New Zealand Homicides of Male Intimate Partners Committed by Women 2009-2010
This is a new presentation of data I recently discussed in another thread. I have prepared it as a stand-alone research report because I think the work important enough to be found easily and quoted widely.
New Zealand Homicides of Male Intimate Partners Committed by Women 2009-2010
In New Zealand over the last few years we have often heard police or other spokespeople refer to domestic partner homicide with reference only to female deaths. The most common statement goes something like this: “On average a woman is killed by her partner or former partner every five weeks” sometimes followed by “and ten children die in domestic violence incidents every year” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Usually no source is mentioned, but the HMA website quiz (5) on family violence attributed the “every five weeks” statistic to The Taskforce for Action on Violence Within Families July 2007 (in fact, the relevant report was dated 2006). That Taskforce listed 23 members including the Chief Executives of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Maori Development and the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges, plus other representatives of Maori, Pacific and disability groups but not one representative specifically for men, men’s or fathers organizations (6). The Taskforce appears to have led to the “It’s Not OK” campaign and also an education programme for police and other organizations (7) that may have resulted in uniformity, especially from police spokespeople, in public statements when describing partner homicide including the habit of referring only to female deaths.
Although failure to mention violence against men has been almost universal, interesting variation existed in the actual statistics cited. Felicity Perry in organising the 2008 women’s “Take Back the Night” rally stated that a woman was killed every six weeks by an (ex)partner, and ten children per year were killed by family members (8). Women’s Refuge head Heather Henare, in launching the 2008 Refuge appeal, claimed that a woman was killed by a partner or former partner every 26 days (9). The IOSIS Family Solutions website page “Education and Awareness” informs us that “Every 2.5 weeks a woman is killed by her partner” (10), and the same “two and a half weeks” statistic was also announced by Human Rights Commission commissioner Joy Liddicoat (11) in launching the 2007 White Ribbon Campaign (that only encourages the population to be against violence towards women). In 2006 activist lawyer Catriona MacLennan took the statistic to new levels when she stated: “A woman is killed every 12.5 days in New Zealand by her partner or former partner. That’s not changing.” (12)
Of course, such statistics will change greatly from period to period given the low rates involved in absolute terms. MacLennan’s estimate may have been based on aberrant statistics announced at the time by Principal Family Court judge Peter Boshier that received a lot of publicity: “six women were killed by their partners or former partners between November 20 and January 3″(12).
There can be a fine line between “using statistics honestly for effect” and “using honest statistics to mislead”. Describing partner homicide rates in terms of “one every X weeks”, assuming the value for X is well founded, is honest and effective. However, presenting that statistic only for homicides of women will be misleading to the extent that it is used as evidence for any comparative statements about gender violence, and to the extent that it implies homicides of men are nonexistent, trivial, morally more acceptable or undeserving of consideration and funding in violence-related interventions. Further, immediately adding another statistic in a different format about child deaths without specifying who killed those children, appears designed to give a misleading impression that men were also responsible for all or most of those children’s killings. This ploy surely falls squarely in the “using honest statistics to mislead” camp. Reporting a statistic generated from a very short, post-hoc tailored period to take advantage of an unusual spike in events and claiming it’s a stable statistic that’s “not changing” crosses a new boundary into the realm of dishonest propaganda.
Some may be of the opinion that for such an important social cause the end justifies almost any means. However, it is more likely that by abandoning reasonable standards of balance, accuracy and honesty, spokespeople will eventually bring a cause into disrepute and increase public mistrust or rejection of that cause.
