What is a domestic violence fatality?
The Washington State Domestic Violence Fatality Review (DVFR) tracks intimate partner violence-related fatalities in Washington State. The DVFR defines a domestic violence fatality as a death that results from intimate partner violence, including fatalities caused by an abusive partner’s efforts to assert power and control over an intimate partner. These fatalities are categorized as homicides, suicides, and police intervention.
Homicide fatalities include:
- Any homicide in which the victim was a current or former intimate partner of the person responsible for the homicide.
- Homicides committed by an abusive partner in the context of intimate partner violence, for example, cases in which the homicide perpetrator kills a current or former partner’s family member or new intimate partner, law enforcement officer, or bystander.
- Homicides that are an extension of or in response to ongoing intimate partner abuse, for example, cases in which an abuser takes revenge on a victim by killing the victim’s children.
- Homicides of abusers killed by domestic violence victims, often in self-defense.
- Homicides of abusers killed by friends, family, or bystanders intervening on behalf of a victim.
Suicide fatalities include:
- Suicide deaths that happen in the context of an intimate partner violence-related murder-suicide.
- Abusers’ suicide deaths following attempted homicide, assault, or homicide threats.
Police intervention fatalities include:
- Domestic violence suspects killed by law enforcement officers responding to intimate partner violence or threats of violence.
- Abusive partners killed by law enforcement officers while using or threatening deadly force, often with the intent to provoke “suicide by cop.”
- Domestic violence suspects killed in jail or police custody.
The DVFR definition is both broader and narrower than the definition of domestic violence homicides used by the criminal legal system. It is broader in that it includes deaths in which the homicide victim and perpetrator are not intimate partners or family members, for example, a domestic violence victim’s new boyfriend killed by her ex-husband. On the other hand, it is narrower in that it only includes deaths related to intimate partner violence, not other violence between family and household members.
Domestic violence fatalities by year
Since 2001, the number of domestic violence related fatalities in Washington in a single year has ranged from 39 to 75.
Over the past 20 years, the 5-year average number of fatalities increased from 53 per year in 1997-2001 to 64 per year in 2016-2020.
Intimate partner violence homicides and overall homicide rate
In the charts below, total homicide deaths in Washington State include those reported by the Washington State Department of Health. Intimate partner violence homicides include homicides by assault and law enforcement intervention. Homicide victims include domestic violence victims killed by abusers, as well as other victims killed by abusers in the context of intimate partner violence, and abusers killed in self defense or by law enforcement.
Although the total number of homicide deaths statewide in 2020 is not yet available, many communities including Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma have reported spikes in homicide rates over previous years.
On average, nearly half (49%) of female homicide victims in Washington are killed as a result of intimate partner violence. More than 2.5 times as many males are victims of homicide, however, a much smaller percentage of those homicides (11%) are related to intimate partner violence.