SOCIAL WORK TODAYJanuary/February 2009
Reducing the Risk of Domestic HomicideBy Katherine van Wormer, MSSW, PhD
Social Work Today
Vol. 9 No. 1 P. 18
Interventions at the macro and micro levels could help savewomen and men from fatal domestic violence.
I had the privilege of coauthoring with Albert Roberts what turnedout to be his final contribution to social work literature. Our book,
Death by DomesticViolence: Preventing the Murders and Murder-Suicides
, integrates content from hislifelong research in the area of domestic violence. This work included Roberts’ crisisintervention model developed from his early years of domestic violence research and hismore recently obtained set of personal narratives from battered women who killed their abusers.As conceptualized by Roberts, crisis intervention takes place at both macro and microlevels and involves community, as well as individual, components. First, let’s look at theincidents of domestic homicide nationwide and macrolevel interventions.
The National Crisis in Domestic Homicide
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics tell us that in the United States, more than1,000 women and more than 300 men are killed annually due to intimate partner violence. At one time, these numbers were roughly even. This was before women’sshelters and other services for female victims were introduced to provide an alternativeavenue of escape. This fact—that domestic violence services are saving the lives of moremen than women—is little noted. In any case, today, men clearly are more likely to killtheir partners than women are to kill theirs.The character of the homicide differs by gender as well. Men who kill women typicallyshow a pattern of long-term battering and threatening behavior. Interviews with menconvicted of partner homicide bear this out, as well as interviews with women whosurvived attempted murder (see David Adams’
Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners
).Women who kill the men in their lives, in contrast, are more often victims thanvictimizers. We learn this from Roberts’ interviews comparing a sample of 105 womenwho had been convicted of killing their partners and were serving prison time with anequal sample of battered women from the community. Roberts found that virtually all thewomen in prison had a history of being battered and receiving death threats. In contrast to