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Domestic/family homicide in Australia

ISSN: 
1836-9111
Subject: 

In 2003, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) published a report that drew attention to the characteristics of domestic/family homicide based on the differing family relationships between victims and offenders (Mouzos & Rushforth 2003). Over the 13 years of data examined for that report (ie 1 July 1989 to 30 June 2002), there were, on average, 129 domestic/family homicide victims each year (between 32 and 47 percent of all homicides annually).

In 2001–02, the overall homicide rate was 1.8 per 100,000 population. Since then, the homicide rate has declined (1.1 per 100,000 in 2011–12), with a decrease in the number of homicides recorded across all relationship categories. The proportion of homicides that occurred between family members was 38 percent in 2011–12 (range 32%–53%, annually over the last ten years) with an average of 101 deaths in each of the preceding ten years.

This report presents data for the period 1 July 2002 through 30 June 2012 and provides an update to Mouzos and Rushforth (2003) and supplementary data to that disseminated in the AIC’s latest National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) report covering the years 2010–12 (Bryant & Cussen 2015).

Domestic/family homicides—categorising incidents by relationship

The data described in this paper are drawn from the AIC’s NHMP which includes data collected from all state and territory police services regarding murders and manslaughters in each jurisdiction (excluding culpable driving causing death), as well as information collected from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS).

Within the NHMP, domestic/family homicides are sub-classified against five relationship categories. These are:

  1. Intimate partner—victim and offender are current or former partners (married, defacto, boy/girlfriend);
  2. Filicide—victim is the child of the offender;
  3. Parricide—victim is the parent of the offender;
  4. Siblicide—victim and offender are brother/s or sister/s; and
  5. Other family—including nieces, uncles, cousins, grandparents.

Categories two through four include biological, adoptive and step relatives.

Each incident may involve more than one victim and/or offender. For incidents involving multiple victims/offenders the closest relationship between any pairing is used to categorise the incident into the hierarchical order noted above. For example, if a person is murdered by their child and nephew, the homicide would be categorised as a parricide.

Prevalence of domestic/family homicides and selected characteristics

Of the 2,631 homicide incidents documented within the NHMP dataset over the ten-year period to 30 June 2012, 1,088 (41%) were classified as domestic/family homicides and involved 1,158 victims and 1,184 offenders (see Table 1).

Table 1: Prevalence of domestic/family homicides by incident, victim and offender number, 2002–03 to 2011–12 (n)
Relationship categoryIncidentsVictimsOffenders
Intimate partner654654704
Filicide186238209
Parricide128134132
Siblicide374040
Other family839299
Total1,0881,1581,184

Source: AIC NHMP 1989–90 to 2011–12 [computer file]

Intimate partners accounted for 23 percent of all homicide victims recorded within the NHMP since 1 July 2003. These victims represented the majority (n=654; 56%) of victims of domestic/family homicides. Children comprised the second most frequent group of victims of domestic/family homicides (n=238; 21%), followed by parents (n=134; 12%), siblings (n=40; 3%) and other family members (who, as an aggregate, accounted for eight percent (n=92) of victims but across several family relationships). The number of victims within each relationship category has declined since 2002–03 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Victims of domestic/family homicide, 2002–03 to 2011–12 (n)

Source: AIC NHMP 1989–90 to 2011–12 [computer file]

On the surface, there was little to distinguish a domestic/family homicide event from other homicides or between the different domestic/family relationship homicides. An examination of general incident characteristics (see Table 2) indicated that:

  • The victim’s home was the most frequently recorded incident location for homicides regardless of relationship category, although the proportion of domestic/family homicides (range 54%–88%) occurring within a home was greater than for non-domestic/family homicides (33%).
  • All homicides were more likely to occur in the evening from six pm to before midnight with the exception of filicides which were more likely to occur in the afternoon from noon to six pm.

In general, males were more likely than females to be both homicide victims and offenders; a finding that has been consistent since the NHMP commenced in 1989. Where females were involved in a homicide, they were more likely to be the victim or offender in a domestic/family, as opposed to non-domestic/family, homicide.

  • The majority (60%; n=690) of victims of domestic/family homicides overall were female, although the proportion of victims that were female varied by relationship category (see Table 3).
    • Females were typically the victims in intimate partner homicides (n=488; 75%) Males were more likely to be the victims in filicides (56% cf 44%) and parricides (54% cf 46%) and were far more likely to be victims of siblicides (80% cf 20%) or homicides involving other family relationships (70% cf 30%).
  • Males accounted for the majority of offenders in both domestic/family and non-domestic/family homicides, except filicides where females accounted for over half (52%; n=96) of offenders for this category of domestic/family homicide. Females were the offender in 23 percent (n=151) of intimate partner homicides (see Table 4).