Few studies appear to exist measuring New Zealand homicides of men by female intimate (ex)partners. The most recent study dated 2010 and described as a “working paper” was authored by Jennifer Martin and Rhonda Pritchard (13) and reported that in the five-year period between 2002 and 2006 (inclusive) there were only two homicides of men by female partners. However, there were four additional “couple related” homicides committed by multiple “female and male” or “two female” perpetrators and it was unclear if these were uncounted homicides of male partners. Regardless, the figures seemed low compared with earlier studies, especially as the “homicide” definition was not limited to convicted murders. The authors reported that where no offender had been convicted or charged, the offender was assumed to be the person recorded on the police database as the suspected perpetrator. A tendency to disbelieve that women are capable of the worst violence may have meant that some female killers were not properly considered in investigations. At least one case involved police charging a man who was twice not convicted on trial because evidence suggested the male victim’s female partner may well have been the killer (14); one assumes the study simply counted this as a male offender. Also, Martin and Pritchard provided no information about the number of unsolved cases or how those cases were categorized if both male and female suspects had been identified.
The First Report (July 2006) (15) of the Taskforce for Action on Violence Within Families referred to 121 “family-violence related murders” in the five year period from 2000 to 2004 (inclusive), of which 3 were men murdered by women. This report does seem to be the source of the “one woman is killed every five weeks” mantra and probably the idea that male deaths are so insignificant as to be ignored, but actually it refers to murders not killings and no information was provided in the report about the methodology the Taskforce used in arriving at its figures. The chance that a female killer of her partner will be convicted of murder is quite small given the compassionate verdicts juries frequently provide for women, whereas men could expect such mercy only when they were truly under immediate threat of death or the evidence suggested strongly that they had no intention to kill. This may have inflated the apparent gender difference and contributed to the low listed rate of murders by women.
Felicity Goodyear-Smith (16) quoted two earlier research studies. The first of these (Fanslow et al, 1995) (17) identified 82 cases where men killed their partners and 9 where women did so over the ten-year period between 1978 and 1987. These figures were based on “national mortality data”¦supplemented by reference to files of the Coroner’s Court and the High Court”, similar to Martin and Pritchard’s study for the period 2002 to 2006. The second study quoted by Goodyear-Smith was a PhD thesis (Anderson, 1997) that counted “intentional murders” between sexual intimates in New Zealand between 1988 and 1995 (18). Anderson found that 80 male and 22 female offenders intentionally murdered their heterosexual partners over that period, so the rate for women murdering their male partners was about 3 per year or about one man killed every 17 weeks.
Study…………………………………………………………….Men Killing Women……Women Killing Men
Martin & Pritchard (5 yrs: 2002-2006)………………………………11……………………..0.4
Family Violence Taskforce (5 yrs: 2000-2004)…………………10.8……………………0.6
Fanslow et al (10 yrs:1978-1987)……………………………………..8.2…………………….0.9
Anderson (7 yrs:1988-1995)…………………………………………….11.5……………………3.14
Table 1: Annual rates of male to female and female to male intimate partner homicide as reported by four New Zealand studies
Table 1 compares the rates per year of partner homicides reported by the four available studies. Rates of heterosexual partner homicides committed by men remained reasonably constant across the time periods studied, averaging just over 10 per year and varying by less than 20% from that average. However, there was much more variation in rates of such homicides committed by women. Over three times as many were recorded during the 7 years from 1988 to 1995 than for the other three periods, and even those three varied over 40% from their own average. It was unclear to what extent the differences were due to actual variation in female violence, or to gender-related changes in approach to cases by authorities, or to differences in methodology used by the studies.
No mention was made in any of the studies of cases in which a woman may have been suspected or convicted of hiring, conspiring with, manipulating or otherwise encouraging a male to kill her partner on her behalf. In all the studies done, such cases would have been counted as non-partner domestic homicides (when the assassin was a family member) or not counted at all (when the assassin was unrelated to the victim) even though the man’s homicide was deliberately caused by a violent female partner. In a study of contract killings in Australia, Mouzos and Venditto (2003) (19) found that domestic homicides comprised the largest group of such killings and “Dissolution of Relationship” was the most frequent category overall, related to such matters as custody disputes, relationship property, wish to pursue an unencumbered relationship with a new partner, and revenge. In the category “Dissolution of Relationship” 52% of the victims were men and 36% of the offenders (those who solicited the contract killings) were women acting alone, while 31% of the cases involved multiple offenders (working together to solicit contract assassins). Only a small proportion of these offences resulted in completed murders. However, the low number of NZ partner homicides attributed to women could misrepresent actual female violence by a significant percentage if even one or two additional killings had been deliberately arranged or encouraged by women but were not counted.
