No matter if a survivor has endured an abusive partner for two dates or two decades, abusers have the possibility of escalating power and control into extreme violence, even murder, at any point. That's the tricky thing about abusive partners—they are wolves in sheep's clothing. Their behavior can come across caring, even sweet, at first—they love you so much they can never let you out of their sight—and before you know it, you're being isolated from everyone in your life but them. You're being mentally, and sometimes physically, held hostage by their cunning tactics of control.
No person intends on falling victim to abuse, but 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are victims of sexual violence, physical violence or stalking in their lifetime.
Perhaps more staggering: Homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women under age 44. And nearly half of those women and girls murdered (3,519 in 2015 alone) are killed by a former or current intimate partner, according the CDC's latest findings. If you or someone you know is currently with an abusive partner, taking this statistic as a warning could save your, or their, life.
Signs Abuse Could Be Turning Lethal
There are several indicators that experts agree can mean that violence is escalating to a lethal level, but the most accurate indicator is a survivor’s perception of her danger level. According to Turning Point, a domestic violence advocacy group and shelter in Michigan, “If the woman is very afraid and says she will be killed, or may be killed, then the possibility of life-threatening violence is present.”
The nonprofit lists the following characteristics as being Lethality Indicators in an abusive partner:
- Perceived loss of control over the victim through separation, divorce or the victim leaving
- Extreme jealousy
- An escalation of abuse
- Abuse that occurs in a public place
- Suicide or homicidal threats, and plans to carry out either
- Access to a weapon, especially a gun
- A history of mental health problems
- Substance abuse
- A history of sexual abuse of the victim or of children
- Violation of a protective order
Unfortunately, statistics show that 75 percent of serious injuries in domestic violence cases occur after the victim has decided to end the relationship. In June of 2013, Maria Flores of Las Vegas was shot and killed by her abusive boyfriend of three years, a man who Flores told a friend she was going to leave. The man also shot and killed Flores’ 17-year-old daughter, and shot and wounded Flores’ 4-year-old daughter. Besides the one friend who knew of Flores’ plans to leave, the victim never opened up about the abuse.
In other words, reaching out for help before you leave could mean the difference between life and death. If you are planning to leave an abusive partner, creating a safety plan first is vital. In a study out of the Texas Council of Family Violence, researchers found that of the 21 women murdered in Dallas Country by intimate partners in 2013, not one was found to have reached out to a service provider for help.
It is best to safety plan with the help of a trained domestic violence advocate in your area—you can find one here. Decide when is the safest time to leave and where you will go. Arrange a place to stay—an advocate can assist you in finding temporary shelter and can help set up arrangements for you ahead of time.
If you are going to stay with a friend or family member, try to choose one who your abuser does not know, or a location he or she can't find. Plan how you will safely get your children out of the house with you. If your abuser has harmed or threatened your pets, is there someone who can take them for you before you leave? If not, ask if you can bring them with you to where you’re going. For more information on what to do with your animals, read, "Planning for Pets' Safety."
Next, prepare an emergency bag that includes not only extra clothes, but also birth certificates, passports, social security cards, court documents, health insurance information, spare house and car keys, medications needed and some cash (an abuser will be able to track you through your credit card). See if you can store this bag at a friend’s house so that your abuser will not find it.
Remember, if at any time you feel in imminent danger, call 911 without hesitation.
Assess Your Situation
Use the Danger Assessment tool or MOSAIC to find out where how your situation compares to other, similar situations where the abuse escalated into homicide.
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