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Can Justice System Interventions Prevent Intimate Partner Homicide? An Analysis of Rates of Help-Seeking Prior to Fatality

Koppa, V., Messing, J.T. (2021).

Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(17 - 18), 8792–8816.


This study uses data from a large urban police jurisdiction to examine rates of criminal and civil justice help-seeking by intimate partner homicide victims prior to fatality.


Expanded Abstract:
In the United States, 32.9% of women are physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetimes and one-quarter of women report severe intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetimes (Black et al., 2010). IPV leads to physical injury, ongoing physical and mental health problems, and homicide (Campbell, 2002; Devries et al., 2013; Kwako et al., 2011; Ruiz-Pérez, Plazaola-Castaño, Del, & Río-Lozano, 2007; Tadegge, 2008).
When women are killed, they are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than anyone else, and a substantial number of women who are killed by an intimate were abused by that intimate partner before their death. The proportion of men killed by an intimate partner is much lower and prior research indicates that male intimate partner homicide victims are likely to abuse their partners prior to their deaths. Limited research has examined the criminal and civil justice help seeking of victims of intimate partner homicide (IPH). 
This study uses data from a single large urban police jurisdiction in the United States to examine rates of criminal and civil justice help seeking by IPH victims prior to their fatality. Specifically, the study examined help-seeking data in the 1 to 3 years prior to the homicide.
Over 4 years (2010-2014), 197 women and 776 men were killed. The proportion of women killed by an intimate or ex-intimate partner was 39.6%, and the proportion of men killed by an intimate or ex-intimate partner was 3.9%. Police had been in contact with the victim of intimate partner femicides for a domestic violence complaint in 91% of cases in the of 6.2 visits per contacted victim.
3 years prior to the femicide (44.9% resulted in arrest), with an average of 6.2 visits per contacted victim. Among male intimate partner homicide victims, 73.3% had been the complainant on a domestic violence case (38.1% resulted in arrest).   Few (<10%) victims sought protection orders before the homicide. Over the 3 years prior to their deaths, 36.7% of male homicide victims and 9.0% of femicide victims had been the suspect in a domestic violence case. 
Results from this study showed high rates of engagement of police officers with intimate partner homicide victims before their deaths and highlight the opportunity for homicide prevention through integration of risk assessment (to identify high-risk cases) and enhanced criminal justice and social service interventions in high-risk cases.  The study also showed that across IPH, there were racial disparities in arrest rates between Black and White homicide victims. In the case of both male and female homicide victims, Black victims were more than twice as likely as White victims to be the suspect on a DV complaint.
Results also revealed how these stressors and advocacy overall influenced advocates. Among all femicide victims, 56.3% had unique aspects of stressors to survivors arose in the way advocates experienced the stressors. In addition, survivors exclusively described being reminded of past trauma within advocacy work. Findings have implications for supporting advocate well-being by better understanding the stressors that may lead to negative outcomes and informing individual coping, training, and overall organizational support of advocates. Such measures may ensure retention of volunteers and maintain quality advocacy services.
(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above).