Intimate-Partner Murders Fall by Half

Analysis finds black women and those in South, West at highest risk

THURSDAY, Oct. 25, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Your chances of being killed by a spouse, a significant other, or an ex dropped by nearly half over the last 20 years, according to a new government report.

Intimate-partner homicides dropped by about 68 percent for men and 30 percent for women, report says. Nearly all were killed by the opposite sex: 99.5 percent of the women were killed by their male partner; almost 93.7 percent of men were killed by their female partner.

Although the plummeting intimate-partner homicide rate reflects new social programs and new legal measures to curb domestic violence, women are still at risk, the analysis shows. During the survey period, almost 64 percent of the victims were women.

"This is the first look, state-by-state, at homicide by an intimate partner," says study author Dr. Leonard J. Paulozzi, acting chief of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control's surveillance section. "Overall, there was a close to 50 percent reduction in the numbers of intimate-partner homicide between 1981 and 1998."

Those who live in larger cities and in the South or West are at a higher risk of being killed by their partners than in other areas of the country. And the rate of intimate-partner homicide among African-Americans is quadruple that of whites, the study shows.

Homicide remains among the top six leading causes of death for Americans under the age of 44, accounting for about 18,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About one in three murders of women were committed by a current or former spouse or boyfriend, Paulozzi says. About half of all the intimate-partner homicide victims were killed by their legal spouses, and 33 percent were killed by their boyfriends or girlfriends. Guns tended to be the weapon of choice.

The intimate-partner homicide rate in the South and the Rocky Mountain states is nearly twice that of those in the upper Midwest and the Northeast, the regions with the lowest rates. The rate was two to three times higher in cities with more than 250,000 people than it was in communities with a population of 10,000 or fewer.

In addition, Paulozzi says, African-American women are still at greater risk than whites: Rates among blacks overall were 3.77 per 100,000, vs. 0.81 per 100,000 among whites. The rates among Asians and Pacific Islanders were the lowest among the four racial groups.

Paulozzi says he's not sure what's contributing to the difference among the races. "I presume that all the racial differences have something to do with both culture and socioeconomic status, but that's hard to sort out in this kind of report."

The report does not speculate as to why the rates have dropped so much more for men than they have for women.

The findings appeared in the Oct. 11 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.

"This is good news, but we still have work to do," says Juley Fulcher, the public policy director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C. "No matter how much success we see, until we reach zero, our work is not done."

Fulcher says the country has seen a dramatic decrease in all kinds of domestic violence since the early 1990s and she attributes the decline to the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 1994.

"The government made a major commitment, providing $1.6 billion so that communities could address these issues. And during that period, we saw a 21 percent decrease in domestic violence over that period," she says.

There's an increased commitment by the justice system, as well, Fulcher adds. "They are finally taking domestic violence seriously. There were very few prosecutions of domestic violence if you go back 20 years, but what we have seen is a substantial increase in the willingness to prosecute."

What To Do: For more information on domestic violence, see the National Coalition on Domestic Violence or the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

SOURCES: Interviews with Len Paulozzi, M.D., M.P.H, acting chief, surveillance section, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, Atlanta; Juley Fulcher, Public Policy Director, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Washington, D.C.; Oct. 11, 2001 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the CDC
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