Although the family is often portrayed as the most loving and caring human institution, it can paradoxically be considered as one of the most violent ones as well. A recent study in the Netherlands shows that 431.000 women and 316.000 men in the age 18 years and older have experienced some form of physical or/and sexual violence in the past five years. There are a number of reasons why the family is highly vulnerable to violence. First, family relationships are not always voluntarily chosen; children do not choose their parents or siblings, and vice versa. Second, family members spend a lot of time together and are dependent on each other, which increases the risk of conflict. As both the victim and perpetrator of domestic violence are part of each other’s intimate environment, the risk of re-offending is higher than with other forms of interpersonal violence. Furthermore, domestic violence is one of the most important predictors for domestic homicide. Previous research has found that approximately 30 percent of all homicides takes place in a familial setting. Nearly two-thirds of these cases concern the killing of an (ex)partner. Since intimate partner homicide (hereafter IPH) is the most predominant type of domestic homicide, it is important to gain insight into its characteristics and motives. This can, in turn, aid first-line responders – such as medical staff and police – in the development of effective prevention programs.
According to the Dutch Homicide Monitor, there were 215 intimate partner homicides in the period of 2010-2016. This amounts to 28 percent of all homicides that have taken place in that period. Most of the intimate partner homicides concern cases in which male partners killed their female (ex-)partners (80 percent). Cases in which a female killed her male (ex-)partner, on the other hand, amount to 13 percent. Nearly 70 percent of the IPHs were committed during a relationship as husband/wife or as boyfriend/girlfriend. Victims were on average 41 years old, with the youngest victim of IPH being 17 years old and the oldest one 88 years old. The perpetrators were on average 42 years old, with the youngest perpetrator being 19 years old and the oldest 84 years old. Approximately two-thirds of the victims and perpetrators were born in the Netherlands.
Most of the homicides took place at the homes of either the victim and/or the perpetrator (80%) and in an urban setting (64%). A little more than half of the IPHs were committed with a weapon, such as a firearm, sharp object or blunt object. The motives for killing an (ex)partner vary. Some killed their (ex)partner because of spite, whilst others killed because of separation, a triviality or because the perpetrator was in a psychotic state. In addition, in approximately two-thirds of the IPHs, there was no evidence of previous domestic violence. In other words, in two-thirds of the cases domestic violence was not reported to the police.
This quick overview shows that these general characteristics of Dutch IPHs comply with results in other countries. However, our findings are at odds with research from Great Britain and the United States that have found a relationship between domestic violence and IPH. In only a third of the IPH cases in the Netherlands was previous abuse known to the police. This finding questions whether interventions need to focus on stopping the continuum of violence or whether we are dealing with ‘virgin killers’ that have not been violent in the past. An examination of the pathways to violence between partners is thus the next empirical step to take.