Female Killer: She’s Often Victim of Family Violence
A study linking murderous impulses to a history of family violence indicates that women who commit murder usually experienced episodes of abuse as children and severe beatings as adults.
“Women usually do not kill for profit,” said Dr. Nancy Kaser-Boyd, a clinical professor of psychiatry at USC. “The motives for murders committed by women differ from those of men.”
Unlike men, women are less likely to kill a casual acquaintance, and tend more often to commit murder in self-defense during a heated dispute with someone they know, the study shows.
Kaser-Boyd explored psychological and sociological reasons why women kill in a study that focused on a group of 35 women arrested for homicides in Los Angeles County between 1978 and 1984.
“The findings suggest that homicides committed by women could be dramatically reduced if family violence were reduced,” Kaser-Boyd said. “Murder by women is not common. It rarely occurs outside a certain set of circumstances.”
She said the common thread that runs through all of the cases is a history of victimization that begins with child abuse and moves into an adult life punctuated by violence usually inflicted by a spouse or boyfriend.
“Thirty-eight percent of the women in the study killed spouses. In over half of those cases, there had been a history of violent altercations between the couple that was usually characterized by the woman being beaten by the man.”
The women who killed their mates reported numerous incidents of being either battered or threatened with physical violence and explained that their motives for murder ranged from self-defense to rage.
Kaser-Boyd found that 70% of the murders committed by the women studied occurred during acts of family violence.
“Women are socialized to be less aggressive than men and to control their angry impulses. They also tend to react to things less physically and are more inclined to use words because they are less suited for aggressive combat.
“Very few of the murders were committed over jealousy of another woman. It’s my hypothesis that children brought up in violent homes grow up to live violent lives--they accept it,” she said.
“They are so accustomed to being treated violently that they don’t know how to stop violence directed against them until that one, final episode when it becomes an explosive situation.”
The U.S. Justice Department estimates that women commit between 15,000 and 18,000 murders annually--roughly 20% of all murders reported nationwide.
Kaser-Boyd’s study found that 30% of the murders committed by women in the group were against casual acquaintances, acts that Kaser-Boyd called random events that followed no particular pattern.
Twenty percent of the women in the study had killed their children, 6% murdered their siblings and the remaining 6% killed their parents.
“My findings were that women who killed their children, or a family member other than a spouse, tended to be the most psychotic,” she said.
The psychologist said most of the women evaluated in the study suffered from a varying range of mental disturbances.
“Psychotic disorders are common among people who were abused as children,” she said. “Early victimization does more than create a propensity to murder; it substantially impairs a person’s mental health.”
Kaser-Boyd said murder by women “cuts across socioeconomic and racial boundaries.”