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When Abuse Turns Deadly
Having a gun at home increases your risk of being killed by your abuser
- Dec 19, 2014
Survivors of domestic violence are often told to “just leave,” in regards to their abusive partner. If only it could be that simple. Statistics show that the most dangerous time for a survivor of abuse is when she decides to leave an abusive partner.
“Abusers feel like they’re losing control that they once had. That’s when women are most likely to be killed,” says Tami Sullivan, director of family violence research and programs at Yale University.
Women Are Being Killed at Home
Domestic homicide—when a person is killed by a current or former partner— takes the lives of roughly 2,000-3,000 women a year. Women are killed by an intimate partner at twice the rate of men.
While we tend to think of domestic violence as shoving, slapping, punching and other such forms of physical abuse, this is not how most victims of domestic homicide lose their lives. Studies show that female spouses are more likely to be killed with a firearm than all other means combined, and that these women are most often killed at their own home than anywhere else.
Sullivan says that while the homicide rate has been studied, not much research has been done on the correlation between abusers threatening a survivor with a gun and actually following through.
“Women [survivors] will tell you that he cleans his gun in front of her and gets this look that says, ‘This is for you.’ Or he’ll sleep with the gun in the nightstand drawer. Or he’ll say, ‘I’ll kill you if you leave me.’ ” Clearly, she says, these threats mean something different when the abuser has access to a gun.
Consider a Safety Plan, Not a Weapon
What should a woman do if she suspects or knows her partner is or could be abusive and there’s a gun in the home? Should she arm herself, too? The latter question is one Sullivan says she can’t answer.
“That needs to be a personal decision.” But looking at the research, such as a study by the National Institutes of Health, when a gun was present in the home, the risk of homicide increased more than three times. Additionally, the research showed that a gun in the home was the key factor in escalating nonlethal domestic violence to homicide.
Instead of rushing out to buy a weapon, Sullivan says women should empower themselves in other ways, first, by creating a safety plan. This can be a plan to get help in a dire situation or to escape permanently. “Is there a secret code you can text your friends that lets them know that you feel really unsafe?” asks Sullivan.
“It is critically important that she call a hotline to talk about her options so she can understand what can be useful in her unique situation,” says Sullivan. You can contact a domestic violence shelter near you on our help page, most of which have a 24/7 hotline staffed by trained domestic violence advocates. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233). An advocate can help you safety plan, find shelter and connect you to other services in your area—from legal to financial to educational—all with the intent to give a survivor the tools she needs to get out of a potentially deadly situation safely.
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