Family Violence must be confronted on many fronts. Schools and agencies such as FSS must educate children and adults on the existence and danger of domestic violence; members of the clergy must send an unequivocal message from the pulpit that domestic violence is unacceptable; and neighbors, friends, and co-workers of domestic violence victims must be alert to the potential danger.
Even survivors of family violence who are reluctant to press charges due to lack of resources; emotional, physical, financial, or psychological can be assisted once they have been identified and removed from the hostile environment. Persons who abuse their partners are potentially dangerous and some are more likely to kill, especially when certain conditions exist. These conditions or indicators pose the potential to kill.
Below are a list of LETHALITY INDICATORS in domestic violence situations (These indicators are stated from the viewpoint that the male is the abuser and female is the victim. However, these indicators are valid in same-sex relationships or if the woman is the abuser). The more indicators present or the greater intensity of the indicators the greater the potential for Domestic Violence Homicide or Murder/Suicide.
1. "OWNERSHIP" OF THE BATTERED PARTNER
The batterer who states "You belong to me and will never belong to another!" or "If I can't have you nobody will!" may be stating his fundamental belief that his partner has no right to life separate from him. A batterer who believes he is absolutely entitled to a woman's services, obedience and loyalty, no matter what, may be life-endangering.
2. CENTRALITY OF THE PARTNER
A man who idolizes his partner, or who depends heavily on her to organize and sustain his life, or who has isolated himself from all other community, may retaliate against a partner who decides to end the relationship. He rationalizes that her "betrayal" justifies his lethal "retaliation."
Where a batterer has been acutely depressed and see little hope for moving beyond depression, he may be a candidate for homicide and suicide. Research shows that men with a history of abusive behavior who are hospitalized for depression have homicidal fantasies directed at family members.
4. REPEATED INTERVENTION BY LAW ENFORCEMENT
Partner or spousal homicide almost always occurs in a context of historical violence. Prior intervention by the police indicate elevated risk of life-threatening conduct.
5. ESCALATION OF RISK TAKING
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. The chances of lethal assault increase significantly.
6. THREATS OF HOMICIDE OR SUICIDE
The batterer who has threatened to kill his (ex) partner, himself, the children or her relatives must be considered extremely dangerous.
7. FANTASIES OF HOMICIDE OR SUICIDE
The more the abuser has developed a about 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 "solution to his problems."
When an abuser possesses, collects, or is obsessed with weapons and/or has used them or has threatened to use them in the past in his assaults on women, the children or himself, increases his potential for lethal assault. If a batterer has a history of arson or the threat of arson, fire should be considered a weapon.
When a batterer believes that he is about to lose his (ex) partner or when he concludes that she is permanently leaving him; if he cannot envision life without her, this may be when he chooses to kill. That is not to say that all abusers kill when they conclude that their partner is separating from him. Some kill long before they have any idea that the victim may be thinking about leaving. So, it is not safe to assume that because she hasn't made plans to leave, that the batterer will not be dangerous. In one study of spousal homicide, over half the men were separated from their victims when they murdered them. Women are most likely to be murdered when attempting to report abuse or to leave an abusive relationship. Many times victims are killed after announcing to their partner they are leaving without a plan in place. Many victims of intimate partner violence believe that their abusive partners will be enraged – but not to the point where they will be killed.
10. HISTORY OF ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR
An abuser who has demonstrated aggressive behavior to the general public such as bar fights, gang related violence, job related violence, vandalism, repeated unlawful behavior, abusiveness towards animals or illegal occupation is likely to be more dangerous.
A hostage-taker is at high risk of inflicting homicide. Between 75% and 90% of all hostage takings in the United States are related to domestic violence situations.
12. DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
Men with a history of problems with drugs and/or alcohol show a higher risk. In addition, regardless of their drug and/or alcohol history, intoxication at the time of the assault shows significant risk to partners.
13. VIOLENCE IN HIS FAMILY OF ORIGIN
The more severe the violence either experienced personally, or observed, in the family of origin, the more the risk.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, Family Support Services is here to help. Our Crisis Line is staffed 24 hours a day (806.374.5433: Spanish: 800-799-7233: Toll Free 800.749.9026). Our Domestic Violence Shelter is available for survivors who need to escape abusive situations.
For more information about available services or family violence, please call 806-342-2500 or visit our website at www.fss-ama.org
Family Support Services of Amarillo
Lethality Indicators compiled by Vernon J. Geberth, Practical Homicide Investigation, LAW and ORDER Magazine, Vol. 46 No. 112, November 1998, pp 51-54