Unemployment biggest factor domestic murder

Published 25 June 2003

Unemployment is the biggest socio-demographic risk factor in the domestic murder of women, according to visiting American academic Professor Jacqui Campbell, who addressed a seminar on domestic violence at Southern Cross University (SCU) this week.

Professor Campbell, from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, recently completed a survey of murder in intimate relationships in America. Using a questionnaire, interviews of friends and family of the murdered women, and interviews with a control group of at-risk women, she found domestic killing was one of the top ten causes of premature death among US women, and that these figures were similar to Australian statistics.

Her research shows the key triggers for domestic murder include prior domestic violence, unemployment, access to guns, drug use and lack of education, but of these the most influential factor is the abuser’s employment status.

“The stakes are very high. We knew already that the number one risk factor for women being killed was prior domestic violence, but over and above that, we were looking for other factors to determine how at-risk women are," Professor Campbell said.

"The abuser’s unemployment was the only demographic risk factor that significantly predicted the risk of murder in the home. We consider that at least theoretically unemployed people do not have so many ties to their community so they feel they have less to lose by acting violently plus the fact that the loss of income induces stress in families. There’s no doubt that many men connect their self-esteem with working and not working leaves them feeling less masculine.”

Professor Campbell is a the Anna D. Wolf Endowed Professor in the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University, with a joint appointment in the Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also a consultant to the WHO on domestic violence by intimate partners, and a consultant to the US Department of Defense’s inquiry into domestic violence among military personnel. She has published more than 120 articles and five books on the subject of domestic violence since 1980.

Intimate partner violence is a relatively new science, according to Professor Campbell. Most studies have focussed on male offenders and female victims, but studies have only been undertaken during the past 15 years.

She has compared the statistics in the US with Australia.

“Overall the Australian rate of domestic murder is lower than in the US, with 2 in 100,000 deaths as opposed to 6 per 100,000 deaths. However the most recently available figures show that 63 per cent of women murdered in Australia are killed by their intimate partners, which is higher proportionately than in the US,” Professor Campbell said.

Her research has also resulted in a number of recommendations on reducing domestic murder by addressing broader social concerns.

“Our analysis suggests that increasing employment opportunities, preventing substance abuse, and restricting abusers’ access to guns can potentially reduce both overall rates of homicide and rates of intimate partner murder of women.”

Professor Campbell’s visit to SCU's Lismore campus was organised by Dr Kierrynn Davis, a Senior Lecturer in SCU’s School of Nursing and Health Care Practices, who spent two weeks with Professor Campbell at Johns Hopkins University recently. Dr Davis said she and Professor Campbell are looking at potential research collaborations between the two universities on domestic violence.


Media contact: Kath Duncan or Sara Crowe in the SCU media liaison unit, Ph: 6620 3144.