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murder-suicide in domestic situations

murder-suicide in domestic situations



|Views: 2,073|Likes:
relates murder suicide to domestic violence
also refer to van Wormer's new book, Death by Domestic Violence: Preventing the Murders and the Murder-Suicides
relates murder suicide to domestic violence
also refer to van Wormer's new book, Death by Domestic Violence: Preventing the Murders and the Murder-Suicides

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: katherine stuart van wormer on May 18, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Dynamics of Murder-Suicide in DomesticSituations
Katherine van Wormer, MSSW, PhD
This paper explores dynamics involved in the commission of homicide followed bysuicide. British and U.S. government and advocacy sources are used in addition to newsaccounts to examine this phenomenon. Domestic violence-related crimes are contrastedwith elderly ‘‘altruistic’’ murder-suicide, school shootings, and political terrorism. Suicideis argued to be a primary motive in many domestic homicide situations. Limitation of theavailability of firearms is seen as an important means of prevention in conjunction witha harm reduction safety plan.KEY WORDS: domestic homicide, murder-suicide, homicide-suicide, domestic violence,partner violence.
In the United States and Britain, as elsewhere,a woman is more vulnerable to violence in herhome than in public. In the United Kingdom,domestic violence costs the lives of more thantwo women every week (Home Office, 2005b),and in the United States, with a much largerpopulation, estimates are that more than threewomen a day are killed by their intimate part-ners (Rennison, 2003).Homicide is a leading cause of traumaticdeath for pregnant and postpartum women inthe United States, accounting for 31% of mater-nal injury deaths (Family Violence PreventionFund,2006).IntheUnitedKingdom,pregnancyis a period of high risk as well.WhereasintheUnitedStates,womenwhoarekilled are most often killed by guns, in Englandand Wales, three times as many women arekilled by a sharp instrument or by strangula-tionasbyshooting.Overthepastdecade,aboutfour times as many females who were killed asmales who were killed were partners or ex-partners of the murderer (Home Office, 2005a).As in the United States, far more males thanfemales are victimized by homicide of a generalnature; they arekilledoften infights withothermen (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005).An extensive search by Aldridge and Browne(2003) revealed 22 empirical research studies onrisk factors for spousal homicide. In the UnitedKingdom,37%ofallwomenwhoweremurderedwere killed by their current or former intimatepartner compared to 6% of men. The most com-moncauseofanintimatepartner’sdeathinEng-landandWaleswasbeingattacked withasharpimplement or being strangled. By contrast, themostcommoncauseintheUnitedStatesforspou-sal homicide was getting shot. Nine major riskfactorsarefoundthatmayhelppredicttheprob-abilityofapartnerhomicideandpreventfuturevictims (Aldridge & Browne, 2003).
From the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls.Contact author: Katherine van Wormer, Professor,Social Work Department, University of Northern Iowa,30 Sabin Hall, Cedar Falls, IA 50614. E-mail:katherine.vanwormer@uni.edu.doi:10.1093/brief-treatment/mhn012
The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:journals.permissions@oxfordjournals.org.
Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention Advance Access published May 16, 2008
As anyone who reads or watches local or na-tional news reports in the United States will beaware, a spate of murder-suicides is takingplace.Thedynamicsarerelativelysimilar;abat-tered woman had told her partner or he hadinferredfromher behavior thatshe was makinga break in the relationship; the man loaded hisgun and shot her and then himself, killing themboth. Most of these domestic cases are notreported nationally; they are in headlines inthe local paper.Because government data in the UnitedKingdom and the United States providing na-tional statistics on homicide that ends in sui-cide are hard to come by, other, less officialand comprehensive sourcesmust be consulted.A recent development in the United States isa promising development, however, for futureresearch. The emerging state-based NationalViolent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) re-cently has begun providing data on homicide-suicide for a sample of American states. Themajority of the research that is available, how-ever, is not focused on domestic homicidesituations.
Homicide-Suicide in the UnitedKingdom
An analysis of the
London Times’ 
