Wife killers are just like 'ordinary' men

September 19, 2003

Men who murder their wives or girlfriends appear to be more akin to "ordinary" males than violent killers, according to the first in-depth national study of murder in Britain.

Rebecca Dobash, one of the lead authors of the study, revealed last week that intimate-partner murderers had none of the typical characteristics associated with other murderers. She said that, compared with men who murdered other men, intimate-partner killers were much more likely to be employed, well educated, to have a lower incidence of alcohol and drug abuse and fewer previous criminal convictions.

"Intimate-partner killers escape the traditional risk factors associated with murderers," Professor Dobash told The THES . "In this sense, they look more like ordinary men."

But she said that intimate-partner murderers were less conventional than the general male population in that they were more likely to have previously used violence against the women they eventually killed and more likely to specialise in violence against women.

She suggested that a historical reluctance to arrest, charge and convict men for this type of offence resulted in the low prevalence of criminal records among intimate-partner murderers. She said that this might account for part of the disparity between this group of killers and other murderers.

In the study, Homicide in Britain , which will be published in the Journal of Violence Against Women , Professor Dobash and her colleague at the department of applied social sciences, University of Manchester, compared 106 intimate-partner murderers with 424 male-on-male murderers.

The researchers said that they used male-on-male murderers for comparison because this is the largest single sub-group in most studies of homicide and therefore findings regarding homicide are skewed toward this type of murder.

According to Professor Dobash, contested relationships and the process of separation are important elements contributing to intimate-partner killings. "Three months after separation is the most dangerous time," she said. "These men seem to be punishing their female ex-partners for leaving."

Professor Dobash said that she hoped that these findings, which have identified some of the risk factors associated with intimate-partner murder, would help vulnerable women to identify if and when they might be in danger and guide the decisions and actions they take in risky situations.

She also felt that the study could aid rehabilitation programmes for men who used violence against women.

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