The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a victim will be killed.1Jacquelyn C. Campbell et al., “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multisite Case Control Study,” American Journal of Public Health 93, no. 7, (July 2003): 1089-1097. Over half of female homicides for which circumstances were known were related to domestic violence.2Emiko Petrosky et al., “Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence–United States 2003-2014,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 66 (2017): 741-746. Domestic violence lethality assessments act to consolidate complex information about an abusive relationship into a single measure or score, with the goal of enabling survivors, law enforcement, and other agencies to take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of future violence or homicide.
Research has shown that domestic violence victims tend to perceive a lower risk of violence or underestimate their risk of lethal violence. By using research-based assessment tools, the victim can recognize escalating violence and take protective action. Victims who connect with domestic violence services (e.g., social services and community advocates) reduce their risk of reassault significantly. By identifying the most high-risk victims and connecting them to immediate support, agencies can enable victims to make decisions that promote their own future safety.3Jill T. Messing et al., “Police Departments’ Use of the Lethality Assessment Program: A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation,” March 2014, https://nij.gov/publications/Pages/publication-detail.aspx?ncjnumber=247456. A quasi-experimental study supported the LAP, showing that victims in the program engaged in more protective strategies and experienced significantly less frequency and severity of violence in the future compared to victims not using the program. 4Messing et al., “Police Departments’ Use of the Lethality Assessment Program.”
Bringing together professionals from multiple fields (e.g., law enforcement, social services, medical professionals, court personnel) creates a comprehensive approach to reducing violence and provides a more complete service to victims of domestic partner violence. The DA tool and LAP both promote multidisciplinary communication and mutual trust between the victim, service professionals, and law enforcement.
Domestic violence lethality assessments can and have been used by many professions who come in regular contact with victims. Training and certification on these assessments is beneficial to law enforcement, health care professionals, social service employees, and community advocates. The DA tools are freely available online; however, training and certification does require a fee.5Danger Assessment, “Training Options,” accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.dangerassessment.org/TrainingOptions.aspx Ideally, responding law enforcement officers will have a way to contact an on-call victim advocate who can facilitate immediate support for the victim. Considerations for recording and keeping data on how the tool is utilized should also be reviewed in order to track effectiveness and outcomes.
The LAP can be implemented through training provided by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. Local law enforcement requires proper training on how and when to utilize the Lethality Screen, as well as how to interpret the results, in order to implement the appropriate next-step protocols with local social service providers.
Strategy in Practice
If you are interested in adopting a risk-based assessment to prevent intimate partner related gun violence, you should consider the two following tools:
The Danger Assessment tool consists of two parts: a calendar and a list of 20 questions. The calendar is used to identify abusive incidents over the past year (including severity on a 1-to-5 scaling system). The series of questions for the victim to answer identifies present risk factors connected to intimate partner violence. Responses are yes/no, and answers are assessed using a weighted system. The tool administrator works with the victim to gather information and to encourage self-care and safety behaviors.6Danger Assessment, “What is the Danger Assessment?,” accessed May 20, 2019, https://www.dangerassessment.org/About.aspx. Research on the DA tool supports its ability to predict attempted femicide, recurring assault by the abuser, and recurring severe assault by the abuser.7Messing et al., “Police Departments’ Use of the Lethality Assessment Program.”
The Lethality Assessment Program, or Maryland Model, was developed by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. This model focuses on first identifying victims at a higher risk for homicide by an intimate partner, and then collaborating with service providers to ensure victims receive the assistance they need. The first step includes the use of a shortened version of the DA specifically for the use of first responders (mainly law enforcement). This 11-question risk assessment is known as the Lethality Screen. Often, the screen is administered by law enforcement asking the 11 questions of the identified victim. After the screen is administered, the LAP spells out specific protocols for the law enforcement officer to follow based on the results of the assessment. These protocols rely on collaboration between law enforcement and local domestic violence service providers. The officer will work quickly to encourage the victim to seek information and provide opportunities for the victim to connect with assistance. If the victims consent to assistance, the officer will call the domestic violence service provider immediately and connect them with the victim for safety planning. The provider in turn will provide the victim with information about domestic violence and available resources and services.. Protocols continue to evolve as more jurisdictions (beyond Maryland) and more professionals (e.g., clergy, case workers, and court personnel) adopt and utilize the LAP.8Lethality Assessment Program, “How LAP Works.” accessed May 21, 2019, https://lethalityassessmentprogram.org/about-lap/how-lap-works/
Since the LAP is commonly initiated during a 911 call, all first-responder officers must be trained in the model. Depending on the size of your jurisdiction and law enforcement agency, it can take time and resources to ensure adequate training is received and maintained. Social service employees would also require proper training for both initiating the screen (in working a case) or responding to law enforcement protocols following their assessment. Collaboration between LAP partners is crucial for its success and the safety of the victims identified. Partners must be invested and establish regular communication to maintain the program and make improvements as needed.
Agencies, Organizations, and Other Necessary Partners:
The DA tool and LAP are most likely to be utilized by professionals who encounter victims of domestic violence on a regular basis. These tend to be first responders (i.e., law enforcement) and social workers or victim advocates. However, other professionals, such as nurses and other hospital personnel, community service providers, clergy, court personnel, etc., may also utilize these assessments effectively and collaborate to serve the victim.
What else you need to know
The original DA tool was designed for male (offender) and female (victim) intimate partner violence. However, an adapted DA tool is available for abusive female same-sex relationships. Currently, a DA tool does not exist specifically for male victims of partner abuse.9Danger Assessment, “View the Instrument,” accessed May 21, 2019, https://www.dangerassessment.org/DATools.aspx.
There are several other risk assessment instruments (e.g., Domestic Violence Screening Instrument, Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment and Spousal Assault Risk Assessment). Many of these are designed to predict the offender’s likelihood to reassault rather than focusing on the victim’s risk of experiencing violence (particularly lethal violence). 10Battered Women’s Justice Project, “Risk Assessment,” accessed May 20, 2019, https://www.bwjp.org/our-work/topics/risk-assessment.html.
Newsroom & Resources
The Danger Assessment website provides information on the DA instrument (and its revisions), as well as how to receive training (various options available).
Lethality Assessment Program
The Lethality Assessment Program website provides an overview of the LAP, as well as training opportunities and technical assistance.
National Institute of Justice Evaluation
The National Institute of Justice funded an evaluation of lethality assessments use by police departments.
The Office of Violence Against Women Grants
The Office of Violence Against Women Grants and Programs page provides information on funding opportunities for program implementation and training opportunities that address domestic violence reduction and prevention.
“In Brooklyn, a Move to Thwart Deadly Domestic Abuse”
A New York Times article detailing how Brooklyn prosecutors use the Danger Assessment tool to identify most at-risk victims.
“Attorney General Brad Schimel Announces Expansion of the Lethality Assessment Program”
A Fox News article detailing Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s plan to expand the state’s use of the Lethality Assessment Program.