whether batterers will kill
A Guide for Law Enforcement
batterers are life-endangering. While it is true that all batterers
are dangerous, some are more likely to kill than others and
some are more likely to kill at specific times. Regardless
of whether there is a protection from abuse order in effect,
officers should evaluate whether an assailant is likely to
kill his* partner or other family members
and/or police personnel and take appropriate action.
Assessment is tricky and never full-proof. It is important
to conduct an assessment at every call, no matter how many
times an officer has responded to the same household. The dispatcher
and responding officer can utilize the indicators described
below in making an assessment of the batterer’s potential
to kill. Considering these factors may or may not reveal actual
potential for homicidal assault. But, the likelihood of a homicide
is greater when these factors are present. The greater the
number of indicators that the batterer demonstrates or the
greater the intensity of indicators, the greater the likelihood
of a life-threatening attack.
Use all of the information you have about the batterer, current
as well as past incident information. A thorough investigation
at the scene will provide much of the information necessary
to make this assessment. However, law enforcement will not
obtain reliable information from an interview conducted with
the victim and perpetrator together or from the batterer alone.
- Threats of homicide or suicide.
- Fantasies of homicide or suicide.
The more the batterer has developed a fantasy
about who, how, when, and/or where to kill, the more dangerous
he may be. The batterer who has previously acted out part
of a homicide or suicide fantasy may be invested in killing
as a viable “solution” to
his problems. As in suicide assessment, the more detailed
the plan and the more available the method, the greater the
* This document assumes that the victim
is a woman and the abuser is a man. It may be that the victim
is a man and the abuser a woman or that the abuser and the
victim are of the same sex. Assessment is basically the same
despite these gender differences. The only additional indicator
to be assessed in a lesbian or gay relationship is whether
the abuser has been firmly closeted and is now risking exposure
as a lesbian or gay person in order to facilitate their severe,
life-threatening attacks. When a person has been desperately
closeted, losing the protection of invisibility in order
to abuse potentially suggests great desperation and should
be included in the assessment.
Where a batterer possesses weapons and has used them or has
threatened to use them in the past in his assaults on the battered
woman, the children or himself, his access to those weapons
increases his potential for lethal assault. The use of guns
is a strong predictor of homicide. If a batterer has a history
of arson or the threat of arson, fire should be considered
- “Ownership” of the battered partner.
The batterer who says “Death before Divorce!” or “You
belong to me and will never belong to another!” may
be stating his fundamental belief that the woman has no
right to life separate from him. A batterer who believes
he is absolutely entitled to his female partner, her services,
her obedience and her loyalty, no matter what, is likely
to be life-endangering.
- Centrality of the partner.
A man who idolizes his female partner or
who depends heavily on her to organize and sustain his life,
or who has isolated himself from all other community, may
retaliate against a partner who decides to end the relationship.
He rationalizes that her “betrayal” justifies
his lethal retaliation.
When a batterer believes that he is about
to lose his partner, if he can’t envision life without
her or if the separation causes him great despair or rage,
he may choose to kill.
Where a batterer has been acutely depressed and sees little
hope for moving beyond the depression, he may be a candidate
for homicide and suicide. Research shows that many men who
are hospitalized for depression have homicidal fantasies directed
at family members.
- Access to the battered woman and/or to family
If the batterer cannot find her, he cannot kill her. If he
does not have access to the children, he cannot use them as
a means of access to the battered woman. Careful safety planning
and police assistance are required for those times when contact
is required, e.g. court appearances and custody exchanges.
- Repeated outreach to law enforcement.
Partner or spousal homicide almost always occurs in a context
of historical violence. Prior calls to the police indicate
elevated risk of life-threatening conduct. The more calls,
the greater the potential danger.
- Escalation of batterer risk.
A less obvious indicator of increasing danger may be the
sharp escalation of personal risk undertaken by a batterer;
when a batterer begins to act without regard to the legal or
social consequences that previously constrained his violence,
chances of lethal assault increase significantly.
A hostage-taker is at high risk of inflicting homicide. Between
75% and 90% of all hostage takings in the U.S. are related
to domestic violence situations.
If an officer concludes that the batterer is likely to kill
or commit life-endangering violence, extraordinary measures
should be taken to protect the victim and her children. This
may include providing transportation and conducting meticulous
follow-up. The victim should be advised that the presence of
these indicators may mean that the batterer is contemplating
homicide and that she should immediately take action to protect
herself and should contact the local domestic violence program
to further assess lethality and develop safety plans.
Hart, B.; “Assessing Whether Batterer’s
Will Kill.” © PCADV, 1990.