There’s a reason the former Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, is a domestic violence campaigner. Her son Luke was killed in front of horrified onlookers after a cricket training session by his father, the ex-partner of Rosie. He’d had a history of deteriorating mental health and at the time of Luke’s death, was the subject of an Apprehended Violence Order.
In Australia, two women are killed per week on average by a current or former romantic partner. One in six Australian women will experience physical violence from a current or former romantic partner. Over 60% of violence experienced by women occurs within their family home. For women who experience violence from an ex-partner, over 70% experience more than one incident of violence. An example is the tragedy of Tara Brown, a young mother who died when her former partner rammed her car, forced her off the road and beat her while she was trapped in the car.
A new study out of Northwestern University has highlighted an interesting fact: that people who kill their romantic partners are psychologically different to other murderers. The study examined the neuropsychology and psychiatric history of offenders along with the demographics of their crime. Researchers personally interviewed 153 murderers who were charged or convicted with first degree murder over the course of 1500 hours.
Domestic violence offenders who commit spontaneous domestic homicide — meaning an emotionally driven crime that is not premeditated — were found to have more severe mental illness, were less intelligent, had more cognitive impairment and fewer previous felony convictions than those who commit other homicides.
“The findings provide important information that may help prevent future domestic homicides, because they help identify individuals at risk of committing domestic murders,” said lead author Robert Hanlon, director of the forensic psychology research lab at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a press release. “The killers in this group are very similar to each other and different from men who commit nondomestic murders, which are often premeditated.”
Hanlon went on to say: “These crimes are often preventable if family members are more informed about the potential danger from having someone who is severely mentally ill in the home and who may have shown violent tendencies in the past. Family members may lull themselves into a state of false beliefs thinking, ‘My son would never hurt me’ or ‘My husband may have a short fuse, but he would never seriously harm me.'”
The results from the study can help legislators, police and social workers understand who is most at risk of being murdered by a partner or ex-partner before it’s too late. It may help victims who believe their lives are not at risk to understand that there is potential for violent episodes to escalate. It can also enable groups who work with victims, such as domestic violence shelters, to understand how better to protect the women who seek their services.
As for the domestic violence offenders, it may help authorities provide services and support to those groups likely to offend, prior to a violent incident. Perhaps it also time for police to take complaints by women seriously, to provide serious support to those suffering from a mental illness, and to provide safe havens for those who have been victims of domestic violence.
Preventing Domestic Violence Offenders From Impacting Your Life
Domestic violence is a situation that is incredibly hard to escape. There may be no way of preventing domestic violence or realising the psychological difference in potential domestic violence offenders when you are a victim. However there are some ways in which you can help in preventing domestic violence.
- Pay attention – domestic violence happens behind closed doors, but there are signs of which you can be aware. Keep an eye on how your friend or family member is being treated by her partner. Are they extremely jealous? Are they controlling? Do they try to control where your friend or family member goes, who she spends time with, what she does or what she wears? Does your friend have recurring and unexplainable bruises? It’s okay to gently ask the questions – and listen to the answers.
- Report – don’t simply ignore the situation. If you see something or hear something, call the police.
- Be willing to help – offer to be of assistance in any way possible. Perhaps you can be someone who comforts them in times of need and is willing to listen to their problems. You may even be willing to be a temporary shelter. But don’t push them into action they’re not comfortable with. It often takes a long time for a victim of domestic violence to leave, and it is often the act of leaving that puts them in most danger.
- Be in the know – Make sure you have contact information of people that can help domestic violence victims in case they are needed.
- Keep a record – If they do decide to go to the police, they may need written evidence. Therefore, write down everything you talk about, see, hear or experience so that you provide it to the police.