Relationship Dynamics and Tactics of Abuse
Often, systems only see a glimpse of the lives of victims and perpetrators when a violent episode takes place. A limited view of individual, isolated abuse incidents obscures the context in which violence and threats are happening and many risk factors in the relationship.
CHART: RELATIONSHIP STATUS AT TIME OF INCIDENT
In 62% of murder-suicide cases, the victim and perpetrator were no longer in a relationship together, compared to 33% in reviewed homicide cases. Leaving an abusive relationship is a complicated and often dangerous process.
Fatality reviews have uncovered myriad forms “leaving” a relationship takes and how the process looks different in every relationship. In murder-suicide cases reviewed by the Project, most victims were in various stages of leaving or had left the relationship; in every case, there was an indication relationship dynamics were changing in some way.
CHART: DIVORCE IN PROCESS AT TIME OF INCIDENT
In 68% of murder-suicide cases, the couple was married or in a civil union at the time of the fatal incident. For numerous victims, longstanding relationships can be more complicated to end, particularly because they may require a legal dissolution of the relationship. In fact, 34% of reviewed murder-suicide cases were in process of divorce — substantially higher than the 15% divorcing in reviewed homicide cases.
The average time in those cases between filing for divorce and the murder-suicide incident was only eight weeks. This finding supports the need for increased safety planning and resources for victims of domestic violence filing for divorce.
Accusations of Affairs
Perpetrators accused victims of having affairs in 48% of reviewed murder-suicides cases. Notably, any evidence the victim was actually engaged in an affair was rarely uncovered by Fatality Review Teams. An abuser’s accusations may be connected to a victim’s attempts to leave the relationship or the perpetrator’s loss of control over the victim may have prompted his belief she was cheating.
In 18% of reviewed murder-suicide cases, victims were known to be in new relationships at the time of the lethal incident. Accusations of affairs were often reported even after the victim had long been out of the relationship and had moved on to a relationship with a new partner. It appears the new relationship, coupled with the perpetrator’s loss of control, was part of the perpetrator’s motivation for some of the murder-suicide cases.
In 48% of reviewed murder-suicide cases, the couple shared minor children. While some victims experience their abuser using the children as a tool to manipulate or control them, the most common issue shared children present for victims is the need or pressure to allow children to have contact and ongoing interaction with the abuser.
We explore how this contact was often mandated by the Court in reviewed murder-suicide cases in the Civil Interventions section on page 27 of the 2016 Fatality Review Annual Report.
Perpetrators of murder-suicides stalked their victim in 50% of reviewed cases before killing them, as opposed to 38% of homicide cases. In many instances, stalking escalated after the victim separated from the abuser. Victims’ responses to stalking incidents varied significantly. One victim, who was going through a divorce, told her attorney her soon-to-be ex-husband was stalking her, but she did not want to report it because she feared he would contest the divorce. In Carla’s story on page 6 of the 2016 Fatality Review Annual Report, she notified onsite security officers at her office that her abuser was stalking her. She had relocated and the perpetrator had few other options for points of contact with her.
The perpetrator had a history of drug and alcohol abuse in 48% of reviewed murder-suicide cases. This percentage does not differ drastically from homicide cases, where 54% of perpetrators abused drugs and alcohol. However, when substance abuse is combined with suicidal threats and ideations, plus access to a firearm, risk of murder-suicide goes up exponentially.
CHART: PERPETRATOR’S HISTORY OF KNOWN ABUSIVE BEHAVIORS
Mental Health Providers, Medical Providers, Substance Abuse Providers, Family Violence Intervention Programs, Child Support Services, Domestic Violence Programs
- Request and attend training on recognizing signs and symptoms of both domestic violence and suicidal ideation as well as how to respond when indicators are present.
- Integrate stalking awareness materials into safety planning resources for victims.
- Discuss with victims how mental health and substance abuse are cooccurring issues with domestic violence. Addressing this co-occurrence often requires partnering treatment interventions with Family Violence Intervention Programs.
- Integrate awareness of risk factors — such as accusations of infidelity, separation, stalking, shared parenting, and mental health or substance use of the abuser — into advocacy, risk assessments and safety planning with survivors.
- Ensure all facilitators are trained on and aware of connections between domestic violence and mental health issues or suicidal ideations and how this can increase risk for victims.
- Discuss with participants how mental health and substance abuse are cooccurring issues which often require partnering treatment interventions with Family Violence Intervention Program.
- Arrange to receive ongoing training on domestic violence, including signs of increased risk, through your local domestic violence program.
- Evaluate current policies and protocols to identify where domestic violence information can be incorporated.
- Incorporate screenings for both domestic violence and suicide indicators into patient assessments and patient education materials.
- Provide referral information for victims to a local domestic violence program and the Georgia Domestic Violence Hotline, which can be reached at 1-800-33-HAVEN.
- Provide referral information for abusers to Family Violence Intervention Programs. A list of local programs can be accessed at www.gcfv.georgia.gov