Why do men kill their partners?
Women have a much higher risk of being killed by their boyfriends or ex-husbands than vice versa. Often, these men have several risk factors that can be interpreted as ‘red flags’.
Intimate partner homicide or suspected intimate partner homicide is often widely reported in the media.
“It happens far less often than we get the impression of through the media,” Pål Grøndahl tells sciencenorway.no.
The incidence of homicide is low in Norway compared to other countries.
There has been a sharp decline in homicides in Norway in recent years, but when it comes to intimate partner homicides, incidences are higher than in comparable countries, according to VG (link in Norwegian). The newspaper has collected information about all intimate partner homicides since 2000 and created statistics and graphics.
High proportion of intimate partner homicides
One in four homicides is committed by an intimate partner.
Few murders in Norway
The murder rate in Norway is very low. There are less than 30 murders on average in Norway per year. This corresponds to 0.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. This is half as many as a few decades ago.
There are very few homicides in Norway compared to most other countries. The United States, for example, has 5.6 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
But there are big gender differences when it comes to the risk of being killed or killing someone. Women are most at risk of being killed by the man closest to them.
Source: Politiet.no and Om Drap av Pål Grøndahl
As many as four out of ten murders of women are committed by the current husband, cohabitant, boyfriend, or ex. This is based on figures from 2011 to 2021.
Most often, the murder happens in the heat of the moment, but other times it is planned.
“It is rare for men to kill their partners during psychosis. They are normally found to be competent to stand trial,” says Grøndahl.
Far fewer men are killed by their female partners.
For every man who is killed by his female partner, seven women are exposed to extreme violence with fatal outcomes.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be killed by male friends or acquaintances.
Seven women killed so far in 2022, two men
So far this year, more women than men have been killed in Norway. According to the Norwegian news agency NTB, the police have started an investigation into eight murder cases with nine victims: two men and seven women.
Between 2011 and 2020, more men where killed than women.
According to the comprehensive overview created by VG, between 2000 and 2022, 165 women and 19 men were killed by partners who were later charged and convicted.
Men have a greater need for control
Being a man is the biggest risk factor for committing murder. In 2021, 96 per cent of the killings in Norway were committed by men. Worldwide, as many as nine out of ten murders are committed by men.
Why do men react with explosive violence against their loved ones?
Murder cases so far in 2022:
So far this year, Norwegian police have started an investigation into eight murder cases with nine victims - two men and seven women.
- January 1: 28-year-old Kjetil Andre Østhus is stabbed to death outdoors in Haugesund in connection with the launch of New Year's fireworks. A 20-year-old Briton and a 23-year-old Norwegian are charged with complicity in murder. There was no connection between the killed and the accused.
- January 8: The 69-year-old Swedish woman Sukanya Banglek is found dead in a house in Lier in Viken county. A Norwegian man in his 40s is charged with her murder. The two knew each other before.
- March 1: Lisa Iren Karlsen (40) is found dead in a house in Grue in Innlandet county. A 29-year-old man has been charged with murder. The accused and the deceased were lovers. Ten days after the murder, the accused plead guilty to murder. According to the autopsy report, the woman died of knife injuries.
- March 4: A man in his 50s is seriously injured in a knife incident in the parking garage of the shopping center Vestsiden in Loddefjord in Bergen. He is taken to hospital, where he dies from his injuries. The man's son (in his 30s) is arrested on the spot. The man is charged with the murder of his father and bodily harm to his father's wife, who is also in her 50s.
- March 21: A woman in her late 30s is found dead in an apartment in Rugveien in Oslo. The woman's husband, who reported the death, is arrested and charged with murder. The couple had children together.
- March 28: Najah Alsharaa (42) and her daughter Khadijeh Saed (20) die shortly after arriving at the hospital after a violent incident in Kristiansand. The women's husband and father, a man in his 50s, is charged with murder. All those involved are of Syrian origin, and the daughter was a Norwegian citizen.
- April 4: A woman is found dead in a house in Bærum at midnight. A man who was involved in a traffic accident in Lier in the Southeast police district somewhat earlier, is charged with murder.
- April 5: A woman (40) dies of extensive injuries after being found by ambulance personnel in a home in Noresund in Viken county. It was the woman's cohabitant, a 39-year-old man, who called the police just after midnight. He is charged with murder.
“Men have more physical ways of showing anger and jealousy than women. Especially in combination with intoxication,” the psychologist says. “Many men have a greater need for control and their sense of honor is threatened to a greater extent if the woman, for example, wants to leave them.”
Some men may feel so threatened by being abandoned that they react with anger, rage, and jealousy.
“If I cannot have you, then no one can,” Grøndahl illustrates.
Violence and intoxication risk factors
In a large majority of these murder cases, violence has also been used earlier in the relationship.
In particular, Grøndahl points to five different risk factors which he calls static risk factors (see fact box below).
Additionally, there are dynamic risk factors in the situation 'then and there', such as ongoing intoxication, conflict, and more.
“In 70 per cent of all murders, the perpetrator has been under the influence of alcohol or other drugs,” says Grøndahl.
The victim has often reported violence to others in the past
In the period leading up to the murder, women who were killed by their partner have most often reported difficulties to others.
“In seven out of ten murder cases, it appears that the woman has told others about the difficult situation,” Grøndahl says.
Often, they have notified the police, their GP or a crisis center. But in 40 per cent of these cases, the agencies have not taken them seriously.
Do the police take the reports seriously?
Historically, the police have had a tendency to downplay reports of domestic violence as merely ‘family conflicts’, according to Grøndahl.
"However, currently the stance of the police is that these reports are taken seriously," he says.
Violence against women is viewed very negatively in Norway, compared with many other countries, such as Turkey and Russia.
Women should have backup in the event of a break-up
Pål Grøndahl has provided guidance to many women who are exposed to violence.
“I never tell them to leave their men, they have to come to that conclusion themselves,” he says.
But if they want to take the plunge and break out of the relationship, he has some clear advice: Never do it alone.
“I recommend that the woman brings someone with her when she tells her partner that she wants out of the relationship,” he says.
Additionally, she should plan where to live and what to do beforehand.
If the woman later experiences that the man is still pursuing her, warning bells should start to ring.
“Men who do not want to let go, but signal that they are keeping an eye on their ex, can be dangerous,” says Grøndahl.
He will often kill himself too
Men who commit intimate partner killings are also at high risk of taking their own lives afterward.
“One in four intimate partner murders ends with the perpetrator taking his own life after the act,” Grøndahl says.
In addition, there are several who make more or less convincing attempts to take their lives.
“The motive is often that they feel shame and worry about their reputation after having taken a life,” Grøndahl explains.
Five risk factors for intimate partner homicide:
These are risk factors that these killers often have in common.
- Has often witnessed violence growing up
- Has perpetrated violence before
- Has previously been convicted
- Has abused alcohol and/or other drugs
- Has a large age difference to the victim - is usually much older
Source: About murder, book by Pål Grøndahl
Women are more verbal and seek social support
Women who are experiencing troubles in their relationship find it easier to talk about it and put their feelings into words. They also seek more support from friends and family.
But it is not the case that women have no criminal motives.
“When women kill their male partners, it is more often in a kind of self-defense,” the psychologist says. “It happens more often after they have been exposed to violence and abuse from their partner for a long time.”
In rare cases, women may also have other motives for killing their husbands, such as money.
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik.
Pål Grøndahl: About murder. Book, Gyldendal publishing house, 2019.
Kripos Police: National Homicide Review 2021 (link in Norwegian).