On September 26th of this year, in a small town in Friesland, a fourteen-year-old boy murdered both his parents. Earlier in 2017, a boy of 14 was found guilty for the rape and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl. These cases, although shocking, are actually quite rare in the Netherlands. Homicide – an umbrella term for murder or manslaughter – is currently at an all-time low in the Netherlands. In the early 90s, the homicide rate was approximately 1.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. Specifically, in 1992, a total of 246 homicides were committed. Since then, a steady decrease in the past 25 years is observed, with ‘only’ 103 homicides reported in 2016 (0,6 per 100,000 inhabitants). Juvenile homicide holds a fraction of the total number of homicides: approximately 4% of all homicides are committed by juveniles in the ages 12 to 17 years. But unlike their adult counterparts, the past 25 years are characterized by a rather stable trend in juvenile homicide cases with peaks in the years 2003 and 2012.
Insight into the juvenile homicide trend over a long period of time can be important to understand and contextualize the issue at stake. But probably the most important question that we ask ourselves when we read in the newspaper about, for example, the Facebook murder in 2012 where Polly W (16) contacted Jinhau K (14) to kill Joyce Hau (16): Why do these kids kill? A seemingly simple question, but the answer is definitely not simple nor straightforward. This is further exacerbated by the fact that much of the research focuses on small cases studies, specific types of homicide or on individual and social risk factors of offenders rather than examining its total picture: defining juvenile homicide in terms of incident, offender and victim characteristics over a longer period of time. For this reason, the Violence Research Initiative is currently in the midst of developing such a monitor, which is called the Dutch Homicide Monitor. This includes all (juvenile and adult) homicide cases in the past 25 years.
The Netherlands knows a relatively short history of homicide research, compared to countries such as Australia, England and Wales, and the United States. Yet it is one of the first countries to set up a homicide monitor that allows an analysis of trends since 1992 with detailed information about incident, offender and victim characteristics. All lethal offenses, which have been categorized as either murder (article 289 and 291 Dutch Code of Criminal Law) or manslaughter (article 287, 288, 288a and 290 Dutch Code of Criminal Law), are included in the monitor. The year 1992 is used as a cut-off point since before this year no uniform registration system for homicides in the Netherlands is available. Yet it has detailed information on all homicide cases thereby allowing an examination of long-term trends and more advanced statistical analyses. Hence, this monitor allows us to examine questions such as: Why does the trend in juvenile homicide remain stable, while the general trend of homicide is declining? What are the risk factors for juvenile homicide? Moreover, how can the answers to these questions assist with the intervention and support before the offense is committed?
As a reader, you might be unsatisfied that none of the questions are answered. More so, if I conclude this piece with a promise to spend the next years trying to answer these questions. So I will refrain and instead end this piece by giving you a first insight into what we do know about juvenile homicide offenders. We know that most (85%) of the juvenile homicide offenders are males. The average age of juveniles who commit a homicide is 16 years and their weapon of choice is a knife. They are mainly involved in family homicide, such as the killing of parents (parricide), or arguments/altercations. It is important to note a distinction between male and female juvenile homicide offenders. Young females are more likely to commit family homicide, while young males are more likely involved in arguments or altercations that lead to homicide.
This small summary of findings gives you an idea of who these juvenile homicide offenders in the Netherlands are. But this is only a small part of the final painting. These juveniles are, what we call, a heterogeneous group: they have different characteristics and motives that drive them to commit such a horrific crime. Only by examining the incident, offender and victim characteristics over a longer period of time are we able to get more insight in the reasons why these kids kill.