Written by Writer’s Corps member Frederick Heather
We know that leaving an abusive partner is incredibly difficult and dangerous. And there are tons of reasons (like hoping things will get better or go back to how they were in the beginning) why people stay in relationships that are toxic, but the truth is abuse only gets more dangerous over time. Knowing the signs to look out for could be lifesaving.
No one ever, ever enters a relationship thinking their partner could physically harm or even kill them. But abuse tends to escalate over time and can become potentially dangerous.
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Unfortunately, 1 in 13 male murder victims are killed by their partners, and 50% of women murdered in the United States are killed by current or former partners. As shocking as those numbers are, they’re not the only statistics you need to consider if your partner has behaved abusively, particularly if you belong to a group with heightened risk.
The following are the seven most deadly indications that you could be killed by a partner. But please remember that even if your partner never demonstrates these behaviors, an abusive relationship may escalate into something potentially dangerous.
7 Lethality Indicators to look out for in a relationship
If your partner has ever used any part of their body or any object to put pressure on your neck, whether they cut off your oxygen or blood supply or only hinted that they could, your risk of being murdered by them is 10 times higher.
The presence of a gun in the same home where an abusive heterosexual relationship is taking place increases the homicide risk for women by 500 percent; this risk doesn’t only apply to women though – anyone can be in serious danger if their abusive partner has a gun.
Guns and strangulation may seem like obvious indications a partner could be dangerous, but people whose partners are both physically and sexually abusive are also more likely to be injured or killed than people whose abusers apply one form of abuse.
If your abusive partner has ever attempted suicide in the past, it’s vital to take any new suicide threats seriously because 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; other threats that indicate heightened lethality are threats to children, and extreme, possessive statements like “If I can’t have you, no one can.”
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While stalking may feel like an obvious indication of a serious threat, many components of your living situation could be associated with surprising risks. An abuser who is unemployed, if you’ve never lived with your abusive partner, or if you have left your abusive partner after living together are all indications of increased risk.
While being drunk or high is never an excuse for abusive behavior, an abusive person who struggles with alcoholism and/or uses illegal drugs can be especially volatile and dangerous.
People are often surprised to hear that pregnancy is one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship; folks are also often surprised that having a child with someone other than your abusive partner is correlated with an increased risk of murder.
Lethality Risk Assessments
Because domestic violence murders are disproportionately femicides, the original danger assessment was created for women who are being abused by their male partners to assess the risk to their life.
Other danger assessments are available for download for specific populations, including women whose abusive partners are women, and for immigrant women, but may measure other risks besides lethality.
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The most important question you need to ask yourself if your partner is abusive is if you believe they can kill you. If you’re asking yourself that question, no matter what your answer is, please consider talking to a domestic violence advocate and creating a safety plan. Your life is precious.
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If you or someone you know is experiencing an unhealthy or abusive relationship, check out our real-time resources, or chat with or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you’re afraid for your life, please call 911.