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Homicide in Australia: 7 in 10 homicide victims known to their killers

Media Release

20 November 1997

Seven in 10 homicides in Australia are the result of an incident between people who are known to each other: friends, acquaintances, intimate partners or other family members.

"The popular perception of homicide is that of an act committed by a cold, calculating killer or stranger. But homicide is usually the unintended outcome of an altercation between people who know each other, which escalates out of control", according to Australian Institute of Criminology Director, Dr Adam Graycar.

A new study by the Australian Institute of Criminology of 2226 homicides shows a consistent pattern over time. Offenders are most likely people who are unable to control emotions of anger, frustration or jealousy.

These are the findings of a ground-breaking report released today by the Institute which contains 7 years of data on homicide in Australia. This report is the product of the Institute's National Homicide Monitoring Program.

"We now have a unique database, which provides a national profile of all homicides in Australia. It is a worthwhile predictor of lethal violence and a rich source for research to develop strategies to prevent violent crime", Dr Graycar said.

It shows that the rate of homicide in Australia varies slightly from year to year, but at around 2 per 100 000 today is the same rate as it was 80 years ago. Homicide is a rare event relative to other forms of violent death in Australia, such as suicide and road traffic accidents.

On an international scale, Australia falls into the category of moderate prevalence of homicide. The Russian Federation, Mexico and the US have the highest rates, and Norway, Ireland and Japan the lowest (as at 1993).

The report's data includes: the method, location and setting of the homicide; the relationship between offender and victim; and (for both offender and victim) gender, marital and employment status, ethnicity, age, criminal history, and whether alcohol was involved.

The report contains over 70 tables and graphs to illustrate the findings.

Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for less than two per cent of the population, they represent 14 per cent of all victims. Most homicides involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims were perpetrated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Homicides in Australia the facts

  • Males account for 90 per cent of offenders and around 60 per cent of victims
  • 1 in 3 homicides is the result of an incident between friends and acquaintances
  • 1 in 5 is the result of an incident between intimate partners
  • 1 in 6 is the result of an incident which occurs between other family members
  • 1 in 6 homicides are perpetrated by a stranger to the victim
  • Around 35 per cent of offenders were under the influence of alcohol
  • Around 30 per cent of offenders had a previous criminal record.

Typical homicide incident

  • One offender and one victim who are usually known to each other
  • Both male and Caucasian
  • Equally likely to occur on any day of the week
  • Most often in residential premises
  • Most often the result of an altercation
  • By either knife attack or assault (firearms account for 22% of homicides)
Typical male victimTypical female victimTypical offender
Aged between 18 and 35 Aged between 18 and 26 Male
Never married Separated/divorced Aged between 18 and 26
Not working Killed by an intimate or partner Never married/ separated divorced
Killed by a male friend or acquaintance Caucasian - killed by a Caucasian Not working
Caucasian - killed by a Caucasian   Caucasian

Policy issues

This report complements previous AIC reports which outline strategies for the prevention and control of violence. The remarkable stability observed in the characteristics of incidents, victims and offenders of homicide support the view that strategies for its reduction should be part of long-term programs.

Strategies particularly relevant to homicide reduction focus primarily on violence prevention:

  • Teaching children constructive non-violent strategies for social interaction and relationship management.
  • Parenting training, social support, pre-school and school skills training to prevent aggressive children developing into aggressive adults.
  • Research into the risk of later aggression for victims of head injuries, particularly abused children.
  • Policies to promote the safe use of alcohol and firearms.
  • Examination of issues which could improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and socioeconomic circumstances.

Specific types of homicides will be the subjects of various shorter AIC reports over the next few weeks.