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Lethality Assessment ID's dangerous relationship

Posted at 7:42 PM, Apr 14, 2016
and last updated 2018-12-27 15:26:34-05

The Lethality Assessment Program is now used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies, hospitals and others to identify potentially deadly relationships.

Ten years ago, it was developed here in Maryland and based on Johns Hopkins University research.

"We believe what really differentiates our program is that it's based on research," said Alicia Bickoff of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. Her organization has helped manage the program and train first responders since it's inception.

"We have to remember, for these victims, their abusers have been telling them, 'No one's going to help you. Nobody's going to believe you. You don't deserve help, '" Bickoff said.

When domestic violence happens, responding police officers trained in the program quiz victims on 11 telling questions.

Some point directly to violence, like: 'Does the abuser have access to a weapon?' or 'Has the abuser ever threatened to kill your children?'

Other questions are not so obvious. 'Is the abuser unemployed?' or 'Do you have a child the abuser knows is not theirs?'

The answers are calculated to gauge a victim's chance of being killed before it happens. Then, victims are put in contact with an advocate who can get them help if they want it.

"They really feel like, for the first time, that an officer truly cares about their situation," Bickoff said. "They felt like somebody was there to help them."

Even Bickoff admits that it is difficult to calculate how well the program works. It's impossible to add up deadly attacks that never happen.

However, she says the program is getting very positive feedback from victims and provides a wake-up call that is often necessary.

"We are not necessarily trying to scare them, but alert them to their situation."

Last year, about 15,000 domestic violence victims in Maryland were screened through the Lethality Assessment Program.

Of those, over half were deemed to be in "high danger," or at risk of being killed.

In the end, 2,729 of all the victims ended up receiving temporary or long-term help. Bickoff says next to none of the victims had ever considered getting help beforehand.

See more from the ABC2 special Community in Crisis: Violence Against Women:

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How to talk to your child about sexual assault

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INFOGRAPHIC: Sexual violence against women by the numbers

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