Content advisory: This blog post discusses domestic violence homicide, including statistics and risk factors, in detail. If you find yourself distressed or triggered by this topic, you may wish to skip this or have a support plan ready for yourself. Our 24-hour helpline is always available if you have questions or need to talk to someone: (509) 326-2255
what is danger assessment?
YWCA Spokane had the honor of hosting a training led by Dr. Jacqueline Campbell, a lead researcher in domestic violence and the creator of several screening tools used when safety planning with survivors. The Danger Assessment is one of those tools. Created in 1985 with significant amounts of input from actual survivors, the Danger Assessment screening is used by advocates across the country to determine the potential lethality of an abusive relationship. There are also variations of the screening that can be used in hospitals, with law enforcement, and with same-sex female couples.
The numbers tell us that lethality screenings such as this one are an unfortunate necessity. The statistics featured here are based on research done on female survivors primarily in heterosexual relationships due to project funding, which is a common issue in research on intimate partner violence. There are absolutely victims and survivors of other genders and relationship structures. Domestic violence services at YWCA Spokane are always available to anyone experiencing intimate partner violence.
At this training, we learned that 40-54% of female homicide victims are killed by a husband, boyfriend, or former partner. This is nine times more likely than their chances of being killed by a stranger. A primary risk factor in intimate partner homicide in heterosexual couples, regardless of which partner is killed, is a history of physical violence against the woman in the relationship. Intimate partner homicide is the 7th leading cause of death for women overall.
Cases of intimate partner homicide can affect a whole family. In 19% of cases where a female victim is killed by her male partner, children are also killed. In 70% of cases, a child either witnesses the murder or is the first to find the body. Children aged 11-17 are more likely to be killed while trying to protect their mother than children who are 10 years of age or younger.
Additionally, Intimate Partner Homicide is:
- #2 cause of death for African American women aged 15-34
- #3 cause of death for American Indian/ Native Alaskan women aged 15-24
- #5 cause of death for white women aged 30-34
- 2.6% of female DV homicide victims were in same-sex relationships
- 74% of male perpetrators in DV homicide cases owned guns, and…
- 33.6% of them should not have had firearms because of prior DV arrests and convictions
While these numbers are rightfully sobering, it is important to note that the vast majority of women in abusive relationships are able to leave successfully – especially when they have access to ample community support, protection, and advocacy services. Some of the most influential factors in the decline of intimate partner homicide are access to legal advocacy and hotlines. Other factors that seem to reduce these numbers include a society with increased female earnings and access to divorce, reduced availability of firearms, and laws and services created with the intent of reducing domestic violence.
Assessing the Risk of the Situation
In the meantime, there are many tools available for advocates and survivors that can assess risk and aid in safety planning. Some of them assess the risk of domestic violence re-occuring in relationships, as these are often targeted at perpetrators and can cover a variety of types of abuse. There are also general safety assessments that measure how we are working to keep survivors safe at the personal and community levels. The Danger Assessment is a lethality assessment, meaning it specifically measures the likelihood of DV homicide.
The Danger Assessment is interactive, including a calendar the survivor can use to document the instances of abuse she has experienced in the last year–which can help to reveal patterns, escalations, and make it easier for her to remember specific events. There is also a series of questions that use language specifically formulated with the input of victims. The questions in the Danger Assessment, as well as other lethality assessments, focus on some of the primary risk factors that have been identified for DV homicide.
Some of the most significant risk factors for intimate partner homicide include: the perpetrator owning a gun; the perpetrator being unemployed; the perpetrator having a high amount of control even if the victim has left the relationship; threats of suicide from the perpetrator; and stalking. Some protective factors for homicide include the victim never having lived with the perpetrator and prior domestic violence arrests against the perpetrator.
Screenings such as the Danger Assessment can help advocates and survivors have tangible and often validating conversations about the risks and protective factors in her life. Advocates are better able to help their clients safety plan and refer to resources such as shelters, protection orders, and family law. Domestic violence advocates are incredibly grateful for the work of people like Dr. Campbell.