A consistent finding across 23 years of homicide monitoring by the AIC has been that stab wounds most frequently caused the injuries that led to death. In this analysis, both victims of domestic/family (n=447; 38%) and non-domestic/family homicides (n=551; 34%) were more likely to die as a result of stab wounds (see Table 3). Weapons of any kind were less likely to be used in filicide deaths, whose victims were more frequently recorded as having died as the result of a beating (n=51; 21%) than any other cause.

Table 2: Overview of incident characteristics by homicide type, 2002–03 to 2011–12
 Intimate partnerFilicideParricideSiblicideOther familyAll other homicides
n%n%n%n%n%n%
 654 186 128 37 83 1,543 
Location
Victim home4456815081113882259455451233
Other homea721111643720111326017
Health/mental care facilityb5111431311161
Retail/recreation establishmentc3<1000000221097
Public transportd6111000011674
Workplace/School5100220022181
Street/road/Highway40632223881033322
Sporting oval/facility3<100000000181
Open area/waterway50895114118101157
Othere152105220034684
Unknown10211000022272
Time
Midnight to before 6am1512339212217822202446230
6am to before noon961538202520616121416411
Noon to before 6pm12119472523181027212521814
6pm to before midnight21833422346361335263156737
Unknown6810201112900451329
Day of the week
Sunday79122011181472081028619
Monday10216361916134116717611
Tuesday1031622121411411121416711
Wednesday81122513171325141717611
Thursday9516281526201027161919713
Friday881319101411411131623215
Saturday951532172116616131627618
Unknown11242220011332
Seasons
Summer17927482627211130242946430
Autumn1572434183527411212536624
Winter15424472533261541202433121
Spring1622557313225719182237524
Unknown2<1001100007<1

a: includes offender home and other home

b: includes hospitals and psychiatric facilities

c: includes shopping malls and recreation/food venues

d: includes car parks and public transportation connected facilities

e: includes private motor vehicles and corrective institutions

Source: AIC NHMP 1989–90 to 2011–12 [computer file]

Table 3: Overview of victim characteristics by homicide type, 2002–03 to 2011–12
 Intimate partnerFilicideParricideSiblicideOther familyAll other homicides
n%n%n%n%n%n%
 654 238 134 40 92 1,634 
Sex
Male16625132567354328064701,35183
Female48875105446146820283028217
Unknown001<10000001<1
Age group
Under 1007632000000171
1–90012251002555201
10–141<12711000022121
15–17122420041033513
18–2483134200513151626216
25–341582452431128121339224
35–49258390031231435212350931
50–649815004836410192124815
65 and over3760051380015161197
Unknown71000000004<1
Apparent cause of death
Gunshot wound70111351612513151626616
Stab wound27642351573542050434755134
Beating13621512126191128222448730
Drug overdose (administered by offender)10283210022191
Drowning/submersion00229000011141
Strangulation/suffocation901433141182544745
Poisoning511770000001<1
Smoke inhalation/Burns193104000000382
Othera13238165425551177
Unknown355115110000674

a: includes electrocution and hanging

Source: AIC NHMP 1989–90 to 2011–12 [computer file]

Table 4: Overview of offendera characteristics by homicide type, 2002–03 to 2011–12
 Intimate partnerFilicideParricideSiblicideOther familyAll other homicides
n%n%n%n%n%n%
 654 186 128 37 83 1,268 
Sex
Male50377904810380338972871,19894
Female15123965223184111113655
Unknown000022000000
Age group
10–140000110011101
15–17513213103856625
18–2462943232923616222633226
25–3415924733935271438192339231
35–4926541563034271130222735228
50–641151863131025911847
Over 6538611110045212
Unknown10242221311151

a: offender n relates to the primary offender in each incident. For ‘all other homicides’ category only 1268 incidents involved an identified offender

Source: AIC NHMP 1989–90 to 2011–12 [computer file]

Conceptualising homicide incidents

Every homicide is different. The contexts of these events vary depending on several factors including the motives of offenders, precipitating events and personal characteristics of the victims and offenders. Understanding the nuances of these differences requires qualitative incident specific analysis beyond the scope of this paper. However, some additional data analysis is presented to indicate the presence, or absence, of some of these factors in domestic/family homicide incidents. The features examined were multiple victim/offender incidents, history of domestic violence between intimate partners, whether the offender was on bail prior to the incident or suicided after the incident, and drug and alcohol use by the victim and offender.

