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The Connection Between Lethality and Strangulation in Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence


As child abuse professionals, we know that domestic violence and intimate partner violence are serious crimes that can have devastating consequences for victims and their families. One aspect of these crimes that often goes overlooked is the potential for lethality indicators displayed by abusers, particularly in cases involving strangulation. In this blog post, we will explore the connection between lethality indicators and strangulation in cases of domestic and intimate partner violence.


Lethality indicators are signs or behaviors exhibited by abusers that suggest they may be at an increased risk of escalating their violence and potentially causing serious harm or even death to their victims. These indicators can include threats of violence, access to weapons, a history of strangulation, substance abuse, and more.


There are some signs and behaviors that may indicate an increased risk of lethality in cases involving strangulation. For example, abusers who have a history of strangulation may be more likely to escalate their violence in the future. Additionally, abusers who threaten to kill their victims or have access to weapons may be at an increased risk of lethality.


Research has shown that abusers who strangle often exhibit a pattern of controlling behaviors that may include isolation, intimidation, and manipulation. They may also engage in other forms of physical and emotional abuse, such as hitting, slapping, or verbal abuse. Some specific behaviors that abusers who strangle may engage in include:


1. Jealousy and possessiveness: Abusers may become extremely jealous of their partner's friends, family members, or co-workers and may try to isolate them from these individuals. They may also try to control their partner's behavior and movements.

2. Monitoring: Abusers may monitor their partner's activities, such as checking their phone or email, tracking their location, or showing up unannounced.

3. Threats: Abusers may make threats of violence or harm to their partner or their partner's family members or pets.

4. Intimidation: Abusers may use their physical size and strength to intimidate their partner, or they may use threats or intimidation tactics to control their behavior.

5. Manipulation: Abusers may use emotional manipulation tactics, such as guilt-tripping or gaslighting, to control their partner's behavior.

6. Substance abuse: Abusers who strangle may also engage in substance abuse, which can increase the risk of violence.


It is important to note that not all abusers who engage in these behaviors will necessarily engage in strangulation, but the presence of these behaviors can be indicators of an increased risk for lethality in the relationship. It is important for child abuse professionals to be aware of these indicators and to work with law enforcement and other members of the multidisciplinary team (MDT) to assess the level of risk to the victim and take appropriate action to protect them.


There are several lethality assessment questionnaires available to assess domestic abusers for a higher propensity for lethal violence. Here are a few examples:


1. Danger Assessment: The Danger Assessment is a well-established tool used to assess a victim's risk of being killed or seriously injured by their intimate partner. This assessment takes into account a range of factors, including the abuser's history of violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues. It also considers factors such as the victim's level of fear and the abuser's access to firearms.

2. Lethality Assessment Program (LAP): The LAP is another widely used tool for assessing the risk of lethal violence in domestic violence cases. This assessment asks a series of questions about the abuser's history of violence, including whether they have ever strangled or threatened to kill their partner. It also considers other risk factors, such as whether the victim has a child with the abuser or whether the abuser is currently unemployed.

3. Spousal Assault Risk Assessment (SARA): The SARA is a structured professional judgement tool used to assess the risk of future domestic violence. This assessment considers a range of factors, including the abuser's criminal history, history of substance abuse, and mental health issues. It also looks at factors such as the victim's level of fear and the abuser's access to firearms.


It is important to note that while these assessments can be useful in identifying high-risk cases, they should be used in conjunction with other factors, such as professional judgement and clinical expertise. Additionally, it is important to ensure that victims are not blamed for their abuser's violent behavior and that assessments are conducted in a way that prioritizes victim safety.


In accordance with these three commonly cited lethality assessments, the NCACIA has developed an all-encompassing lethality assessment that professionals can use in cases to determine the danger that a domestic violence offender poses to their victims and the general public. The assessment is provided below:


Criteria

Description

Derived from Assessments

Prior domestic violence

​A history of domestic violence, including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, towards the victim or other partners

​Danger Assessment, LAP, SARA

Prior violence in general

A history of violence towards others, including non-domestic violence

Danger Assessment, SARA

Prior restraining orders or violations

A history of restraining orders against the abuser, or violations of such orders

Danger Assessment, LAP, SARA

Alcohol or substance abuse

​A history of alcohol or substance abuse by the abuser

Danger Assessment, LAP, SARA

Mental illness

​A history of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or personality disorders

Danger Assessment, LAP, SARA

Access to firearms

The abuser's access to firearms or other weapons

Danger Assessment, LAP, SARA

Escalation of violence

​An increase in the severity or frequency of the abuse

Danger Assessment, SARA

Extreme jealousy or possessiveness

Extreme jealousy or possessiveness towards the victim

Danger Assessment, SARA

​Stalking

Stalking behaviors towards the victim, including following or monitoring their activities

Danger Assessment, SARA

Threats to harm or kill the victim

Threats to harm or kill the victim, or the victim's children, pets, or family members

LAP, SARA

Strangulation

Use of strangulation as a form of abuse and control

LAP, SARA

Child abuse

Abuse or neglect of children, including those not related to the abuser

SARA

Employment status

The abuser's employment status or history, or general lack of employment and centrality of lifestyle with the victim

LAP

​Victim's fear

The victim's level of fear or anxiety regarding the abuser

Danger Assessment, LAP, SARA

Victim's attempts to leave

The victim's attempts to leave the abusive relationship, including seeking help from law enforcement or domestic violence programs

​Danger Assessment, SARA


It is essential for child abuse professionals to understand these lethality indicators and to take them seriously in order to protect victims and prevent future harm. When investigating cases of domestic and intimate partner violence, professionals should be on the lookout for signs of strangulation and other indicators of lethality. This may include conducting thorough medical examinations of victims, reviewing past incidents of violence, and conducting risk assessments of both the victim and the abuser.


Furthermore, it is important for professionals to educate victims about the potential dangers of strangulation and the importance of seeking medical attention immediately. Victims should also be encouraged to seek support from a trained advocate or therapist, as well as to develop a safety plan in case of future incidents of violence.


In conclusion, lethality indicators and strangulation are serious issues that require the attention and action of child abuse professionals. By understanding the connection between these factors and taking steps to recognize and address them, we can work to protect victims and prevent further harm. It is important to remember that strangulation is a potentially life-threatening form of abuse, and victims should be encouraged to seek help and support as soon as possible.

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