Lethality Assessment

Assessing Whether Batterers Will Kill

Some batterers are life-endangering.  While it is true that all batterers are dangerous, some are more likely to kill than others and some are more likely to kill at specific times.  The following indicators can be utilized in making an assessment of a batterer with potential to kill:

Threats of Homicide or Suicide


Batterers who have threatened to kill themselves, their partners, their children or the victim’s relatives must be considered extremely dangerous.

Fantasies of Homicide or Suicide

The more batterers have developed a fantasy about who, how, when, and/or where to kill, the more dangerous they may be.



When batterers possess weapons and have used them or have threatened to use them in the past in assaults on the victim, the children or themselves, the batterers’ access to those weapons increases the potential to kill.



When batterers have been acutely depressed and see little hope for moving beyond the depression, they may be candidates for homicide and suicide.

“Ownership” of the victim

Batterers who say “death before divorce” or “if I can’t have you no one will” may be stating their belief that the victim has no right to a life separate from them.  Batterers that believe they are entitled to the victim no matter what, are more likely to be life-endangering.

Access to Victim/Family Members

If batterers cannot locate their victims, they will not have access to commit a fatal or serious incident. Once victims are located the danger increases.

Separation Violence

When batterers believe that they are about to lose their victims or they cannot envision life without their victims, or if the separation causes the batterers great despair and/or rage, they may choose to kill.

Drug or Alcohol Consumption

Consumption of drugs or alcohol when in a state of despair or fury can elevate the risk of lethality.

Repeated Calls to Law Enforcement

Partner or spousal homicide almost always occurs in a context of historical violence.  Prior calls to the police indicate an elevated risk of life-threatening conduct.  The more calls, the greater the potential danger.

Escalation of Batterer

When batterers begin to act without regard to the legal or social consequences that previous constrained their violence, chances of a lethal assault increase significantly.

Pet Abuse

Batterers who assault and mutilate pets are more likely to kill or maim family members.

Hostage Taking

A hostage taker is at high risk of inflicting homicide.  Between 75% and 90% of all hostage takings in the United States are related to domestic violence situations. The presence of the above indicators may mean that the batterer is contemplating homicide.  The victim should immediately take action to protect the victim and the family and should contact the local domestic violence center to further assess lethality and develop a safety plan.


The primary source for this information came from Barbara J. Hart, Esq., “Assessing Whether Batterers Will Kill,” Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1990.