Assessing Whether Batterers Will Kill

Assessing Whether Batterers Will Kill



Some batterers are life-threatening. 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 or not there is a protection order in effect, one should constantly evaluate whether an abuser is likely to kill his partner, other family members, and/or police personnel. (We are assuming that the victim is a woman and the abuser is a man. It may be vice versa or it could be that the abuser and victim are of the same sex. Assessment is basically the same despite 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 this assessment).

Assessment is tricky and never fool-proof. It is important to conduct ongoing assessments, no matter how many times the abuse has occurred or no matter how many times police have been called to the same household. Considering the factors below 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 number of indicators that a batterer demonstrates or the greater the intensity of his indicators, the greater the likelihood of a life-threatening attack. It is important that one use all current/former information known about the batterer. However, reliable information will not be obtained if the victim and perpetrator are interviewed in the same room. Therefore, it is important to interview victims alone. When interviewing, assess for: 

  1. THREATS OF HOMICIDE OR SUICIDE – The batterer who has threatened to kill himself, his partner, the children or her relatives must be considered extremely dangerous.
  2. 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 risk.
  3. WEAPONS – Be aware of a batterer who possess weapons and has used/ threatened to use them during past violent episodes. Access to weapons increases his potential for assault. The use of guns is a strong predictor of homicide. If arson is threatened, fire should also be considered a weapon.
  4. “OWNERSHIP” OF THE BATTERED PARTNER – The batterer who say “death before divorce!” or “if I can’t have you nobody can” 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.
  5. 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 actions.
  6. SEPARATION VIOLENCE – 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.
  7. DEPRESSION – When a batterer has been acutely depressed and sees little hope for moving beyond the depression, he may be a candidate for homicide and/or suicide. Research show that many men who are hospitalized for depression have homicidal fantasies directed at family members.
  8. ACCESS TO THE BATTERED WOMAN AND/OR FAMILY MEMBERS – 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).
  9. 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.
  10. ESCALATION OF BATTERER RISK TAKING – 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.
  11. HOSTAGE TAKING – A hostage-taker is at high risk of inflicting homicide. Between 75% and 90% of ALL hostages in the U.S. are related to domestic violence situations.




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Many women are interested in ways they can predict whether they are about to become involved with someone who will be physically abusive. Below is a list of behaviors that are seen in people who beat their partners or wives. If a person exhibits 3 or more of the behaviors, there is a strong potential for physical violence. The more signs the person has, the more likely it is that he is a batterer. The last four signs on this list are particularly characteristic of men who batter their partners. Sometimes, a batterer may have only a couple of behaviors that the woman can recognize, but the behaviors are very exaggerated (e.g. extreme jealousy over ridiculous things). Early in the relationship the batterer will try to explain his behavior as signs of love and concern, & the woman may be flattered at first. As time goes on, the behaviors become more severe & serve to control the woman.