Most domestic/family homicide incidents involved a single victim and offender (n=960; 88%) (see Table 5). Although rare, when additional victims/offenders were involved, they tended to be family members as well. From 2002–03 through 2011–12, a small number of intimate partner homicides (n=54; 8%) involved multiple victims and/or offenders. Of the 27 intimate partner homicides that involved multiple victims (including incidents with multiple victims/offenders), 23 (85%) also involved the death of one or more children and the remaining four included the deaths of other family members.

In each of the twenty-nine filicide incidents which involved multiple victims at least one additional victim was another child. Of the seventeen filicide incidents that involved one child and multiple offenders, the additional offender was a family member and in sixteen of these incidents both parents of the child were involved. Ten parricide incidents resulted in the death of both parents of the offender.

Table 5: Multiple victim/offender domestic/family homicide incidents by relationship category, 2002–03 to 2012–12
 Intimate partnerFilicideParricideSiblicideOther family
 n%n%n%n%n%
Multiple victims25428151080022
Multiple offenders2741796513810
Multiple victims/ offenders2<111000011
Single victim/offender60092140751128836977287
Total incidents654 186 128 37 83 

Source: AIC NHMP 1989–90 to 2011–12 [computer file]

Data analysed for this report indicated that in one-third (n=366; 34%) of domestic/family homicide incidents there was a recorded history of domestic violence which may have included a current or former protection order between the victim and offender. The proportion of incidents with a domestic violence history varied by the family relationship category from eight percent (n=3) of siblicides to 44 percent (n=289) of intimate partner homicides (see Table 6).

The remaining analyses pertained to offender characteristics and were based on the primary offender (ie the offender with the closest relationship to the victim). It is therefore possible that additional offenders, in the rare incidents involving multiple offenders, may have been on bail, used alcohol and/or other drugs prior to the offence. They may also have suicided following the offence. A smaller proportion of primary offenders of domestic/family homicide (n=56; 5%) than non-domestic/family homicide (n=112; 9%) were on bail, parole or probation at the time of the incidents. Suicide of the offender following the homicide was more frequently recorded in domestic/family homicides, particularly those which involved the deaths of intimate partners (n=75; 11%) or children (n=29; 16%) (see Table 6).

Alcohol and other drug use is frequently discussed in homicide literature as a potential contributing factor, however the relationship remains unclear (for example, see Dearden & Payne 2009). Alcohol and drug use can alter the circumstances of the incident by affecting the judgement of the victim and/or offender or by incapacitating the victim in some way (intentionally, or not). The NHMP data identified the presence of alcohol and other drugs in a homicide incident but not the impact of their use on the victim, offender or situation. It is important to note that victim data are derived from toxicology reports accessed through the NCIS and that offender alcohol and drug use is indicated, or not, by police services during the NHMP data collection process.

Overall, data from 2002–03 through 2011–12 indicated more use of alcohol than illicit drugs in both domestic/family and non-domestic/family homicides (see Table 6). The use of alcohol by both victims and offenders was recorded in 30 percent of non-domestic/family homicide incidents (n= 379) and 22 percent (n=239) of all domestic/family homicides (range: 1%(filicide)–46%(siblicide)).

Table 6: Presence of additional characteristics in homicide incidents, 2002–03 through 2011–12a
 Intimate partnerFilicideParricideSiblicideOther familyAll other homicides
 n%n%n%n%n%n%
Prior history of domestic violence2894441222318381012n/a 
Offender on bail, parole or probation at time of incident406536513451129
Offender suicided prior to or following arrest75112916540022252
Incident involves presence of alcohol – victim226352130232157253062741
Incident involves presence of alcohol – offender23536201127211746354250940
Incident involves presence of alcohol – victim & offender180282117131746232837930
Incident involves presence of drugs – victim122191271081027131640526
Incident involves presence of drugs – offender781234181613385621317
Incident involves presence of drugs – victim & offender518421138341028

a: offender n relates to the primary offender in each incident. For relationship category ‘all other homicides’ only 1,268 incidents involved an identified offender

Source: AIC NHMP 1989–90 to 2011–12 [computer file]

Conclusion

The purpose of this paper was to update Mouzos and Rushforth’s (2003) findings describing characteristics of domestic/family homicides in Australia from 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2012. In 2003, Mouzos and Rushforth concluded that policy and other strategies targeted at preventing these homicides were warranted and this remains true today. Although homicide is declining, two in five victims are killed by a family member and these victims are most commonly partners, parents and children. It is intended that these data will support and contextualise, at a national level, the findings of jurisdictional child and intimate partner death review teams that have been initiated across Australia as well as other research currently being undertaken.

References

Cite article

Cussen T & Bryant W. 2015. Domestic/family homicide in Australia. Research in practice No. 38. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://aic.gov.au/publications/rip/rip38