Australian Institute of Criminology

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The stranger is not always the danger

Media Release

31 July 1999

Media release from Senator, the Hon Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Justice and Customs

Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Amanda Vanstone, today released the Australian Institute of Criminology's latest research on the killing of women (femicides) in Australia.

"These figures are a disturbing reminder of why we need to be concerned about domestic violence," Senator Vanstone said. "Husbands, lovers and boyfriends are responsible for the vast majority of female killings in Australia.

"Male offenders are responsible for the deaths of 94% of adult female victims. In the majority of cases where men kill women, the two people have an intimate relationship."

"When women are killed by their intimate partners, 90% of the time it is a result of domestic altercations like jealousy or arguments about the termination of a relationship."

"During the nine years between 1989 and 1998 an average of 55 women aged 15 and over were killed by their male intimate partners each year."

"Australian women die at the hands of a stranger very rarely. Each year in Australia fewer than 14 women are killed by a man whom they do not know."

Senator Vanstone said, "Women ought to realise that terminating a relationship can sometimes be fraught with danger to themselves. The old joke about the Black Widow eating her spouse is not a true reflection of the situation faced by Australian women in relationships with men. It is more often the man who kills the woman in a failed relationship than the reverse."

Homicide patterns are very different for men and women. Almost 60% of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. However, men are killed by a friend or acquaintance 45% of the time and by a stranger 32% of the time. Men are almost always killed by other men. Only 11% of men were killed by their intimate partner, who were mainly female (84%).

Other key findings of the Institute's research are:

  • the greatest risk of homicide for females is between the ages of 21 and 23 years, however female infants, like male infants also have an extremely high risk of death as a result of child abuse;
  • that women victims were more likely to be unemployed;
  • that the male attacker is more likely to be older than the female victim;
  • females have a consistently lower risk of homicide victimisation than males - between 1989 and 1998 the homicide rate for females was 1.4 per 100,000 while the rate for males was 2.4 per 100,000;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are over-represented as victims and offenders;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women accounted for around 15% of all adult female homicide victims and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men accounted for around 12% of all adult male homicide victims;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than other groups. (75.4% vs 54.2% for whites); and
  • Alcohol was a major factor in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander femicides where in 75% of cases both victim and offender were under the influence of alcohol.