Assessing Your Risk

For Survivors

Thinking Through Your Risks

Being in a relationship with an abusive individual can involve many different risks to your well being. Survivors of domestic violence often benefit from calling their local domestic violence program’s hotline to have a conversation about their individual, unique situations. To find the number to your local domestic violence program, please click here.

Your situation is unique, and no one knows better what risks you face than you. You are the expert about your life, your circumstances and environment, your partner, and the ways in which he uses tactics of power and control, your children, and what your partner has done in the past if you have attempted to make changes in your relationship. You have a unique analysis of what you see as your primary risks and most pressing needs, and a unique view of what is most dangerous in your particular situation. You also might feel overwhelmed and unsure about what to do, due to the ways in which your partner might have emotionally abused you and caused you to question your ability to make good decisions and accurately view your reality. Regardless of the situation, you might find it helpful to contact a local domestic violence program and discuss your circumstances with an advocate. Advocates can assist you with their knowledge of community resources and might be able to help you think of some options that haven’t occurred to you yet. Often women report that it is a relief to be able to talk to someone they don’t know about their situation who can help them come up with some new ideas and approaches

Two Types of Risk

In your relationship, you probably face two main types of risk: risks that come from your partner and risks that occur because of your life situation. We call the first type of risk (the ones you face you’re your partner) batterer generated risks. These include ways in which your partner poses danger to you through his actions. Such risks include:

  • Physical injury (such as hitting, kicking, pushing you, or causing your body harm)
  • Psychological harm (such as how you feel about yourself when your partner verbally abuses you, the impact of being isolated from your friends or family has on you)
  • Risks to your child or children (of emotional or physical harm, or the way in which your partner might cause your child to
  • Financial risks (such as ruining your credit, forcing you to quit a job, or not giving you access to money),
  • Risks to family and friends (as batterers often threaten family or friends if you want to leave a relationship or make other changes),
  • The risks that come with losing your relationship (such as loss of friends, loss of status in your community),
  • Possible risks involving arrest (if you might have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse or have been forced to participate in illegal activities with him) and legal status (if you are an immigrant and your residency status depends on your partner).

Thinking through the ways in which your partner’s actions place you at risk helps you decide what are the most pressing needs and can assist you in identifying strategies to reduce some of the risks.

In addition, you might face other risks that are related to your unique situation, called life generated risks. These include all of the risks that you face that are not under the control of your partner, but your partner might manipulate these realities to further his power and control. Such risks include:

  • Your personal financial situation (if you have recently lost a job or have little job experience or education)
  • The location of your home (often where your home is located depends on your need for transportation and the access you have to certain services or resources)
  • Any physical or mental health conditions you might currently be dealing with,
  • The failures of institutions such as police, hospitals, courts, or other organizations to effectively and supportively respond to you, and
  • Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other bias.

These risks, while often not as obvious to service providers as the way in which your partner is harming you, will play a large role in whatever decision you make. In addition, your partner can use some of these risks to further his control. For example, if you have a chronic health condition (such as diabetes) that your partner didn’t cause, he can further his control by threatening to take you off his health insurance policy so you don’t have access to needed medication. If you have called the police before in the past to protect yourself and the police didn’t believe what you said and blamed you, your partner might tell you that if you tell anyone about the abuse, no one will believe you. Experience showed you this was true with your experience with the police.

In addition, you are probably also thinking of the risks that your children face when making decisions about your relationship. You think about how any decisions you make will impact your children, both in positive and negative ways. While analyzing your risks, make sure to include thinking through the possibility of serious risks to your children. How is the violence in your home impacting your children? What is their relationship with your partner like? Are they in danger of physical and sexual abuse? Will your partner try to take your children away or call child protective services if you leave? Again, talking through these realities with a friend, family member, or advocate at a local domestic violence program might be helpful.

Regardless of what you identify to be your risks in your relationship, it is important to consider the risk for severe or life-threatening violence. Only a small number of domestic violence survivors are killed by their partners, but it happens often enough that you need to think seriously about this potential risk. We know that many perpetrators often escalate their violence when a survivor attempts to leave a relationship. You know your partner best, and you know how your partner has responded in the past to changes your relationship, so you are often in the best position to analyze this. At this point, we have no way of determining which abusive individuals choose to use severe violence or commit homicides, but we do know that such things as access to weapons, prior threats to kill if you leave, and separation are markers for the increased risk. Often the best predictor of life-threatening violence is the woman’s perception of danger, so it is important to listen to your instincts. In addition, think through the following things while determining your risk:

  • Your partner’s history, including previous assaults on you, suicide attempts or threats, homicide attempts or threats, access to weapons and/or use of weapons, batterer experience with childhood victimization, etc.
  • Your partner’s behavior, including drug and/or alcohol use, monitoring and stalking, escalating frequency or severity of assaults, threats with a weapon, abuse of children, abuse during pregnancy, etc.
  • Your partner’s personality– if he is paranoid or jealous, insecure or dependent, entitled or possessive of partner, has a lack of empathy, is cold or cruel
  • What is occurring right now, such as separation, your partner suffering a recent loss (losing a job or loss of a loved one), an illness, availability of weapons and if your partner has access to them
  • Additional elements that indicate extreme danger, such as a sudden change in your partner’s behavior, violence to pets, violations of protective orders, your partner increasing your isolation, new threats to do extreme harm, and/or obsession with violent pornography

Again, there is no way to know for sure who poses the most risk or not. It is important to note that even if you have not seen any of the indicators listed above, that does not mean your partner is not dangerous. But if you feel like you are in increased danger, either because of reviewing the above factors or due to your instincts, a good place to start is to contact your local domestic violence program and ask to speak to an advocate about creating a safety plan to address the risks you have identified. A safety plan is a plan designed to reduce the risks you and your children face. Though you might never have heard of the term “safety planning,” it is something you have been doing actively as you have tried to keep yourself and your partner safe. Safety plans involve developing strategies to increase your safety and are customized to your individual experience. An advocate can help you come up with strategies to respond to a wide range of situations, including strategies to decrease your risks and increase your safety when staying in the relationship, when leaving the relationship, and in instances where you feel you are in danger.

No one deserves to be abused and live in fear. Remember that you are not alone and there are people available to assist you with thinking through your options. You are in an extremely difficult situation that you did not cause, but just by looking at this page, you are showing your strength as you seek ways to increase your safety and protect yourself and your children.

Information for this page was taken from Safety Planning with Battered Women: Complex Lives, Difficult Choices written by Jill Davies, Eleanor Lyon, and Diane Monti-Catania (1998). For more safety planning resources, see Advocacy Beyond Leaving, by Jill Davies (2010).

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