More Than Half of Female Homicide Victims Are Killed By Their Husbands or Boyfriends

Photo: (CC) @nini_b
By Amie Newman |

A news story about a woman murdered on a cruise ship while on a wedding anniversary trip with her husband caught my attention this week. Kenneth Manzanares allegedly killed his wife Kristy Manzanares in a “rage” after, according to his account, she laughed at him. Aside from the story being desperately sad, I was struck by just how typical it seemed to be. That’s a terrifying thought — but not an incorrect one, apparently.  

A new CDC report shows that each year, hundreds of young women in the United States are killed by their current and former male intimate partners (i.e., boyfriends, husbands, and lovers). According to the report, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women ages 44 years old and younger, and in over half of these homicides (55%), domestic violence was involved. 

A Huffington Post article on the findings points out what we already know: “It’s not strangers, friends or acquaintances who pose the biggest threat to women’s lives. It’s the men they date and marry.” The report highlights how homicide at the hands of an intimate partner disproportionately affects women of color and how domestic violence begets future violence — findings that will hopefully help us come up with better ways to save women’s lives.

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Intimate partner violence can involve a single physically or psychologically violent act but most often involves a pattern of behavior. And most often it’s men perpetrating the violence upon women. The CDC report notes that one in ten victims of homicide at the hands of a current or former boyfriend or husband experienced domestic violence in the month prior to their murder. We know that one critical predictor of future violence is past violence. When mass shootings are committed by men, for example, we usually need not look far into their past to find incidents of intimate partner violence.

In fact, as The Huffington Post’s deep dive into the issue, “This Is Not A Love Story”, explains,         

Experts consider intimate partner homicides among the most predictable and preventable of all murders, because they tend to follow well-established patterns.

The CDC report highlights disparities in homicide rates among women of different ages, races and ethnicities. Black women and Native women are more likely than White or Latinx women to be victims: homicide is the second leading cause of death for young Black women, the third for young American Indian/Alaska Native women, and the fourth for young White women. Latinx women have similar rates as White women, but they are more likely to be killed by partner violence (61 percent of all homicides) than any other group. (The statistics used in the CDC report don’t include the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victims, but we know that transgender women who are victims of domestic violence or hate crimes are disproportionately women of color.)

As Bustle reports on the latest numbers:

While disturbing, the CDC’s findings are, unfortunately, not altogether surprising; reports show black and indigenous women experience rape and other forms of sexual or physical violence at disproportionately high rates as well. According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 22 percent of black women and 26.9 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native women have been raped at some point in their life. Overall, black and indigenous women were reported to experience rape, stalking, and/or physical violence at rates 30 to 50 percent higher than those experienced by Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, or Asian or Pacific Islander women.

The authors of the report offer recommendations for how to prevent future intimate partner violence including by intervening in current domestic violence assaults:

Bystander programs, such as Green Dot, teach participants how to recognize situations or behaviors that might become violent and safely and effectively intervene to reduce the likelihood of assault.

Protecting women from immediate harm is critical, of course. And the report also suggests having first responders use “lethality risk assessments” that allow them to identify victims at risk for future violence and homicide and then connect these women with counseling and other social services. But the report’s authors also make clear that prevention and intervention strategies specific to the most vulnerable women are essential. And that we must teach young people safe and healthy relationship skills, and how to “manage emotions and conflicts.”

While the report’s recommendations are excellent, we also need to understand the social and cultural factors that foster male violence. How do we teach young men not to see women as receptacles for their anger, for example? How does the concept of “toxic masculinity” feed into intimate partner violence?

Until we address these questions, women like Kristy Manzanares will continue to die.

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