Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges

Published June 2009

Chapter 3. Offender Characteristics

Section 21 — What are other lethality risk markers?

In a national study, other lethality markers that multiply the odds of homicide five times or more over nonfatal abuse have been found to include: (a) threats to kill, 14.9 times more likely; (b) prior attempts to strangle, 9.9 times; (c) forced sex, 7.6 times; (d) escalating physical violence severity over time, 5.2 times; and (e) partner control over the victim's daily activities, 5.1 times more likely. [25, 142] Research has also found that male abusers are more likely to kill if they are not the fathers of the children in the household. [17, 25, 142] A Chicago study similarly found that death was more likely if the abuser threatened his partner with or used a knife or gun, strangled his partner or grabbed her around her neck, or both partners were drunk. [17]

A series of interviews with 31 men imprisoned for partner murders revealed how quickly abusers turned lethal. Relationships with short courtships were much more likely to end in murder or attempted murder; these relationships were also likelier to end much sooner than those with longer term courtships. Half of the murderers had relationships of no more than three months with the partners they murdered, and almost a third had been involved for only one month. [1]

In terms of female murders of male partners, the research suggests that abused women who killed their partners had experienced more severe and increasing violence over the prior year. They tended to have fewer resources, such as employment or high school education, and were in long-term relationships with their partners at the time. [17]

Implications for Prosecutors

Prosecutors must insist that law enforcement investigators provide them with appropriate information about prior activities, especially those associated with increased risk for lethality. (Research basis: Multiple studies have found similar risk factors for lethality. Although applying risk factors can create false positives, their consideration will avoid false negatives that prove deadly for victims.)

Implications for Judges

For judges to make safe decisions about bail, sentencing or fashioning civil orders, they must insist on appropriate information about abusers' prior activities, including those associated with increased risk for lethality. (Research basis: Multiple studies have found similar risk factors for lethality. Although applying risk factors can create false positives, their consideration will avoid false negatives that prove deadly for victims.)

Date Created: June 5, 2009