reports of murder (1887–1990) by Danson and Soothill(1996) revealed a total incidence of 6% of 2,274 cases of murder followed by suicide inthe United Kingdom. Around the turn of the20th century, as the researchers suggest, thisfigure of murder-suicides was much higher atapproximately one in three. Murder-suicides,according to Danson and Soothill, are mostlyfamily affairs, especially in cases of female per-petrators. There is a much higher proportionofBritish malemurder-suicides, in general, how-ever,andmalesmuchmorelikelythanfemalestocommit theircrimes with guns. Overwhelminglythe women committing murder-suicide in thestudy tended to kill their children and thenthemselves. Men, on the other hand, tended tokill their spouses or partners.More recently, in the first epidemiologicalstudy of instances of homicide-suicide inEngland and Wales, Barrachlough and Harris(2002) studied death certificates for all murder-suicides over a 4-year time span. They foundthat 3% of male, 11% of female, and 19% of child homicides were of this type. Similarly,of all suicides, 0.8% male and 0.4% femaledeaths occurred in homicide-suicide incidents.The typical cases involved families of low socio-economic status.Data provided by the Home Office (2005a) forEngland and Wales, which are difficult to ana-lyze because the circumstances and timing of suicides following homicide are not clearlyspelled out, provide support forearlier findingsby Barraclough and Harris (2002) of a low in-cidence of murders ending in suicide. Onecan determine that of the 659 homicides thatwere committed in 2004, 19 individuals com-mitted suicide before indictments could be is-sued. We do not know the nature of thehomicides, however.Personal correspondence with KathrynColeman of April 10, 2007, of the Direct Com-munications Unit of the Home Office provideddataonsuicidefollowinghomicideinwhichthevictim was a partner or ex-partner. From theyears 1997–2006, there were on average 12cases each year of male-on-female homicidesthat ended in suicide. Official Home Officesources reveals that there are around 100male-on-female homicides for each year (seee.g.,HomeOffice,2004).Sothismeansthatonlya small percentage—around 10% of these inti-mate homicides ends in suicide in England andWales. As further indicated in the governmentreport, the methods of homicide were by meansof a sharp instrument, poison or drugs, beating,and strangulation.
2 Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention
Homicide-Suicide in North America
A rare finding in the American literature is theresearch presented by Bossarte, Simon, andBarker (2006) who analyzed data from theNVDRS. This active state-based surveillancesystem includes data from seven states for2003 and 13 states for 2004. The incident-levelstructure facilitates identification of homicide/suicide incidents. Results revealed that withinparticipating states, 65 homicide/suicide inci-dents (homicide rate
0.230/100,000) occurredin 2003 and 144 incidents (homicide rate
0.238/100,000) occurred in 2004. Most victims(58%) were current or former intimate partnersof the perpetrator. Among all male perpetratorsof intimate partner homicide, 30.6% were alsosuicides. A substantial proportion of the vic-tims (13.7%) were the children of the perpetra-tor. Overall, most victims (74.6%) were femalesand most perpetrators were males (91.9%). Arecent history of legal problems (25.3%) or fi-nancial problems (9.3%) was common amongthe perpetrators.From Statistics Canada (2005), we learn thatover the past 40 years, 1 in 10 solved homi-cides were cases in which the suspect tookhis or her own life following the homicide.About three-quarters of these victims werekilled by a family member. Virtually all the in-cidents (97%) involved female victims killedby a male spouse. And, as Easteal (1994) dem-onstrated in an earlier study, one-third of ‘‘spousal’’ homicides in the United States andCanada end in suicide. Few other varieties of homicide end in this way.Probablyrelatedtotheavailabilityofguns,thehomiciderateintheUnitedStatesismuchhigherthan the British rate, although the difference hasdiminished in recent years. According to an in-ternational comparative study,the homicide ratein the United States is 0.04 per 1,000 residents,whereas in the UK, the rate is 0.014 per 1,000residents (NationMaster.com, 2007). The differ-ence in homicide rates between large Americanand British cities is even more pronounced.Guns are by far the most common weaponused in these crimes (Violence Policy Center[VPC], 2006). One could speculate that if youshoot someone, it is relatively easy to then turnthe gun on yourself. If you stab or stranglesomeone,however,suicidebecomesmuchmoredifficult. In any case, the high rate of spousalmurder-suicides is consistent with the murder-as-extended-suicide hypothesis of Palermo(1994).Notably, in 1992, the
Journal of the AmericanMedicalAssociation
)reviewedtheepide-miology,patterns,anddeterminantsofmurder-suicide and made a strong case for the need forsystematic data gathering so that preventionstrategies can be developed (Marzuk, Tardiff,& Hirsch, 1992). Although there is no standard-izeddefinitionofmurder-suicide,the
re-port proposed that the term murder-suicide berestrictedtoasituationinwhichthe suicidefol-lowsthehomicideby1weekatthemost.Extrap-olating from the test statistics available, it isprobable that in the United States the murder-suicide represents 1.5% of all suicides and 5%of all homicides annually, according to this re-view. In Denmark, on the other hand, 42% of homicides are of this variety.
’s summary of data on the mother/child murder-suicide indicated that only a tinyfraction of mothers who commit infanticidekill themselves although they often attemptor plan to do so. Mothers who kill their chil-dren typically suffocate, drown, or stab them;firearms are rarely used. The depressed, sui-cidal mother may psychotically perceive herchild as an extension of herself. A form of ‘‘de-luded altruism’’ may be the motive, accordingto this report.According to the VPC (2002), at least 662 peo-ple died in murder-suicides in the United Statesduring the 6-month period of the 2002 study.
The Dynamics of Murder-Suicide
Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention

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