ASU researchers examine risk factors in Arizona intimate-partner homicides

New findings will be shared in an October social media campaign for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

woman by window

Domestic violence was already considered an epidemic long before COVID-19 impacted the world, but the pandemic has caused an uptick in abuse cases, creating a greater need for awareness, education and intervention.

October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a time when survivors and advocates highlight and share information that can help those dealing with the silent pain and shame to ultimately save lives. People in all communities — regardless of age, race, gender, economic status, religion or nationality — are affected by domestic violence. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the United States, more than 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually. 

Jill Messing with the Arizona State University School of Social Work and Jesenia Pizarro-Terrill with the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice are researching factors for intimate-partner homicide, known as IPH, in Arizona. The Arizona Intimate Partner Homicide Study examines the demographics of victims and data from law enforcement officers and medical examiners. 

In collaboration with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence and the Office of Gender-Based Violence, Messing and Pizarro are highlighting their research for a social media campaign (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). The monthlong campaign will reveal preliminary findings from their study to raise awareness of the high rates of IPH, evaluate risk factors leading to homicides and spotlight community resources throughout the state. 

ASU Now spoke with Messing and Pizarro about what their research reveals about the state of domestic violence in Arizona. 

Editor's note: Each response was provided jointly by Messing and Pizarro.

Question: What is considered domestic violence and intimate-partner homicide

Answer: Domestic violence, also known as intimate-partner violence, refers to violence and other forms of abuse perpetrated against a current or former spouse or intimate partner. Women are more likely to be abused, suffer injuries and mental health consequences due to violence, and be killed by an intimate partner. When women are killed by an intimate partner, they were usually abused by that partner before the homicide.

Intimate-partner homicides are lethal events where an individual is killed by a partner or ex-partner, due to an event in their relationship.  

Q: What are some of the risk factors for intimate-partner homicide?

A: Risk factors for intimate-partner homicide include nonfatal strangulation, threats to kill, sexual violence, gun ownership, threats with a weapon and separation, among others. 

Q: Your study shows that Arizona's rate of women killed by men is consistently higher than the national average. Why might that be?

A: One reason may be high rates of gun ownership in Arizona. More than half of intimate-partner homicides are committed by a firearm and, over the past 10 years, firearm-perpetrated intimate-partner homicide has increased 26%. When a perpetrator kills his partner and then himself (called homicide-suicide), the perpetrator nearly always uses a gun. 

Q: What else does your research on intimate-partner homicide in Arizona reveal?

A: We are working on being able to understand exactly how many homicides are intimate-partner-violence-related in Arizona. We are also going to talk to family members or loved ones of the homicide victim to understand the risk factors that were present in the relationship. The last study to do this collected data in the late 1990s — so, we want to update those risk factors. For example, stalking is a risk factor for intimate-partner homicide and, today, there are many ways that perpetrators can use electronic monitoring to stalk their partner that were not available 20 years ago, so we need to learn more about that.

Q: What will your findings help accomplish?

A: The findings from our study will accomplish three goals.  

First, they will provide an accurate count of intimate-partner homicides in the state. 

Second, this research will allow us to better understand the risk factors for homicide that are specific to Arizona. Understanding risk factors for intimate-partner homicide will allow criminal justice and social service agencies to develop and refine risk-informed approaches to reduce and prevent intimate-partner homicide in Arizona. 

Finally, our findings will shed some light on some novel risk factors for intimate-partner homicides. For example, we plan to look at opioid use among victims and perpetrators of intimate-partner homicide; firearm use/ownership/possession; protective orders, including emergency, long-term, criminal, and civil; military and combat history; children killed; and multiple strangulation. 

Q: The pandemic has made life for domestic violence victims even more dangerous. What kind of trends do you expect to see for 2020, once all of the data has been collected and reviewed?

A: One of the things we would expect to see is an increase in severity of violence in the home. More specifically, we expect to see an escalation in violence, particularly in already abusive relationships, and an increase in cases of intimate-partner homicides. Related increases in other types of domestic violence, like child abuse, might also occur. 

Q: What are some of the resources for domestic violence victims in the state?

A: myPlan is an intervention that victims of domestic violence can use from the privacy of their own computer or phone. It takes the survivor through a risk assessment where they can assess their risk for homicide, a priority-setting activity where they can consider their priorities within their relationship, and provides a personalized safety plan with links to national resources. 

The Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence is a statewide organization that has information and resources. 

Top photo from iStock/Getty images

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