How much does intimate partner violence contribute to violent deaths?

Author: Ms. Julie Kafka, MPH; Doctoral student; Department of Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC Chapel Hill

Often, when we think intimate partner violence (IPV) fatalities, we think of a perpetrator murdering their significant other- and rightfully so. When women are killed in the United States, more than half of the time they are killed by a current or former intimate partner.

However, we may be missing a large part of the picture. A perpetrator may ALSO harm themselves, a survivor’s family or friends, or a survivor’s new dating partner. By ignoring these other deaths, we underestimate the role that IPV plays in violent fatalities. It’s important to accurately account for deaths related to IPV to better design programs and policies that can save lives.

This study used data from the North Carolina Violent Death Reporting System (NC-VDRS) 2010-2017 to document how IPV contributes to different subtypes of violent deaths. NC-VDRS is funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and records information on all homicides, suicides, and legal intervention deaths that occur in the state. The NC-VDRS uses reports from law enforcement, toxicology, medical examiners, and death certificates to record the circumstances of all violent deaths.

We linked known IPV-related homicides to other deaths in the system that involved the same people and occurred within 24-hours of each other (e.g. suspect strangled the victim, the suspect then shot themselves). This allowed us to identify homicide-suicides or multiple homicides. We also read and coded suicide narratives to determine whether IPV preceded the death.

We found that IPV contributes to 10.3% of all intentional violent deaths, much higher than previously estimated. This represents a rate of 1.97 per 100,000 persons, which is close to the rate of HIV mortality in the state (2.1 per 1000,00 persons). Of the IPV deaths, 39.3% were victims of intimate partner homicide, 17.4% were family members, friends, or new partners; 11.4% were individuals who committed a homicide and then died by suicide; 29.8% were individuals who died by suicide without committing a homicide; and 2.0% were individuals killed by active duty law enforcement during an IPV incident.

If researchers only count intimate partner homicides, they may be missing over 60% of IPV-related violent deaths.

While most intimate partner homicide victims in our sample were women, many men were also killed or died by suicide in the context of IPV. We found that children may as well be at-risk for homicide when IPV is occurring in the home. Finally, firearms were the weapon most commonly used in IPV-related deaths. This highlights that we MUST do four things moving forward:

  1. Prevent IPV early on.
  2. Engage boys and men to promote healthy relationships.
  3. Provide safe housing options (e.g. shelters) for survivors and their children.
  4. Restrict access to firearms for IPV perpetrators in order to prevent not only homicide, but suicide and even mass shootings.

As violent death surveillance systems continue to expand, we encourage consideration of the large role that IPV plays in all violent deaths. Given the extent of life loss suggested by this study’s findings, it is clear IPV prevention merits greater attention, resources, monitoring, and action.


For more, the original publication can be found here.

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