  1. JEALOUSY – At the beginning of the relationship, the abuser will always say that his jealousy is a sign of love. Jealousy has nothing to do with love, it is a sign of insecurity and possessiveness. He will question the woman about who she talks to, accuse her of flirting, or be jealous of time she spends with family, friends, or children. As the jealousy progresses, he may call her frequently during the day, drop by unexpectedly, refuse to let her work for fear she’ll meet someone, or do strange things like check her car mileage or have friends watch her.
  2. CONTROLLING BEHAVIOR – At first, the batterer will say that this behavior is because he’s concerned for the woman’s safety, her need to use time well, or her need to make good decisions. He will be angry if the woman is “late” coming back from the store or an appointment. He will question her closely about where she went, who she talked to, etc. As time goes on, he may not let the woman make personal decisions about the house, her clothing, or going to church. He may make her ask permission to leave the house or room and he may begin keeping complete control over the household finances.
  3. QUICK INVOLVEMENT – Many battered women dated or knew their abuser for less than 6 months before they were engaged or living together. He comes on like a whirlwind and says things like “You’re the only person I could ever talk to” or “I’ve never loved anybody like this before”. He needs someone desperately and will pressure the woman to commit to him.
  4. UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS – He is very dependent on the woman for all his needs. He expects her to be the perfect wife, mother, lover, friend. He will say things like “I’m all you need – you’re all I need” or “if you love me you would…”. The woman is expected to take care of everything for him both emotionally and within the home.
  5. ISOLATION – The man tries to cut the woman off from all resources. If she has men friends she is a “whore”. If she has women friends she is a “lesbian”. If she is close to her family she is “tied to the apron strings”. He accuses people who are of support to her of “causing trouble”. He may want to live in a particularly rural area without a phone. He may not let her use the car, and he may try to keep her from working or going to school.
  6. BLAMES OTHERS FOR HIS PROBLEMS – If he is chronically unemployed, someone is always doing him wrong or is out to get him. He may make mistakes and then blame the woman for upsetting him and keeping him from concentrating on his job. He will tell the woman that she is at fault for almost anything that goes wrong.
  7. BLAMES OTHERS FOR HIS FEELINGS – He will tell the woman “you make me mad” “you’re hurting me by not doing what I ask” or “I can’t help being angry”. HE really makes the decisions about what he thinks and feels but will use feelings to manipulate the woman. Harder to catch are his claims that “you make me happy” or “you control how I feel”.
  8. HYPERSENSITIVITY – This man is easily insulted. He claims his feeling s are “hurt” when he’s really very mad, or he takes the slightest setback as a personal attack. He will “rant and rave” about the injustice of things that have happened to him, things that are really just part of living; like being asked to work over-time, getting a traffic ticket, being told that something he does is annoying, being asked to help with chores, etc.
  9. CRUELTY TO ANIMALS OR CHILDREN – This is a man who punishes animals brutally or is insensitive to their pain. He may expect children to be capable of doing things far beyond their ability (whips a 2 year-old for wetting a diaper) or he may tease children or younger brothers and sisters until they cry. (60% of men who beat the woman they are with also beat their children). He may not want children to eat at the table or expect them to stay in their room during the evening while he is home.
  10. “PLAYFUL” USE OF FORCE IN SEX – This man may like to throw the woman down and hold her during sex; he may want to act out fantasies during sex where the woman is helpless. He is letting her know that the idea of “rape” excites him. He may show little concern about whether or not the woman wants to have sex and/or will use anger or sulking to manipulate her into cooperating. He will say she must stay at home and must obey him in all things – even in things that are criminal in nature. The abuser sees women as inferior to men, more stupid, or unable to be a whole person without a relationship.
  11. DR JEKYLL & MR. HYDE – Many women are confused by their abuser’s “sudden” changes in mood. They report that one minute he’s nice and the next he’s explosive. Women attribute this to a “mental problem” or insist that he is “crazy”. Explosiveness and mood swings are typical of men who beat their partners and these behaviors are related to other characteristics such as hypersensitivity.
  12. * PAST BATTERING – The man may say he has hit women in the past, but they made him do it. The woman may hear stories from relatives or ex-spouses that the man is abusive. A batterer will beat any woman he is with: situational circumstance do not make a person have an abusive personality.
  13. * THREATS OF VIOLENCE – This includes any threat of physical force meant to control the woman. “I’ll slap your mouth off” “I’ll kill you”. “I’ll break your neck”. Most men do NOT threaten their mates but a batterer will try to excuse this behavior by saying “everybody says that”.
  14. * BREAKING/STRIKING OBJECTS – The man will break a woman’s cherished possessions as punishment or in an effort to terrorize her. He may also beat tables with fists or throw objects at/near the woman.
  15. * ANY FORCE DURING ARGUMENT – The man may hold the woman down, physically restrain her from leaving, push/shove her, or pin her to the wall and say “you’re going to listen to me”.

Are you involved with an abusive partner?

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior used to maintain power and control in a relationship. Abusive partners repeatedly subject their victims to physical, verbal, emotional and financial tactics in order to maintain control. Answer these questions honestly and score like this:


___ Does he/she keep track of your time?
___ Does he/she discourage you from developing or maintaining friendships?
___ Does he/she accuse you of having affairs?
___ Does he/she criticize you for unimportant things?
___ Does he/she make you feel ashamed?
___ Does he/she try to make you believe that they are smarter than you and therefore,
better able to make decisions?
___ Does he/she use money as a way of controlling you?
___ Does he/she try to make you believe that you cannot exist without him/her?
___ Does he/she try to embarrass you in front of other people?
___ Does he/she say or do things that you make excuses for?
___ Does he/she try to make you feel that you are “crazy”?
___ Do you often feel there is no way out of your situation?
___ Do you “stuff” you feelings in order to “keep the peace”?
___ Do you believe that you could help your abuser change their behavior if only you could
change yourself in some way?
___ Do you feel that not making him/her angry has become a major part of your life?
___ Does he/she get extremely angry without a reason?
___ Does he/she restrain you from leaving after you have been arguing?
___ Does he/she not believe that they have hurt you?
___ Does he/she lose control when drinking alcohol or using drugs?
___ Has he/she threatened you with a weapon?
___ Has he/she been violent toward your children?
___ Does he/she treat you roughly: grab, punch, slap, or shove you?
___ Does he/she threaten you verbally?
___ Has he/she ever hurt you sexually?
___ Has he/she ever forced you to have sexual relations against your will?
___ Do you do what he/she wants for fear of what they might do?
___ Do you stay in the relationship out of fear of what he/she might do if you leave?
___ Does he/she threaten to kill himself/herself if you leave?
___ Does he/she threaten to kill you or family members if you leave?
___ Does he/she destroy your personal things or harm your pets?

Add up your points.     Scoring:
1 – 14 relatively normal
15 – 40 moderately abusive
41 – 60 seriously abusive
61 – 90 dangerously abusive

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