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Learn about Abuse

UPDATED August 5, 2015

Domestic violence can affect people regardless of age, gender, sexuality or socio-economic status.  Although there are many forms of abuse, certain abusive behaviors indicate that a victim is at a greater risk of being seriously injured or killed by the abuser.  Experiencing any one of the following factors does not guarantee that an abuser will use enough violence to cause you serious injury or death, but it may be important to recognize that certain factors and behaviors indicate an increased risk of danger so that you can plan for your safety

Note
: After reviewing many “lethality assessments,” as this tool is often called, WomensLaw.org decided to use one published by the Marin County Court System as our foundation and adapt it to add more information and define some of the terms. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself, along with possible risks associated with each below-mentioned behavior:
  • Has the abuser threatened to kill you, your children, your relatives, or himself/herself?
    • Prior threats to kill are one of the strongest risk factors consistently linked to homicide (murder) of an intimate partner.
  • Has the abuser expressed ideas, dreams or fantasies about killing you, the children, your relatives, or himself/herself?
    • Expressing such ideas is a risk factor linked to homicide; the risk is greater if the abuser is very specific about plans or intended methods.
  • Has the abuser made more than one threat? Daily? Monthly? What are the threats?
    • An increase in how often you are threatened could indicate greater risk.
  • Is there availability of weapons or has there been the use of weapons in the past (guns, knives, etc.)?
    • Access to guns or knives is a strong indicator of homicide risk.
  • Has the abuser ever used hands or an object to choke, strangulate, or suffocate you?
    • These are high risk factors for homicide.
  • Does the abuser have a history of arson or threats of arson?
    • Such a history increases risk of homicide.
  • Does the abuser express ownership of you (e.g., “You can never leave me;” “If I can’t have you, no one else can;” “Death before divorce”)?
    • In general, when a victim leaves an abusive relationship, this can be one of the most dangerous times for his/her safety.*  With specific statements of “ownership” such as these above, the risk of serious assault or homicide can be greater. 
  • Has there been separation violence (violence when you attempt to leave the relationship or when you suggest that the relationship end)?
    • As mentioned above, when a victim decides to leave the relationship, this is often one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship.  Domestic violence is rooted in an abuser having power and control over the victim and when s/he feels that s/he is losing this power, this can be a time when the danger to the victim greatly increases.
  • Does the abuser depend heavily on you, idolize you (put you above everyone else), or isolate you from all other aspects of community life?
    • The risk of serious assault or homicide increases.
  • Has the abuser stalked you, taken you hostage or abducted you (held you or taken you against your will)?
    • The risk of serious assault or homicide increases.
  • Is the abuser depressed, seeing little hope for life?
    • With depression, the risk of serious assault or homicide increases.  Depression has also been found to be a factor in a study of incidences of murder-suicide.**  If an abuser threatens you that s/he will commit suicide, this is something that should be taken seriously when considering your own safety.
  • Has there been an increase in the abuser’s violence or risk behavior?
    • The risk of serious assault or homicide increases.
  • Has the abuser physically abused you while you were pregnant?
    • Pregnancy increases the risk of serious assault or homicide.  In fact, domestic violence often escalates from verbal/emotional abuse to physical abuse during pregnancy.***
  • Does the abuser frequently use alcohol or drugs?
    • The risk of serious assault or homicide increases.
To read through a list of additional factors that experts in the field have linked to a higher risk of danger for a victim, you can look at the WomenSafe website.  (WomensLaw.org is not affiliated with WomenSafe - we offer the link for your information only). 

If you see any of these risk factors in your relationship, please reach out for help.  Go to our Where to Find Help page to find contact information for a local domestic violence organization near you.  See our Staying Safe page for tips on how to plan for your safety.

* See "Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study," Jacquelyn C. Campbell, PhD, RN, et al., Am J Public Health 93(7): 1089–1097 (July 2003)
** See, for example, Murder-Suicide: A Review of the Recent Literature, Scott Eliason, MD, J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 37:3:371-376 (September 2009)
*** See How to Recognize and Act on Risk Factors for Domestic Violence Homicide, Ralph J. Riviello, MD, ACEP Now (May 2014); see also Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Intimate Partner Violence During Pregnancy, A Guide for Clinicians

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