It may be useful to compare the New Zealand studies with Australian statistics. While it is now very difficult to find detailed official data about domestic homicides in New Zealand, the Australian Government’s Institute of Criminology maintains comprehensive data concerning homicides and monitors trends and patterns in homicide across Australian jurisdictions. From its most recent report (20) covering a 12-month period between 2007 and 2008, 40% of victims “killed by an offender with whom they shared a principle [sic] domestic relationship” were males. Table 3 in that report showed 23% of “intimate partner homicides” involved male victims, i.e. the rate of male victimization was 29% that of female victimization. The numbers of domestic homicides were said to have remained stable over time whereas there had been a significant downward trend over recent years in the number of homicides between “friends or acquaintances”. (Unfortunately, the report did not provide figures confirming the gender of the offender in “intimate partner homicides” but one would assume that most such homicides of men were committed by women except in the case of homosexual partners, this rate also being unknown.)
It is noteworthy that the Australian ratio was very similar to that found in the Anderson (1997) (18) NZ study which measured intimate partner homicides committed by women against men as being 27% as frequent as those by men against women. The three remaining NZ studies however produced figures that were wildly inconsistent with those found in the Australian study. The smaller population in NZ and therefore smaller absolute numbers of homicides may be expected to produce much greater variation from year to year than that seen in Australia. However, it seems unlikely that NZ rates for male deaths averaged over a total of 20 years could be so different from those consistently measured in Australia.
The present study was designed to estimate the recent frequency with which men were killed by intimate female partners or ex-partners in NZ. Due to resource constraints and given the stability in rates for male offenders/female victims as measured by previous studies, the present study did not measure the rate of homicides committed by men.
NZ Herald news articles published on the internet were monitored for accounts of homicides in which a woman was arrested or charged for causing the death of her male intimate partner or ex-partner through deliberate violence during a one-year period from 1 June 2009 to 30 May 2010. An internet search was also conducted for news items in other newspapers in addition to the NZ Herald in order to identify homicides for which no information was provided about arrest or identity of suspected offenders and in which those offenders might have been female intimate partners.
Six news articles arose describing homicides of men by female intimate (ex)partners during the period studied. The headlines of the articles and links to them are provided in table 2. One male was killed by a female intimate (ex)partner every 8.5 weeks during the 1-year period.
1. Woman charged over Napier death
2. Partner charged after man dies of stab wounds
3. Woman arrested after man shot dead
4. Woman accused of assault after man’s death
5. Bail for Gisborne murder accused
6. Orewa murder accused bailed
Table 2: Cases in NZ Herald newspaper reports describing homicides by women of male intimate partners or ex-partners through intentional violence committed during 12 months between 1 June 2009 and 30 May 2010. The rate was 1 man killed every 8.5 weeks.
The period included at least one additional case in which two young women were charged for killing a young man. If one of the women had been an intimate partner of the victim, this would bring the rate up to one killing every 7.3 weeks for the one-year period from June 2009:
7. Man’s death after fight sparks homicide enquiry
The period also included other homicides for which no further information arose in internet news sources about the likely offender, and it was possible that one or more of them had been caused by a female intimate partner. Headlines and links to those cases are shown in Table 3.
1. Head injury caused teen’s death: Police
2. Rotorua shooting deaths referred to coroner
3. Flaxmere victim named
4. Police stonewalled over suspicious death
5. Man found on footpath after Manukau stabbing
6. Man dies after fight
7. Man found dead had head injury
8. Investigation into youth’s death
Table 3: Cases in NZ newspaper reports describing homicides committed during 12 months between 1 June 2009 and 30 May 2010 for which no information was provided about the likely offender.
The current study counted the number of homicides recorded in New Zealand Herald news reports (published on the internet) as being committed by women against male intimate partners or ex-partners for a one-year period between June 2009 and May 2010. There were at least six such homicides, or a rate of one man killed by a female intimate every 8.5 weeks. This frequency did not take account of any cases in which a woman may have hired, conspired with, manipulated or otherwise encouraged a male to kill her partner on her behalf.
