The forgotten victims of intimate partner homicide?
Women are most likely to get killed by their partner, and only a small percentage of victims of intimate partner homicide are male. So far, little research has been done on these male victims, but why are they the forgotten victims of intimate partner homicide?
Fact: the most common type of domestic homicide is intimate partner homicide (IPH). More specifically, according to a study done in 2013 on global rates of IPH, 13,5% of all homicides globally concern IPH. In other words, 1 in 7 homicides concern deadly attacks perpetrated by an intimate partner. Another fact: most of these victims are women who were killed by their male partner. In the Netherlands, almost 80% of IPH-victims are female. It is therefore not surprising that most of the scholarly attention has gone to the identification of risk factors for women at risk of intimate partner homicide, perpetrated by their male partner. Several studies have concluded that key risk factors include the perpetrator having direct access to a weapon, the demonstration of controlling behavior by the perpetrator prior to the attack and the perpetrator’s previous threats to harm or actual abuse of the victim.
While these studies have been vital in identifying and preventing which women run the risk of becoming victimized in intimate partner homicide, we have not yet considered the extent of IPH among male victims. This is not necessarily surprising, since the likelihood that a male gets killed by his partner is six times lower than when a female gets killed by her partner. However, globally, in 6% of all male homicides, men are killed by their current or former partner. So, the question arises: Why have we not given male victims of IPH more attention? Is it because we do not consider men to be, as the Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie terms, the “ideal victim”?
According to Christie, the ideal victim is someone who generates most sympathy from society. To generate sympathy, the ideal victim has the following attributes: the victim is weak in relation to the offender, the victim is blameless for what happened and the victim is a respectable person. In cases of intimate partner homicide, we do not necessarily associate men with terms such as “weak” and “blameless”. The facts described above reinforce perceptions contrary to male weakness and blamelessness; men are thought to be the ones on the other end of the gun with their finger on the trigger. When female partners are the ones pulling the trigger, chances are that it was a response to end the abuse by their male partners. But our stereotype-ridden features of victimization have refrained us from paying attention to all victims of IPH, including men who were killed by their wives for other reasons than abuse (a recent example is the murder of Dutch billionaire Tob Cohen). Consequently, there is limited amount of scholarly attention to the identification of risk factors for male victims of IPH.
We need to move forward from focusing solely on the traditional explanations of the role of patriarchy and controlling behaviors in IPH to also include the role of masculine stereotypes. Only then are we on the path to preventing all forms of IPH for women as well as for men.