Would it surprise you to hear that gender is highly correlated to homicide risk? That is, males are far more likely than females to become murder victims in the U.S. This reality directly opposes a popular myth that women are at greater risk than men of becoming homicide victims.
Based on Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data between 1980 and 2008, males represented 77 percent of all homicide victims and females represented the remaining twenty-three percent of victims. The victimization rate for males (11.6 per 100,000 persons) was nearly four times higher than the rate for females (3.4 per 100,000).
Although homicide victimization rates are much higher among men than women, the rank of homicide as a cause of death is similar for men and women of all age groups. Also, firearms are the most common method of homicide for both male and female victims. Recent research indicates that having a gun in the home increases the chances that the owner (whether male or female) will become a victim of homicide inside the home.
The myth that women are more at risk of homicide victimization than men incorrectly suggests that young, white females have the greatest risk of becoming murder victims of all demographic groups in the U.S. This myth is perpetuated in both fact and fiction by the media which greatly exaggerate the prevalence of attractive, young, white, female victims in their homicide stories.
For important sociological reasons, an attractive, young, white, female murder victim evokes great interest, concern and sympathy among the general public. High viewership by the public leads to increased advertising revenue for television networks, so the news and entertainment media prioritize and promote stories involving pretty, white, female murder victims.
In reality, however, a white female is the least likely of all demographics to be a homicide victim. She is far less likely than a black female or a male of any race to become a murder victim in the U.S. According to the statistics for 2013, which is the most recent full-year data available from the UCR, white females comprised 13 percent of the 12,253 murder victims reported.
The victimization rate for white females was 1.6 per 100,000 persons in 2013. This compares to rates per 100,000 persons of 4.4 for black females, 4.0 for white males and 32.3 for black males. The victimization rate for black females was three times greater than the rate for white females. While black females and white males were at comparable homicide risk, the victimization rate for black males was eight times greater than either of them, and 20 times greater than the rate for white females.
A popular homicide myth says that most female homicide victims are killed by strangers. The reality is that the majority of homicide victims, particularly women, are killed by someone they know. The UCR data over the years completely debunk the myth about "stranger danger" and homicide.
At the same time, however, there are gender differences in the nature of the relationship between victims and offenders and the location of homicide crime scenes. Men are most likely to be killed by a friend or an acquaintance in a public place such as the street or a sporting event. This is due in part to the fact that men are more likely than women to be in public places that increase their victimization risk such as a bar or pool room.
In contrast, women are most likely to be killed at home by a current or former male intimate—that is, a husband, boyfriend, ex-husband or former boyfriend. Making this point, the UCR data from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s found that a female is more than 2.5 times as likely to be shot by her male intimate partner as to be shot, stabbed, strangled, bludgeoned, or killed in any other way by a stranger.
More recent UCR data for the years 1980 to 2008 reveal that less than 12 percent of all female victims were murdered by strangers, compared to nearly 26 percent of all male victims. In addition, nearly 42 percent of all female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner versus only 7 percent of male victims.
The data reveal that females are almost six times more likely than males to be killed by an intimate partner. In contrast, nearly 60 percent of male murder victims were killed by an acquaintance and approximately 25 percent were murdered by a stranger. The same data reveal that female victims were involved in nearly 64 percent of all intimate killings and 82percent of all sex-related killings.
Finally, male victims accounted for 90 percent of drug-related homicides and 95 percent of gang-related homicides between 1980 and 2008. Neither drug- or gang-related homicides typically involve intimates which helps to explain why the vast majority of victims in such cases are males.
There is an old and pervasive myth which contends that women simply do not commit murder. This myth is based on traditional gender norms or expectations of behavior which include the idea that females are too passive and sweet to kill someone.
In reality, women do kill—albeit at much lower rates than men. The data over the years reveal that one in 10 murders is committed by a woman. For example, a total of 666,160 people were killed in the U.S. between 1960 and 1996, and approximately 90 percent of those murders were committed by males.
According to more recent UCR data for the years 1980 to 2008, males were seven times more likely to commit murder than females. The data reveal that homicide offending rates for both males and females followed the same general pattern as victimization rates. Specifically, the offending rate for females declined from 3.1 offenders per 100,000 persons in 1980 to 1.6 offenders per 100,000 persons in 2008. The offending rate for males peaked in 1991 at 20.8 per 100,000 persons, and then fell to a low of 11.3 per 100,000 persons in 2008.
Similar to homicide victimization, a white female is the least likely homicide offender of all possible race and gender combinations. The data reveal that she is far less likely than a black female or a male of any race to become a murderer in the U.S. According to my estimates which are based on the UCR data for 2013, females of all races comprised 10 percent of the 14,132 murder offenders that year, and white females accounted for less than 5 percent of all offenders.
The offending rate for white females was .7 per 100,000 persons in 2013. This compares to rates of 3.7 black females per 100,000 persons, 6.2 for white males and 35.2 for black males. The data for 2013 reveal that the offending rate for black females was five times greater than the rate for white females.
The data further show that black males, similar to their homicide victimization rate, had the highest offending rate of all. The offending rate for black males was six times greater than white males, nine times greater than black females, and 50 times greater than the rate for white females.
In a forthcoming book that is tentatively titled Women We Love to Hate: Jodi Arias, Pamela Smart, Casey Anthony and Others I explore the intense fascination with female killers and why they are demonized by the media and much of the public. More specifically, I examine the social processes that transform certain attractive, young, white females who are charged with murder into high-profile, celebrity monsters.
In my current book, I examine the public’s intense fascination with notorious and deadly serial killers, including David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”) and Dennis Rader (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) with whom I personally corresponded, in Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers. To read the reviews and order it now, visit: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1629144320/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_B-2Stb0D57SDB
Dr. Scott Bonn is professor of sociology and criminology at Drew University. He is available for expert consultation and media commentary. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website docbonn.com