Lethal and Extremely Dangerous Behavior
last updated February 1, 2006

Violent relationships often become more violent over time. While it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty when relationships will escalate to lethal violence, researchers have identified some common factors. Lack of the following circumstances does not necessarily indicate that violence will not become lethal. Battered women and advocates should always use extreme care in planning for safety and women should rely on their own instincts in determining appropriate responses to violent situations.

The advocate can help the battered woman assess the risk the batterer poses to her and develop a practical plan to keep safe. While safety planning can help a woman, safety planning is no guarantee that she will not be injured because women cannot insure their own safety on all occasions.

Several factors have been identified to predict when batterers may use lethal violence. These include excessive jealousy or depression on the part of the batterer, stalking of the victim, threats of homicide or suicide in the past, drug or alcohol abuse. A risk of lethal violence has also been associated with the batterer's possession of or access to weapons, the use of weapons or threats of such use in prior incidents, and escalation of the violence in frequency or severity. Legal professionals have identified the abuser's prior "choking" or "strangling" of the victim as an indicator of extreme danger.

Research indicates that the most dangerous time for a battered woman is after she ends the relationship. According to the Network Women's Program: "In Hungary, women who are most at risk are those who have declared their intention to file for divorce, and the highest percentage (57 percent) of abused women was among divorced women." From Network Women's Program, Bending the Bow: Targeting Women's Human Rights and Opportunities, Open Society Institute 22 (2002). In the United States, research indicates that women who leave their batterers are at a 75% greater risk of being killed by their batterers than those who stay. From Julian Center, Women in the US; Casa de Esperanza, Myths and Facts. It is very important for a battered woman to make her own decision to leave a relationship because she is in the best position to assess the potential danger.