Brief Research Report: Female Victims of Homicide: A Portrait of Their Killers and the Circumstances of Their Deaths

By Goetting, Ann | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1991 | Go to article overview

Brief Research Report: Female Victims of Homicide: A Portrait of Their Killers and the Circumstances of Their Deaths


Goetting, Ann, Violence and Victims


The population of 131 arrestees for homicides committed against females during 1982 and 1983 in Detroit, Michigan, is analyzed in the context of their killings. Analyses include demographic and social characteristics of offenders and victims, demographic and social relationships between offenders and victims, circumstances of offense, and arrest disposition. Where feasible, comparisons are made with general populations and samples of homicide offenders.

There has been a renewed interest in the status of women in this country since the early 1960s, and with it has emerged considerable research attention devoted to women as victims of violence. In the context of this observation, it is of interest to note the virtual absence of scholarly effort directed toward the study of what may be considered the most serious form of interpersonal violence against women: that is, homicide. This is true even though over one in every four reported homicide victims (25.2% in 1988) is a female (U.S. Department of Justice, 1988). What is particularly surprising is that even less is written about women as victims of homicide than about homicidal women; this is so in spite of the facts that women far more frequently are victims than perpetrators of homicide, and much more information is available to researchers on horn' cide victims than offenders (Wilbanks, 1981:1).

Nowhere in recent scholarly literature does there exist a systematic description of patterns of homicide against women. The purpose of this study is to modify this void. The analyses outlined in these pages document through use of police records the circumstances surrounding homicides against women. This paper is designed to contribute to the development of a data base on women as victims of violence, particularly homicide, in the interest of prevention through knowledge. The findings outlined here may also prove useful to scholars and practitioners in the development of programs, treatment modalities and services designed for the particular needs of the survivors of such fatal dramas.

The information reported herein is presented through use of a four-part organizational scheme: Demographic and Social Characteristics of Offenders and Victims, Demographic and Social Relationships Between Offenders and Victims, Circumstance of Offense, and Arrest Disposition. The paper closes with explanatory insights and preventive considerations.

RESEARCH METHODS

This is a study of homicide against females with a focus on the of fender, the victim-offender relationship, and the circumstances of offense. The subjects selected include all arrestees1 accused of homicides against females (except for those offenses associated with the negligent use of a vehicle) committed in the city of Detroit, Michigan, during 1982 and 1983. An important limitation of the study lies in its lack of generalizability; its subjects are drawn from an urban, predominantly Black location with an inordinately high homicide rate. In fact, Detroit has been long known as the nation's murder capital (Morganthau, 1989). The study population includes a total of 131 offenders associated with the slaying of 123 victims. These 131 offenders represent 18.1% of all homicide arrestees in that city during those two years.

The data collection process took place in June of 1986 in the offices of the Homicide Section of the Detroit Police Department. Police-recorded information regarding each case, including the Investigator's Report, Interrogation Record, and Witness Statements was electronically copied for subsequent perusal. The data were tabulated and, when feasible, comparisons are made with the total population of Detroit arrestees for homicides committed during 1982 and 1983, and also through use of previous homicide studies that did not control for gender of victim and therefore based their findings on cases involving mostly male victims. Since the proportion of homicide arrestees accused of having killed females in this country remains between 17. …

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