Study Of Murdered NC Women Shows 'Love' Can Be Health Hazard

November 05, 1998

CHAPEL HILL - Spouses, lovers or other sex partners killed more than half the 586 women homicide victims ages 15 and older who died in North Carolina between 1991 and 1993, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study shows. Domestic violence preceded at least two-thirds of the cases.

Victimization rates were highest for black women and young women. Two-thirds of the homicides occurred at someone's home, often the victim's. Alcohol regularly contributed to the deaths, and 54 percent involved guns.

Some researchers have begun calling the killing of women "femicide."

A report on the findings appears in the November issue of the journal Homicide Studies. Authors, all at UNC-CH, are research associate Kathryn E. Moracco, Dr. Carol Runyan, professor of health education and health behavior at the School of Public Health and director of the Injury Prevention Research Center, and Dr. John Butts, N.C. chief medical examiner and clinical professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the School of Medicine.

"Lethal interpersonal violence claims the lives of more than 5,000 women in the United States every year, making murder the fourth-leading cause of death for women under age 45," the authors wrote. "To date, much of the scholarly attention to the issue of homicide has focused on men and their roles as either victims or perpetrators.

"Men make up more than three-quarters of murder victims in any given year. Consequently, the unique characteristics of patterns of femicide tend to be statistically overwhelmed in aggregate analysis."

UNC-CH researchers tried to learn what was unique about the women's deaths and to identify risk factors. They combined reviews of medical examiner records with interviews with law enforcement officers to obtain information about each case. They found 598 cases during the three years reviewed and eliminated 12 for not meeting the study criteria.

Analysis showed that: "This study re-emphasizes the central role of domestic violence as an antecedent to partner femicide," the authors wrote. "Given the high proportion of partner femicide victims who were known to have been battered, efforts to prevent and reduce domestic violence could have an important impact on the killing of women."

That black women were disproportionately killed remains particularly troubling, they said.

"Possible explanations include the legacy of racism and discrimination that has placed African-American women in marginal environments and left them with fewer economic resources, making them less likely to be able to leave violent relationships, have access to emergency care and other health services or move to safer neighborhoods."
Note: Moracco can be reached at 919-966-0158 or 286-6045. Runyan's number is 966-2251.
E-mail: and
Contact: David Williamson, 919-962-8596.
Broadcast Contact: Karen Moon, 962-8595.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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