick said. Six of the 11 victims and six of the nine perpetrators were Latino.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen is holding a news conference on the report Thursday at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in an effort to encourage Latinos to report domestic violence. Some victims may be reluctant to report for fear of deportation, but Rosen said the District Attorney's Office treats all domestic violence victims as crime victims, regardless of immigration status. Prosecutors will neither ask about nor report an undocumented status of a domestic violence victim.

"We want to reach out to the Hispanic community and let them know there are services to help," Dick said.

The report also draws attention to another problem: What should a judge do when a victim asks that a criminal restraining order be changed to an order allowing peaceful contact?

Last year, a San Benito judge changed an order at the request of a woman whose boyfriend had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence for stabbing her with a box cutter.

The victim then went to the man's house in Santa Clara County on Christmas Eve, where he beat her up and slashed her throat.

Judges are urged to refer victims to a domestic violence agency for consultation and "safety planning" before granting a request to reduce an order, but more education may be needed.

"It's a really tough call for a judge when the calculation is one of victim autonomy versus victim safety," said Julie Saffren, a family law attorney and member of the committee. "So perhaps one benefit of this year's Death Review Report will be that it spurs a conversation among our criminal judges about what to do when they face these specific and challenging requests."

Regardless of what a judge does, some victims may still make contact with abusers, Dick acknowledged.

That's why the committee is also trying to find ways to reach out to abusers, especially those who are upset because their spouse or partner is leaving them, and may react violently, as occurred in some of the homicides. Among the other ideas the committee is exploring is an ad campaign, including billboards.

"People often do not report domestic violence out of fear: fear of further violence, of recrimination, of immigration consequences, of being alone," District Attorney Rosen said in a written statement. "We are here to say that you are not alone. The District Attorney's Office, your local law enforcement agency, the advocates will stand by you and your children. We are all here to help you find justice, safety and peace."

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport

Domestic Violence in 2013
Deaths: 11 (includes two suicides and nine domestic violence incidents)
Manner of Death: Gunshot: 2, Stabbing: 7, Blunt force trauma: 1, Suicide by cop: 1
Race/Ethnicity of Victims: Asian: 2, Caucasian: 2, Latino: 6, Native American/Eskimo: 1
Race/Ethnicity of Perpetrators: Asian: 1, Caucasian: 1, Latino: 6, African-American: 1
source: Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Death Review Committee

Domestic Violence Deaths by YEar
2000---18
2001---17
2002---18
2003---21
2004---6
2005---10
2006---6
2007---4
2008---3
2009---11
2010---6
2011---17
2012---9
2013---11
source: Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Death Review Committee