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The psychology of predicting domestic violence and murder

Murderers who kill their partners or other family members have a significantly different psychological and forensic profile from murderers who kill people they don’t know, a new study by Northwestern Medicine in Chicago shows.

The study considered the demographics, psychiatric history and neuropsychology of 153 murderers. The researchers believe their work could lead to early intervention to prevent spontaneous domestic homicide – emotionally driven crimes that are not premeditated.

“The findings provide important information that may help prevent future domestic homicides, because they help identify individuals at risk of committing domestic murders,” said lead author Robert Hanlon, director of the forensic psychology research lab at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“The killers in this group are very similar to each other and different from men who commit nondomestic murders, which are often premeditated.”

One-third of all women murdered in the US are killed by their male partners including husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends and ex-boyfriends. In Australia, 38% of murders are between family members.

An estimated 25% of women will be victims of severe domestic violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

“These crimes are often preventable if family members are more informed about the potential danger from having someone who is severely mentally ill in the home and who may have shown violent tendencies in the past,” Hanlon said.

“Family members may lull themselves into a state of false beliefs thinking ‘my son would never hurt me’ or ‘my husband may have a short fuse but he would never seriously harm me.'”

“The fact is the husband or son may very well harm the wife or mother,” Hanlon said.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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