Security Research

"High-RiskVictims". Homicide in Relationships: Convictions 2008-2010



Implementation: Dr.in Birgitt Haller
Financed by: Federal Chancellery/Federal Minister for Women and Civil Service
Concluded in: December 2011

For this report all convictions for (attempted) homicide/femicide from 2008 to 2010 have been analysed: 39 legal proceedings against male and eight legal proceedings against female perpetrators.

In 21 cases the court proceedings against men ended with convictions for (attempted) murder, in seven cases for manslaughter. In another seven cases the psychiatric expertise attested that the perpetrator had been mentally disturbed to an extent that required his internment. Three other men were found guilty of less severe offences, and a young man committed suicide before the court proceedings were closed.

What are the characteristics of the murders that were attempted or accomplished? The risk of becoming a victim of a femicide committed by a (former) partner is especially high,

A history of violence was on file in more than half of the court proceedings; most cases concerned entrenched violence, sometimes through decades. Only five perpetrators had been previously convicted for acts of violence. Eight women had been in contact with an intervention centre and/or a violence protection centre before the attack – this is only about one third of the women who had previously experienced partner violence. The small number of police interventions and interim injunctions prior to the attack shows that high-risk victims do not or hardly ever use the instruments provided by the Protection against Violence Act. In the case of police intervention, victims often tried to trivialize acts of violence and to protect their partners. It is well known that women living in violent relationships pursue such strategies, which is why police are required to intervene with caution.

When the attack occurred, the woman had in many cases left her partner or had at least announced that she wanted to separate. This fact underlines what is well known from studies on partner violence: the risk of massive violence is especially high in the phase of separation. More than two thirds of femicides were related to the actual or imagined end of a relationship where jealousy and possessive mentality played an important role.

Apart from the risk factors already mentioned, there are two more conspicuous features. On the one hand, almost one in five crimes was committed by men with attested serious mental abnormalities that lead to internment in an institution for mentally disturbed offenders. On the other hand, in four out of 39 cases the perpetrators had issued suicide threats to their partners or other persons. Since (for methodological reasons) no cases of femicide-suicide could be included in this study, one has to be aware of the fact that there are considerably more perpetrators who announced suicide and subsequently committed femicide-suicide.

18 women were killed, 21 survived.

In one of eight cases the court proceedings against women ended with a conviction for murder and in another case for negligent homicide under particularly dangerous circumstances. Five perpetrators were sentenced for (intentional) aggravated assault; for three of them the penalties were completely or partially suspended. In one case the woman was found legally insane.

The acts of violence committed by women occurred in entirely different contexts from those committed by men. Although caution should be exercised due to the small sample, it has become evident that in relationships with a history of violence the women’s partners had also been violent before. By contrast, this was something that rarely applied in the case of male perpetrators. Jealousy or her partner’s intention to separate did not lead to disputes or acts of violence. Other than male perpetrators for whom alcohol played a smaller role than expected, two thirds of the female offenders were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the attack.

In a typical case of partner violence committed by a woman, the offender will be a woman who has been living in a violent partnership with aggressions from both sides. He and she are drunk in their common apartment, his violent behaviour leads to a dispute, and he wants to leave the apartment. She is furious and attacks him with a kitchen knife. Afterwards she calls the police or the ambulance, shocked by the consequences of her action, which she did not previously consider.

The most striking difference between the acts of violence committed by women and those committed by men becomes apparent in the deeds’ consequences: Two out of eight victims of women were killed, whereas almost one out of two victims of male perpetrators died.