Suicide and Firearm Access among Legal System Involved Perpetrators of Domestic Violence

Kimberly Dalve | 2023

Advisor: Ali Rowhani-Rahbar

Research Area(s): Injury & Violence, Psychiatric Epidemiology

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Individuals incarcerated for DV-related offenses or subject to domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs; i.e., respondents) have threatened or engaged in one form of violence perpetration and may be at increased risk for experiencing others forms of violence, including suicide death. Several risk factors for perpetration of DV overlap with suicide; however, few studies have examined suicide-related behaviors among individuals who perpetrate DV. Quantifying the risk of suicide and firearm suicide among perpetrators of DV involved in the legal system will provide knowledge to inform current policies and practice to prevent suicide and protect victim-survivors of DV. We used two populations of legal system involved perpetrators of DV to examine suicide-related behaviors. The first was a sample of granted DVPOs in King County, WA from 2014-2020 (n=3,543) to compare prevalence ratios (PR) of respondent firearm possession and use of firearms or weapons to threaten or harm by suicide-related behavior and to examine standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) for violent death, including suicide, comparing DVPO respondents to King County residents. The second population used records from 282,246 individuals released from King County Adult Detention Facilities (i.e., jail) from 1999-2018 to compare suicide death and firearm suicide death of individuals released from jail with a history of DV-related offenses to those without a history of DV-related offenses, and King County and WA state. Overall, we found that both civil and criminal legal system involved perpetrators of DV had a greater risk of suicide compared to the general population of King County, WA. DVPO respondent suicide-related behavior was commonly reported, and almost one-third of DVPO respondents with a history of suicide-related behavior possessed firearms. Perpetrating DV may have unique risk factors for suicide in addition to those associated with legal system involvement in general. In addition to the risk of suicide death, we found that respondents with a history of suicide-related behavior were more likely to have used firearms or weapons to threaten/harm compared to respondents without a history of suicide-related behavior. Future research should evaluate how suicide interventions such as screening and brief safety planning interventions (including lethal means access) can be used in among perpetrators of DV in the DVPO process, jail, and after release to reduce the risk of suicide, including homicide-suicides.