Being more aware of psychological violence can help prevent partner killings, according to experts

Domestic violence is the most important prediction for fatal violence in close relationships. But it does not always show up in bruises. Psychological control and coercion should also be alarm signals, experts believe. Recognizing that it can save lives.

Hit, kick, bruise or a black eye. All too often, we think of physical violence when we think of domestic violence, while this is not always the case. It stands in the way of identifying and even preventing partner killings.

Several cases of partner killings in a short time

In recent months, there have been several stories of fatal partner violence. In January, two women were killed in the Rotterdam region by their partners, who could not stand that the relationship had ended.

In September 2021, 34-year-old Clarinda was killed by her ex-partner. At high light of day on the street while the young woman walked behind the pram with their daughter in. She had left him shortly before and ended the relationship. The case is due in court this week.

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Partner killings are more common than we think

According to Teun Haans van Sterk Huis, an organization that supports women and families when there is violence, about a third of the unnatural causes of death are related to partner killings, for example. “But we suspect it’s more common.”

Many women who are killed are not known to have experienced domestic violence, Haans says. “We see the blow, the physical violence,” he explains. “But what’s very effective, in fact the other 90 percent I always say, is the psychological violence. It’s very tangible to the victim, but much less visible to the outside world.”

Invisible terror

Haans calls it intimate terror. The partner is isolated, humiliated, and there is control, coercion, and power. Another important alarm signal is attempts at suffocation or violence during pregnancy. Invisible. “It makes it very difficult for professionals and for spectators to see in the early stages.”

According to Haans, one can sometimes feel it when the two people ask a question to the woman. “The one who looks at the man first: I have your permission to say something. It does not in itself have to be intimate terror, but it can be an important signal.” They also see intense stalking. “The man who tries to take all possible measures to control and control the woman.”

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More risk factors than just physical violence

Criminologist Pauline Aarten also argues that more risk factors should be considered than just physical violence. Now we’re too focused on that. “And that makes it difficult to be aware that other forms of domestic violence are taking place,” says Aarten. Together with researcher Marieke Liem, she investigated 60 cases of partner killings.

They examined the perpetrator’s life course and relationship to the victim. From here, the five different types of perpetrators distilled. Offended offenders, insane offenders, barking and biting offenders or hopeless offenders. “Those who saw no other way than to kill their partner because they were afraid of losing them.” There was talk of drug use or serious debt problems.

Prevents intimate partner violence from turning into partner killing

Assessing the risk of partner killing is now often done on the basis of a profile that someone is physically violent. But the research Aarten did shows that this is not always the case. “And that there are other risk factors as well. And there is still too little attention to those risk factors and certainly in these instruments.”

According to the criminologist, it is therefore important to be aware of what psychological violence is about. “And that the environment can also be more aware of it, just like the police and emergency services. So in that sense, we can intervene in time to prevent us from going from partner violence to partner killing,” she says.

‘We also have a commitment as a society’

Research conducted by Haans’ organization Sterk Huis together with three other organizations in the country showed that intimate terrorism contributes to 80 to 90 percent of the deadly violence. We must therefore pay more attention to the signals of intimate terrorism, Haans argues. “What’s important is that we all know this problem exists,” he says. Then you can tackle it.

But we also have an obligation as a society, he believes. “This can happen to anyone, we see it actually coming back in all walks of life. Invite people to a conversation that you suspect something with. Ask a question that has no judgment in it. And invite the other person to tell the story, it could just make all the difference. “

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