Domestic Violence & The Courtroom
Understanding The Problem... Knowing The Victim

Recognizing the Violence

A victim of abuse often has confused thoughts and feelings. As surprising as it may seem, many are not really sure if they are being abused. They know that something is very wrong, but just can't seem to identify it properly. Denial, rationalization and minimization are methods of coping day-to-day with the reality and severity of the abuse. The first step toward ending a violent relationship is to identify it as such. For many victims, identifying oneself as a victim of battering is an extremely difficult step. To assist judges in identifying victims, the following Physical Abuse Indicators and Lethality Assessment can be applied:

Physical Abuse Indicators

The following is a list of Physical Abuse Indicators in the order of less to more severe on a lethality or injury scale. Most ongoing abuse escalates in more or less this order, so that the presence of an action identified below is indicative of probable past abuse, even if there have been no serious physical injuries or prior police or court involvement. In addition, even if the abuse has not reached a certain danger level, it does not mean that the situation is not dangerous or physically abusive. A person can be severely injured as a result of "minor abuse".

It is crucial when using the Physical Abuse Indicators, that the judge include the victim's opinion about the level of danger in order to help assess a situation.

  • Verbal abuse, humiliation, isolation from family and friends.
  • Throwing things, punching walls, hurting pets, not letting the victim leave, demanding sex.
  • Pushing, shoving, grabbing, shaking, throwing things at the victim.
  • Slapping with open or back of hand, twisting arms, legs and fingers.
  • Kicking, biting, hair pulling, banging or shaking head.
  • Choking, attempted strangulation, smothering
  • Beating up (pinned to the wall/floor,repeated kicks and punches).
  • Threatening with weapons, knives, guns, autos, poisons.
  • Assult with a wepon.
  • Forced sex.
Lethality Assessment

Research has found that there are certain factors that are important in assessing the lethality potential in a particular situation. However, predicting lethality is difficult, as all serious battering relationships can be unpredictable and have the potential to flare up quickly. Nonetheless, the reported presence of some of these factors can be used to assist you in making judgments about the level of protection necessary at any particular moment:

  • Increased violent episodes.
  • Severity of violence is escalating.
  • Intoxication and drug abuse
  • Threats to harm the children.
  • Forced or threatened sex acts.
  • Suicide threats or attempts.
  • Access to weapons.
  • Psychiatric impairment of the victim or abuser.
  • Proximity of victim and abuser.
  • Abuser's need or control of contact around children.
  • Current life stress.
  • Previous criminal history.
  • Defiance of Court Orders and judicial system.
  • Presence of new relationship.


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