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How The Lethality Assessment Program Helps To Prevent Domestic Homicide

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The Lethality Assessment Program is designed to help women facing domestic abuse learn their level of danger and foster relationships between law enforcement and domestic violence service providers.

Every year more than 3 million women in the U.S. are abused by their intimate partners and more than 1,200 are killed by their abusers.

Research has found almost one-third of domestic homicide victims contacted the police in the year prior to their deaths, highlighting missed opportunities to identify victims in danger. The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) helps women at risk learn their level of danger and trains domestic violence advocates and law enforcement to assess these dangers.

LAP is an intervention tool that gathers evidence-based information from domestic abuse victims to create a referable protocol for first responders. The program is based on the research of Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell out of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence from about 25 years ago. 

In Wisconsin, 55 law enforcement agencies and 18 domestic violence programs have or are currently participating in LAP. 

"The biggest piece is to connect survivors to services earlier. Because we know that when survivors are connected to services, their risk of homicide decreases by about 60%," says Jessica Trauth of The Women’s Center in Waukesha.

LAP is also designed to increase the working relationships between community systems like law enforcement, domestic violence service providers, and the local district attorney to prosecute domestic violence crimes. The Women's Center in Waukesha and the Delafield Police Department both participate in LAP and have used it to create a better working relationship.

"What has changed with this, is at every single domestic incident we get The Women’s Center on the phone while we are on scene with the victims. That’s been huge," says Lt. Landon Nyren. "This was a real eye-opener, just how influential that contact can be and getting them to those services."

In 2019, Waukesha County completed 121 lethality assessments and found that 71 of those cases were considered to be highly lethal. So far in 2020, 231 assessments have been completed, with 147 found to be highly lethal, according to Trauth. 

"We often get asked the question, 'Well, why don't they just leave?' And one of the things that we know to be true is that leaving the relationship in the time after the relationship has ended is often the most violent and individuals are at the highest risk for being murdered by their partners," says Trauth. 

But 2020 has also seen an increase in the number of women who engaged with The Women's Center services after their LAP assessment. In 2019, only 29% of women went on to get service. In 2020, 56% have received services provided by The Women's Center. 

Before implementing the LAP, Nyren says that each response to domestic violence often came down to an individual officer's experiences, and misconceptions about these issues were pervasive.

"It's all anecdotal until you get something scientific like this," he notes. "Having these tools really streamlined our work ... We're here to save lives and that's what [the LAP] does."

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone. If you or someone you know is facing domestic abuse, please use these resources:

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.