By Heather, loveisrespect Advocate
Here at The Hotline we often hear from survivors who are afraid to leave their abusive partners because of the threats that have been made against their loved ones. Because abuse is all about power and control, as a relationship progresses abusive people tend to escalate the things they say and do to maintain the power they take from their partners, and that can include threats to hurt or even kill friends, family or co-workers. This post is meant for any family, friends or colleagues of survivors of intimate partner violence who are concerned for their own safety, and for survivors of domestic violence who are concerned for the safety of the people in their support system.
It’s important to note that survivors can utilize this lethality assessment to learn what their individual risk of being killed by their partners may be. The language in the assessment is a bit dated, and very gendered–with men as the abuser and women as the victim–but we know that anyone of any gender can perpetrate abuse or be abused. The biggest threats for survivors are strangulation (10x more likely to be killed), the presence of a firearm (five times more likely), and if the abusive person is genuinely suicidal. It is not at all uncommon for an abusive person to threaten to kill themselves if they feel like they’re losing control over their partner, but they pose a serious risk to their victim if they have attempted suicide in the past, talk about a specific plan, or have access to a gun.
Domestic violence is the single biggest indicator of murder-suicides in the United States, and unfortunately, we’ve often seen that escalate to include survivors’ families, friends, and co-workers, or even strangers. The warning signs of suicidal thoughts can include seeking out lethal means, a preoccupation with death, expressing no hope for the future, self-loathing, self-hatred, getting their affairs in order/giving things away, saying goodbye, withdrawing from others, and self-destructive behavior. For adult women who are in a relationship with an abusive man femicide-suicide risk increases with:
- gun ownership
- threats with a weapon
- threats to kill
- a step-child in the home
We know that when a survivor of abuse chooses to leave the relationship that (and pregnancy) is the most dangerous time for them, so we strongly encourage any survivors who are considering leaving to reach out to us via chat or phone to talk through a thorough, personalized safety plan. Friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and even strangers who are concerned about a survivor’s safety, or their own, are always welcome to call or chat with us too.
One of the most helpful things anyone who is concerned for their safety can do is to document the abuse or threats. Documentation of threats, damaged property or injuries can help if a restraining order is needed, with a custody case, or if someone decides to press charges. This website details how the laws around domestic violence and protective orders vary from state to state.
For their own safety friends, family and colleagues of domestic violence survivors can:
- Talk with the survivor about the risk factors above and their concerns for everyone’s safety
- Keep a charged cell phone on them at all times to call for help if needed
- Travel in pairs or groups/try not to be alone
- Plan to not let the abusive person into the home or business if they are not with the survivor
- Seek a restraining order that would make it illegal for the abusive person to contact them
- Inform neighbors/security/human resources of concerns and if possible provide a picture of the abusive person so they are not allowed at the place of business and the police/survivor/targeted support person can be notified of the threat
- Install an alarm system/security cameras/motion sensor lights at home
- Get a guard dog
- Utilize safety planning apps like Kitestring and Circle of 6
- Create a personalized safety plan with the survivor’s input & The Hotline’s help
We know that supporting someone who is being abused, dealing with threats, and talking about lethality concerns can be really frightening, so we can’t emphasize enough that every individual in a situation like this HAS TO prioritize their own physical safety and emotional well-being. It’s important too that anyone who is affected by abuse engages in a strong self-care practice, which can include counseling, meditation, socializing, movement, or anything relaxing or fun. Advocates are available 24/7 via phone and chat if you need support or help making a safety plan.