This frequency was larger than that for previous measured periods in the literature. It was almost twice as high as the highest frequency recorded previously (between 1988 and 1995), and about six times as high as that in other studied periods. Factors that may have contributed to this difference included:
(i) the brevity of the currently-measured 1-year period compared with other studies that covered periods between 5 and 10 years’ duration;
(ii) methodological differences in identifying and categorizing relevant homicides. For example, the Anderson (1997) study (18) measured “intentional murders” which can be expected to be lower in frequency than “all killings through intentional violence”. If Anderson had counted all such killings, the rate may have been more equivalent to that found in the present study. Two of the remaining three studies used methods similar to each other in order to find and to count homicides, while the third did not describe its methodology. It was possible that similarity in methodology between those three remaining studies resulted in their similarly lower figures.
(iii) differences in the researchers’ ideology that influenced the identification, counting and reporting of cases. For example, Martin and Pritchard (2010) (13) did not make it clear whether the partner-related homicides committed by multiple offenders involved killings of male partners; if so (as was likely at least for the cases involving two female offenders) these cases should have been added to the “homicides of male partners” figure. Ideological considerations influencing the two authors (both women) may have influenced their decisions about that and other matters in their study.
(iv) variation in rates of such homicides, the period covered by the current study representing either a statistical spike or some social or other factor that recently increased female violence towards male intimates;
(v) variation in the clarity of cases; i.e. the current period may by chance have involved homicides in which the identity of some female offenders was unusually clear so as to result in quick arrests and charges. If so, this would imply that actual rates of female offending in the past were higher but not identified;
(vi) changes over time in the way authorities managed partner homicides; e.g. improved forensic and interview methods may have increased the rate and accuracy with which offenders were identified compared with previous time periods. Any such trend would have proportionally a much greater effect on the low base rate of identified homicide by females of male heterosexual intimates.
The lack of detailed official data concerning domestic homicides in NZ is regrettable, in part because it has provided an information vacuum to be filled by political interest groups in order to forward particular political causes and/or businesses.
The present study has provided a valid statistic that is hoped will be referred to by spokespeople in future to provide a more realistic picture of domestic homicides in NZ. The statistic will stand also to protect the public from future retrospective claims that, for example, only two men were killed by their female partners over any duration that includes the time period studied here between 2009 and 2010.
1. 2008, National Council of Women NZ president Elizabeth Bang http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0810/S00345.htm
2. 2007, Anne Todd-Lambie and Beryl Anderson, National Council of Women, in a presentation to a UN conference in New York
3. 2010, Detective Sergeant Rod Carpinter
4. 2010, Sergeant Vic Sneddon of the Te Aroho police
5. Undated, HMA (Hall McMaster & Associates Limited) website page “Handy Tools for Working with Survivors”
13. Martin J and Pritchard R (2010). Learning From Tragedy: Homicide Within Families in New Zealand 2002-2006. NZ Ministry of Social Development
15. Taskforce for Action on Violence Within Families (2006). The First Report. NZ Ministry of Social Development, Wellington
16. Goodyear-Smith F (2005). Response to the ‘woman bites dog’ article on domestic violence. The New Zealand Medical Journal 118(1226) November 2005
17. Fanslow JL, Chalmers DJ, Langley JD. Homicide in New Zealand: an increasing public health problem. Australian Journal of Public Health. 1995;19:50-7.
18. Anderson T. Murder between sexual intimates in New Zealand 1988-1995. Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington; 1997 (Quoted in Goodyear-Smith F. Response to the “Woman Bites Dog’ article on domestic violence. J NZ Medical Association, 118 (1226), November 2005)
19. Mouzos J and Venditto J (2003). Contract Killings in Australia. Australian Institute of Criminology Research and Public Policy Series No. 53, Canberra
20. Virueda M and Payne J (2010). Homicide in Australia: 2007-08 National
Homicide Monitoring Program annual report. Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.