The Violence Policy Center conducts research and public education on violence in America and provides information and analysis to policymakers, journalists, advocates, and the general public. This report was authored by VPC Policy Analyst Marty Langley. The study was funded in part with the support of the David Bohnett Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, and the Public Welfare Foundation. (VPC) is a national non-profit educational organization.
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© September 2009, Violence Policy Center
Intimate partner violence against women is all too common and takes many forms. The most serious is homicide by an intimate partner.1 Guns can easilyturn domestic violence into domestic homicide. One federal study on homicide among intimate partners found that female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined, concluding that “the figuresdemonstrate the importance of reducing access to firearms in households affected by IPV [intimate partner violence].” Gun use does not need to result in a fatality to involve domestic violence. A study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed gun use at home and concluded that “hostile gun displays against family members may be more commonthan gun use in self-defense, and that hostile gun displays are often acts of domestic violence directed against women.”3
The U.S. Department of Justice has found that women are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes committed by intimate partners than men, especially when a weapon is involved. Moreover, women are much more likely to be victimized at home than in any other place.4
A woman must consider the risks of having a gun in her home, whether she is in a domestic violence situation or not. While two thirds of women who own guns acquired them “primarily for protection against crime,” the results of a California analysis show that “purchasing a handgun provides no protection against homicide among women and is associated with an increase in their risk for intimate partner homicide.”5 A 2003 study about the risks of firearms in the home found that females living with a gun in the home were nearly three times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun in the home.6 Finally, another study reports, women who were murdered were more likely, not less likely, to have purchased a handgun in the three years prior to their deaths, again invalidating the idea that a handgun has a protective effect against homicide.7
While this study does not focus solely on domestic violence homicide or guns, it provides a stark reminder that domestic violence and guns make a deadly combination. Firearms are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes.8 Instead, they are all too often used to inflict harm on the very people they were intended to protect.
When Men Murder Women is an annual report prepared by the Violence Policy Center detailing the reality of homicides committed against women. The study analyzes the most recent Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) data submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).9 The information used for this report is for the year 2007. Once again, this is the most recent data available. This is the first analysis of the 2007 data on female homicide victims to offer breakdowns of cases in the 10 states with the highest female victim/male offender homicide rates, and thefirst to rank the states by the rate of female homicides.
This study examines only those instances involving one female homicide victim and one male offender. This is the exact scenario—the lone male attacker and the vulnerable woman—that is often used to promote gun ownership among women. In 2007, there were 1,865 females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents that were submitted to the FBI for its Supplementary Homicide Report.10 These key findings from the report, expanded upon in the following sections, dispel many of the myths regarding the nature of lethal violence against women.
For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be dentified, 91 percent of female victims (1,587 out of 1,743) were murdered by someone they knew.
More than 10 times as many females were murdered by a male they knew (1,587 victims) than were killed by male strangers (156 victims).
For victims who knew their offenders, 62 percent (990) of female homicide victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers.11
There were 315 women shot and killed by either their husband or intimate acquaintance during the course of an argument.
Nationwide, more female homicides were committed with firearms (51 percent) than with any other weapon. Knives and other cuttinginstruments accounted for 21 percent of all female murders, bodily force
14 percent, and murder by blunt object seven percent. Of the homicides committed with firearms, 76 percent were committed with handguns.
In 88 percent of all incidents where the circumstances could be determined, homicides were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.
The study also analyzes available information on the murders of black females. Not surprisingly, these homicides mirror the trends for women overall: most homicides against black women are not committed by strangers, but by men known to the victims
Victim/Single Offender Homicides and Rates by State, 2007
State Number of Homicide Victims–Homicide Rate per 100,000
6 Alabama 53 2.22
2 Alaska 8 2.44
10 Arizona 61 1.92
4 Arkansas 33 2.29
27 California 209 1.15
20 Colorado 36 1.50
37 (tie) Connecticut 16 0.89
35 (tie) Delaware 4 0.90
NA Florida NA NA
15 Georgia 86 1.78
23 Hawaii 8 1.26
30 Idaho 8 1.08
47 Illinois 27 0.41
13 Indiana 59 1.84
48 Iowa 6 0.40
33 Kansas 13 0.93
24 Kentucky 26 1.20
1 Louisiana 57 2.53
22 Maine 9 1.34
16 Maryland 51 1.76
43 Massachusetts 26 0.78
25 Michigan 60 1.18
34 Minnesota 24 0.92
28 Mississippi 17 1.13
14 Missouri 55 1.83
39 (tie) Montana 4 0.84