Domestic-Violence Homicides and Suicides: Gender-Consistent Accounting

face of a prisoner

In the U.S. about the year 2011, domestic-violence homicide-suicide incidents accounted for an estimated 40% of fatalities of all fatal domestic-violence incidents. This statistic, like all statistics, needs to be understood in definition and conceptual relevance. The U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System associates different types of fatalities with violent incidents (incidents are related events within a 24-hour period). Fatalities are categorized as homicide, suicide, and death resulting from law-enforcement action. Domestic-violence homicide-suicide typically involve two deaths (a homicide and the perpetrator’s suicide). Domestic-violence fatalities include all fatalities resulting from specific domestic violence incidents. The double deaths in homicide-suicide incidents make the homicide-suicide death share approximately double the perpetrator suicide share in all domestic-violence fatalities.

In thinking about lessening domestic-violence fatalities, homicides, suicides, and fatalities resulting from law-enforcement action are relevant. The criminal culpability of a homicide perpetrator does not make a perpetrator’s suicide any less of a fatality. Concern about fatalities from domestic violence need not enter into contentious disputes about the appropriateness of death as an authorized punishment for particular crimes. That issue is feasibly and appropriately treated as conceptually separate. Fatalities from law-enforcement action in domestic-violence incidents occur, but they are much fewer than suicides and homicides. Those fatalities should be included in domestic-violence fatality reviews. However, because the number of such fatalities is relatively small, not accounting for fatalities resulting from law-enforcement action isn’t likely to affect greatly the domestic-violence homicide-suicide fatality share.

A significant share of suicides are plausibly associated with domestic violence apart from fatal domestic-violence incidents. In Utah from 2005 to 2008, carefully defined “domestic-violence-related suicides” numbered 142 men and 23 women. The number of domestic-violence homicide suspects who committed suicide was only 27.^ Among suicides reported in sixteen states in 2010, 32% of men and 27% of women had intimate-partner problems as precipitating circumstances for their suicides.^ Attributing those suicides to intimate-partner violence would increase the number of intimate-partner fatalities by more than a factor of five. Because men have a much higher suicide rate than do women, accounting for domestic-violence-related suicides not associated with perpetrating domestic-violence homicide would make men’s fatalities from intimate-partner violence greatly outnumber women’s fatalities from intimate-partner violence.^ The figure of 40% homicide-suicide fatalities among fatalities in fatal domestic-violence incidents does not include victim suicides that might be connected to domestic violence that occurred more than 24 hours before the suicide.

Limiting counting of domestic-violence suicides to suicides in the context of a domestic-violence homicide is a reasonable bounding of domestic-violence suicides. Domestic-violence fatality reviews haven’t defined their scope of concern in a reasonable, non-discriminatory way. Some domestic-violence experts have suggested attributing to domestic violence the deaths of women who suffered from HIV or homelessness, or who had engaged in prostitution.^ They have also suggested attributing a significant share of women’s suicides to domestic violence.^ The specific causal nexus for these death attributions isn’t clear and should be considered for both men and women. Bitter scholarly controversy has ranged for decades about the relative incidence of domestic violence to women and men. Sensationally exaggerated claims that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women have been widely repeated despite being grotesquely false. Anti-men gender bias is deeply entrenched in domestic-violence research. Particularly in these circumstances, reasonable, unbiased expert review of domestic-violence fatalities would define domestic-violence fatalities in a clear, objective way. Moreover, reasonable domestic-violence fatality review would consider consistently domestic-violence fatalities of both women and men.

Data in detail: dataset of domestic-violence homicides and suicides

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