High-Risk Cases in Intimate Partner Violence

“Charlie* and I moved in together after college. Things changed slowly. Charlie no longer enjoyed spending time with my family, so we started to see them less. When I went out with my friends, Charlie would send me constant messages and show up unannounced. Charlie was always charming and kind in front of others but, when alone, would constantly make fun of the company I kept.
At home, infrequent jibes said in witty humour turned into everyday belittlements. Simple discussions would turn into tense arguments and end in Charlie throwing a furniture item and threatening to harm me. I felt scared but thought that this was normal—what couple doesn’t have heated arguments? And it wasn’t always like that—Charlie also cared for me and tended to my needs.
But the first time Charlie pinned me against the wall and choked me, I thought I was going to die. I felt so alone. After the incident, Charlie told me that if I ever left, they would kill me. I did not doubt that staying would have most certainly ended that way. I never thought Charlie could hurt me, but I guess the signs had been there all along.”
*Name has been changed for confidentiality.
The Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence (IPV) and abuse refer to multiple forms of harm, including verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, financial and spiritual, caused by a current or former intimate partner or spouse. IPV and abuse are common forms of gender-based violence used for power and control and affect people every day regardless of age, gender identity, race, ethnicity or culture, religion or socioeconomic background.

Police-reported data shows that from 2014–19, 497 victims of intimate partner homicide were reported and—similar to intimate partner violence in general —approximately 80% (400 victims) were women. More worrying perhaps is the gross underreporting of IPV. 80% of victims who experience spousal violence do not report it to the police. Common reasons for this include: belief that abuse is a private or personal matter; a perception that it is not important enough to report; fear that nothing can be done and that the violence will escalate; living arrangements; financial dependence; reluctance or inability to seek out police; and shared children (Stats Canada, 2021).

Labelled the shadow pandemic, there has been an increase in IPV and abuse throughout COVID-19, highlighted by a devastating rise in more violent forms of abuse.

The Warning Signs of High-Risk Intimate Partner Violence

Warning signs are important predictors in identifying IPV and abuse. In high-risk cases where there is an elevated risk of serious injury or death to the survivor and/or their children, identifying the presence of one or more of the following warning signs can be live-saving:

  • A recent or pending separation. This is the most dangerous time for a person in an abusive relationship and is the most common risk factor present in cases of intimate partner homicide
  • Previously reported violence or harassment by the victim to police
  • A pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour by the abuser: belittlement, humiliation, gaslighting, stalking or spying, repeated phone calls and texts, controlling daily activities or finances, isolation from friends or family
  • Threats to harm or kill the abused, a loved one or pet
  • A history of violent abuse including threats with a weapon, choking or strangulation
Specialized Support for High-Risk Intimate Partner Violence

The Regional Domestic Violence Unit (RDVU) was established in 2007 after a horrific domestic homicide-suicide case in Oak Bay, where three generations of a family were killed in a terrible tragedy. As a result of a coroner’s inquest following the incident, fourteen recommendations were made which included establishing a cross-jurisdictional domestic violence unit to improve communication and collaboration among law enforcement agencies across the region.

The Unit consists of a collaborative team of police, community partners, including VWTH, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Community Corrections. It provides intensive support services where high-risk warning signs are present, or if there is an elevated risk of serious injury or death to the survivor or their children. Specific to each high-risk survivor’s needs, supports include risk assessment, offender management and safety planning.

Between 2020–21, the RDVU identified 73 highest-risk cases for intervention.“When community partners make referrals to the RDVU, the presence of certain high-risk factors, particularly coercive control and strangulation, result in the Unit taking on the file for intervention, monitoring and support,” explains Sue Robinson, who is part of VWTH’s RDVU Victims Services team. “Although specialized units such as ours will never know how many serious injuries or intimate partner homicides we have prevented, it is certainly our hope that when warning signs are present, swift intervention for any woman who needs it, will help reduce the risk.”

Support is always available. Call our 24-hour Crisis & Information Line at 250-385-6611 for compassionate, judgement-free support and community resources. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.


For more information about VWTH and the Regional Domestic Violence Unit (RDVU), contact us at info@vwth.bc.ca or 250-592-2927.

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