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How Lethality Assessments Can Help Prevent Domestic Violence

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Intimate partner violence and domestic violence killings are a serious public health problem, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Police can help prevent such killings, experts say, by using a questionnaire more states are seeking to make mandatory or more widely used during domestic violence calls, Stateline reports.

After the well-publicized case of Gabby Petito, killed by her fiancé in 2021, Utah enacted a law this year that requires police to conduct so-called lethality assessments at domestic violence scenes.

The model lethality assessment practice, developed by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, starts with an 11-question survey to determine whether a person’s life is at risk.

The officer or first responder informs the victim of their screening score on the assessment and then calls a local domestic violence service hotline, connecting the hotline with the victim, if the victim is willing, to develop an immediate safety plan that might include emergency shelter.

Some Utah police already had been using lethality assessments on domestic violence calls. Since the new

law went into effect, Utah has seen a sharp increase in shelter demand and referrals.

More than a third of the 4,970 female murder victims in 2021 were killed by an intimate partner,. Women are five times more likely to be murdered by an intimate partner than men are. Black and Indigenous women and rural women, according to some studies, are killed at disproportionately high rates.

More than 84% of Indian and Alaska Native women experience violence in their lifetime.

The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence first developed the model Lethality Assessment Program in 2003, with financial support from the federal Office on Violence Against Women. It is based on the Danger Assessment, a screening tool developed by Johns Hopkins School of Nursing professor Jacquelyn Campbell in 1985.

The network collaborates with state and local agencies to train police and domestic violence service agencies, such as shelters, to conduct the assessments.

Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin have taken statewide approaches to implement the assessments, meaning state coordinators may require or encourage law enforcement jurisdictions to use the assessment and support them with training and resources.


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