Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment

In our practice, it is sadly all too common for our clients to be involved a relationship where domestic violence has been present.  Domestic violence is commonly misunderstood to be merely physical encounters caused by an anger management problems.  In fact, domestic violence is instead the control a partner or other members of the family unit through different methods of coercion.  Physical violence or the threat of such actions can certainly play a role in the perpetrator maintaining that control, but more subtle and invidious methods are also common.  This can include financial control, emotional belittlement, isolation from other loved ones, and psychological conditioning to believe that the domestic violence is the victim’s fault.

Leaving a relationship characterized by domestic violence can be dangerous, as the choice to leave is the ultimate rebellion against the control exerted by the partner.  It is essential to assess the risk and put safeguards in place to provide protection during this dangerous time.  One tool that is becoming more prevalent across the country to assess the risk of leaving a relationship the Domestic Violence Screening Questionnaire.  The Questionnaire was originally developed by first responders in Maryland but has since spread nationwide.  It is recognized by law enforcement, mental health professionals, and attorneys as a useful aid in evaluating the level of risk faced by the client in leaving the relationship.

Domestic Violence Screening Questions

  • Has he/she ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon?
  • Has he/she threatened to kill you or your children? 
  • Do you think he/she might try to kill you?
  • Does he/she have a run or can he/she get one easily
  • Has he/she ever tried to choke you?
  • Is he/she violently or constantly jealous, or does he/she try to control most of your daily activities?
  • Have you left or separated from him/her after living together or being married?
  • Is he/she unemployed?
  • Has he/she ever tried to kill himself/herself?
  • Do you have a child living with you that is not his/hers?
  • Does he/she follow or spy on you or leave threatening messages?
  • Has he/she ever avoided arrest for domestic violence?
  • Is he/she an alcoholic or problem drinker, or does he.she use illegal drugs?  Specific drugs that tend to be more problematic are stimulants, including amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, speed, and crack.
  • Is there anything else that worries you about your safety?
  • Have you immigrated to this country?
    • Do you not have any children living with you in your home?
    • Do you have any children in common with him/her living?

The more “yes” answers that a client has in this questionnaire, the greater the concern about lethality.  Additionally, the highest risk for homicide is when “yes” answers are given to certain sets of questions, including where the partner has both gun access/ownership and is also abusing a substance; if there is a recent separation and also stalking behavior; and where stalking and threats are combined.

Take these behaviors and threats seriously and work with your attorney to formulate a plan to leave the relationship while simultaneously taking steps to ensure your safety and that of your children and pets.

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