Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment

Lethality assessment is the attempt to identify the circumstances when a batterer is most dangerous by evaluating the batterer’s beliefs and patterns of violence, coercion, and control. The following information was developed by Barbara J. Hart, Esq. In Assessing Whether Batterer’s Will Kill. The assessment looks at a number of predictors. The underlying assumption is the higher the number of predictors, the higher the potential for the batterer to commit a homicide or engage in potentially lethal behaviors.

Predictors of Lethality Include:

  • Threats of suicide or homicide including killing himself, the victim, children or relatives.
  • Fantasies of homicide or suicide in the guise of fantasizing “who, how, when and/or where to kill.”
  • Weapons owned by the perpetrator who has threatened to used them or has used them in the past (the use of guns is a strong predictor of homicide).
  • Feelings of “ownership” of the victim.
  • “Centrality” to the victim (idolizing and extreme dependence).
  • Separation from the victim (this is an extremely dangerous time when perpetrators make the decision to kill).
  • Dangerous behavior increases in degree with little regard for legal or social consequences.
  • Hostage-taking
  • Depression
  • Repeated calls to the police.

Lethality assessments are more an art than a science and cannot be considered precise by any means. They are not a tool for certain prediction, but rather one for risk assessment and safety planning or intervention. Social service providers should error on the side of caution and inform their clients that any abuser can potentially be lethal.

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