By Heather, Advocate at The Hotline
This post is meant for any colleagues, friends and family 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.
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. Many are afraid to start the safety planning process 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 co-workers, friends and family.
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’ friends and family, 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. Co-workers, neighbors, friends and family 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.