One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Stage 3: Assessing Lethality July 6, 2010

This page explores the likelihood of the killing of the DV victim in an already abusive relationship

One of the side benefits  of the downfall of the traditional newspaper (sorry those in the print media business!) is the fact that news is available to us, instantaneously, in so many different formats.  I get most of my news via Twitter.  Brief feeds of information that I choose related to topics that are important for me come to my phone or computer, as they happen.  It works for me.   Regardless of how the news comes to us, here at FVPC we are always grateful for more media buzz around issues of domestic violence because this means that more people are exposed to the issue.

When  I saw WRAL’s Tweet about domestic violence, I clicked on it immediately.  It was a list to help domestic violence victims assess lethality of their abuser.  It’s a good start.  It feels a little ambitious in scope, however, “…14 questions cover violent tendencies, weapons, threats and what a victim is thinking to help determine whether he or she is at high risk for being killed by a spouse.”   Knowing how different domestic violence victims are from each other, we wondered if a few different lists related to increased awareness about the dangers of DV aren’t more effective?  We also thought that it was important to include an action step post-quiz, since a statement informing the reader than they are at a higher risk for death may make them feel scared but also powerless.  Let’s start with the Lethality Assessment for those already in a DV situation below.

Lethality Assessment for DV Victims-

Considering the factors below may or may not reveal actual potential for homicidal assault. The likelihood of a homicide is greater, however, when these factors are presentBetween 40%-60% of all women who are killed died at the hands of a former or current abusive partner. The greater the number of indicators that the batterer demonstrates or the greater the intensity of indicators, the greater the likelihood of a life-threatening attack:

  1. Threats or fantasies of homicide or suicide. The batterer who has threatened to kill himself, his partner, the children or her relatives must be considered extremely dangerous. Similarly, the more the batterer has developed a fantasy (who, how, when, and/or where to kill) the more dangerous he may be. The batterer who has previously acted out part of a homicide or suicide fantasy may be invested in killing as a viable “solution” to his problems. As in suicide assessment, the more detailed the plan and the more available the method, the greater the risk.
  2. Hostage-taking. A hostage-taker is at high risk of inflicting homicide. Between 75% and 90% of all hostage takings in the US are related to domestic violence situations.
  3. Weapons. If a batterer possesses weapons and has used them or has threatened to use them in the past, the mere access to those weapons increases his potential for lethal assault. The use of guns is a strong predictor of homicide. If a batterer has a history of arson or the threat of arson, fire should be considered a weapon.
  4. History of domestic violence.  Whether in past relationships or in childhood, a batterer whose personal history includes DV should always be a red flag for advocates. If the batterer has explained past relationships with “She was crazy!” without getting into details or alludes to trauma in their own family or origin, advocates should remind victims thatDV is a learned behavior–often from childhood–and can be a strong predictor of future abuse.
  5. Depression. If a batterer is depressed or seems overwhelmed by hopelessness he may be a candidate for homicide and suicide. This is also true if the batterer doesn’t have any forward goals i.e. dreams of where he wants to be in the future.  Research shows that many men who are hospitalized for depression have homicidal fantasies directed at family members.
  6. Destruction of property & harming of pets. If the batterer destroys personal property of the victim’s, he is using intimidation to maintain power and control over her.  Many batterers know that they can use control over their victim by threatening to harm or harming the victims pet(s).  Harming of pets should be taken very seriously.  As of July 30, 2009, the NC legislature is considering amending the DVPO to include protection of pets.
  7. “Ownership” of the battered partner i.e. extreme jealousy, obsession with partner. The batterer who says “You belong to me and will never belong to another!” may be stating his fundamental belief that the woman has no right to life separate from him. A batterer who believes he is absolutely entitled to his female partner and idolizes her (or who depends heavily on her to organize and sustain his life) may retaliate against a partner who decides to end the relationship. He rationalizes that her “betrayal” justifies his lethal retaliation.
  8. Access to the battered woman and/or to family members. If the batterer cannot find her, he cannot kill her. If he does not have access to the children, he cannot use them as a means of access to the battered woman. Careful safety planning and police assistance are required for those times when contact is necessary e.g. court appearances and custody exchanges.
  9. Lack of social network. This may mean that the batterer does not have a large number of friends or family that he is close to.  It could also mean that the abuser doesn’t care what he looks like in “public” or how he is perceived by others.  A lack of social network can be dangerous to the victim because this may have fewer resources for her and/or it may also mean that he can greater rationalize her leaving him or trying to end the relationship.
  10. Escalation of batterer risk. A less obvious indicator of increasing danger may be the sharp escalation of personal risk undertaken by a batterer.  When a batterer begins to act without regard to the legal or social consequences that previously constrained his violence, chances of lethal assault increase significantly.

Keep in Mind—

  • If the abuser has ever threatened to use a gun, knife or other weapon against the victim, their risk of homicide is 20x more likely.
  • If the abuser has ever threatened to kill or injure the victim, their risk of homicide is 15x more likely.
  • If the abuser has ever strangled or choked the victim, their risk of homicide is 10x more likely.
  • If the abuser has ever forced the victim to have sex, their risk of homicide is 7x more likely.

If in reading this list, you recognize your partner, please don’t hesitate to seek help.  Call your local DV agency for resources and support.  If you are in North Carolina, you can call the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 888-232-9124 for the agency in your county.  Outside of North Carolina, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence to find information for your state.

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2 Responses to “Stage 3: Assessing Lethality”

  1. […] Stage 3: Assessing Lethality   […]


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