Could We Have Known? A Qualitative Analysis of Data from Women Who Survived an Attempted Homicide by an Intimate Partner


  • Christina Nicolaidis MD, MPH,

    Corresponding authorSearch for more papers by this author
  • Mary Ann Curry RN, DNSc,

  • Yvonne Ulrich PhD, RN,

  • Phyllis Sharps PhD, RN,

  • Judith McFarlane DrPH, RN,

  • Doris Campbell PhD, RN,

  • Faye Gary EdD, RN,

  • Kathryn Laughon RN, MSN,

  • Nancy Glass RN, PhD,

  • Jacquelyn Campbell PhD, RN

  • Received from the Oregon Health and Science University (CN, MAC, NG), Portland, Ore; the University of Washington (YU), Seattle, Wash; Johns Hopkins University (PS, KL, NG, JC), Baltimore, Md; Texas Women's University (JM), Houston, Tex; the University of South Florida (DC), Tampa, Fla; the University of Florida (FG), Gainsville, Fla.

    Presented at the Plenary Session of the 25th Annual Meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine, May, 2002, Atlanta, Ga.

    Current author addresses: Drs. Curry and Glass: School of Nursing, Oregon Health and Sciences University, SN5S, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, OR 97239. Dr. J. Campbell, Dr. Sharp, and Ms. Laughon: Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, 525 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205. Dr. Ulrich: University of Washington School of Nursing, Psychosocial & Community Health, Box 357263, Seattle, WA 98195–7261. Dr. McFarlane: Texas Women's University, 1130 John Freeman Boulevard, Houston, TX 77030. Dr. D. Campbell: University of South Florida, College of Medicine, 12901 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL 33612–4799. Dr. Gary: University of Florida, PO Box 100187, Gainesville, FL 32610–0187.

Address correspondence and requests for reprints to Dr. Christina Nicolaidis, Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, Oregon Health and Science University, L475, 3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Road, Portland, OR 97239 (e-mail:


OBJECTIVE:   To examine in-depth the lives of women whose partners attempted to kill them, and to identify patterns that may aid in the clinician's ability to predict, prevent, or counsel about femicide or attempted femicide.

DESIGN:  Qualitative analysis of 30 in-depth interviews.

SETTING:  Six U.S. cities.

PARTICIPANTS:  Thirty women, aged 17–54 years, who survived an attempted homicide by an intimate partner.

RESULTS:  All but 2 of the participants had previously experienced physical violence, controlling behavior, or both from the partner who attempted to kill them. The intensity of the violence, control, and threats varied greatly, as did the number of risk factors measured by the Danger Assessment, defining a wide spectrum of prior abuse. Approximately half (14/30) of the participants did not recognize that their lives were in danger. Women often focused more on relationship problems involving money, alcohol, drugs, possessiveness, or infidelity, than on the risk to themselves from the violence. The majority of the attempts (22/30) happened around the time of a relationship change, but the relationship was often ending because of problems other than violence.

CONCLUSIONS:  Clinicians should not be falsely reassured by a woman's sense of safety, by the lack of a history of severe violence, or by the presence of few classic risk factors for homicide. Efforts to reduce femicide risk that are targeted only at those women seeking help for violence-related problems may miss potential victims.