Do you think he might try to kill you?
It’s a jarring question, direct, and the asking of it puts the victim, most likely a woman, on notice that she is in imminent danger. It means she is facing genuine peril of losing her life to domestic violence. And it’s a question that’s asked every single day across the Twin Cities by law enforcement officers trying to defuse those moments of crisis and decide the next step as part of a 12-question Lethality Assessment Protocol.
The LAP, as it’s known, gauges in simplicity and by cold numbers the likelihood of death at the hands of a batterer. Created by a merger of science and law enforcement experience, it’s based on the unrelenting cycle of domestic violence that has leapt into recent news with horrific regularity.
Five women who know that cycle only too well bravely shared their stories earlier this week as part of 2½-hour community conversation on domestic violence in Cottage Grove, where Tensia Richard was murdered last October by her estranged husband, who then killed himself. Tensia also knew that cycle, and the panelists — which included City Council Member Jen Peterson, who is candid about violence in her first marriage — all felt grateful to still be alive, an insight gained only after they had left their abusers. Four said they had had guns put to their heads; three said they had been strangled.
Why did they put up with such abuse? There were myriad answers, involving kids, money, emotions. But the answer also lies in the question: The insidiousness of domestic violence is that it robs victims of the very tools they need to escape. Self-esteem is a fragile thing in the best of circumstances. These women questioned themselves, not their fear, but thankfully summoned the courage to safely get away from destructive situations. “I finally put the batteries back in my crap-o-meter and said ‘Enough,’ ” one said.
The conversation in Cottage Grove was a difficult one (Kleenex was provided), but valuable, and one that more communities should be having.
It would be one step toward not having to weigh odds of another victim being killed.