Sexual homicide (SH) is the most severe outcome of sexual violence and disproportionately affects women. While SH is rare and gravely understudied, it is among the most violent, feared, and well publicized forms of murder. According to the 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, more than 52 million women in the U.S. experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime—44% of women compared to 25% of men (Smith et al., 2018), deviant sexual behaviors can trigger life-threatening violence and end in the murder of the victim. These incidents are referred to as sexual homicides (SH). SH is a rare, but often highly publicized, form of murder. The prevalence of sexual homicide is difficult to ascertain due to its infrequency, lack of a universally accepted definition, and insufficient crime details contained in most homicide databases (Karakasi et al., 2017). However, based on studies conducted in several countries, it is estimated that sexual homicides represent between 1 and 4% of all homicides.
Examining predictors of sexual homicide is pertinent to identifying targets for prevention and response efforts. Secondary analysis (refers to the analysis of existing data that are freely available to researchers who were not involved in the original study) of 2015–2018 National Violent Death Reporting System data on 6461 female homicide victims age 20–64 was conducted to determine if SH represents a unique killing characterized by specific offender, victim, and incident profiles. Law enforcement and coroner/medical examiner narratives were reviewed to identify cases with sexual elements (N=324).
Findings highlight important differences between SH and non-SH. SH victims were more likely to be single, have a substance abuse problem or engaged in prostitution. SH suspects were more likely to be male, use an illicit substance in the preceding hours, or had recent contact with police. SH was more likely to occur in a hotel/motel, by asphyxiation, be perpetrated against an acquaintance, or be precipitated by another serious crime.
Findings from this analysis help advance our understanding of SH victim, suspect, and incident profiles, which can help to better inform police/investigative practices and crime prevention strategies/interventions as well as to improve how SH cases are managed in correctional programs for offenders who have the opportunity for release back into society.
(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above).