How do you spot a killer? From the next door neighbour of serial murderers like Ted Bundy, or Harold Shipman to the co-worker of the woman who poisoned her husband for cheating on her, or the bar tender who served the eighth glass of vodka to the man who committed manslaughter during a drunken argument, no-one ever expects to look at their neighbour, friend, co-worker, customer or indeed, family member and see the face of a killer.
Those of us who are lucky will often times fail to recognize even a propensity for violence and will attempt to rationalise such tendencies, if witnessed, as a normal, fiery personality. While, for the most part, people are keen to demonify the unknown, we like to believe only the best of those whom we know, applying a sinister veneer to past observations and recollections only in hindsight.
Chances are; if you were to stop a stranger in the street and enquire as to their preconceptions associated with the words killer or murderer, having spent years watching television shows such as Taggart, CSI, or Law and Order they would present you with the classic, media orientated viewpoint – a perpetrator of a violent crime, be it grievous bodily harm, armed robbery or murder is more likely to be a male, probably aged between twenty and fifty-five.
If you were to ask that same person to describe their notion of a classic victim and the answer is more likely to be in the region of ‘female – any age’.
It is a popular misconception that in all aspects of violent crime, the female of the species is far more likely to be victimized than the male. Indeed, in certain circumstances, even when the woman is the one who has committed the murder, she is much more likely to be seen as a victim of her circumstances than her male counterpart. If we look, for example, at the case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, we see that although it could strongly be argued that both parties were victims in their own right, it is more often the case that it is Ellis, as the wronged woman, who is perceived as the sole victim rather than David Blakeley who died at her hand.
Although some of these preconceptions do have actual basis in reality – that, for example, men are indeed much more likely to commit a murder or a crime of a violent nature than women – studies also surprisingly show that allow women are, in general, on the whole, more worried about violent crime it is actually men who are far more likely to actually be the victims of such acts. (The Scottish Executive, 2000, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/stats/sfwm/docs/sfwm-11.asp)
The same study also reveals that for the given period (1991-2000) of all the victims of criminal homicide (where the perpetrator was identified) in excess of seventy-five percent of all victims were male, and that of these, thirty percent were men aged between sixteen and twenty-nine years of age.
Interestingly, while male perpetrators of criminal homicide are more likely to kill within their own gender, women are also more likely to kill men as opposed to other women.
Of the solved cases featured with in the aforementioned report, three-fifths of solved murder cases where the victim was male were found to have been carried out by an acquaintance of the deceased, whereas in those cases where the victim was female, a staggering two-fifths of solved murders were discovered to have been carried out by their partner.
It is also interesting to note that according to a report from crimeinfo_org_uk (http://www.crimeinfo.org.uk/servlet/factsheetservlet?command=viewfactsheet&factsheetid=64&category=factsheets) although the percentage of crimes committed by female perpetrators would seem to be on the rise, on the whole, the majority of these are shown to be crimes of a less severe nature, with theft and handling stolen property accounting for around sixty percent of all crime committed by women offenders in the United Kingdom during 2001. Women were also shown to be more likely to ‘grow out of crime’ with the peak offending age for females being just fourteen, compared to the peak offending age for men of eighteen years. This may also, to some extent account for the low percentage of women prisoners in the UK gaol population, standing at just nineteen percent in 2001, although this may also be due to the fact that in the past, sentences for female offenders tended to be more lenient, often leaning more to community service than custodial sentences, although a marginally higher proportion of female prisoners were remanded into psychiatric care.
It is intriguing to see such a marked difference between the average ages of the offenders – seeming to imply that (as mentioned) for the majority of female teenage theft may be almost a strange of right of passage that is soon to be outgrown or forgotten (and if caught, are most likely to be issued with a warning rather brought to court) whereas the male offenders, being more inclined to embark on a criminal path in the later teenage years (when already officially an adult) would be more likely to be charged with the crime as a adult, thus what may have simply, in reality began as teenage hi-jinks may end up with the accused beginning a voyage down the slippery slope into a full time criminal activity.
While this might in some way explain why there are more male prisoners than female, it is worth mentioning a recent report by Mind, the leading British mental health charity (http://www.mind.org.uk/Information/Factsheets/Men/) which deals with the psychiatric and sociological issues that may be affecting male behaviour in relation to criminal homicide.
The article reveals, for example, that on average, men (in the 25-44 year age range) are four times more likely to commit suicide than women, possibly due to the fact that although just as many men as women suffer from depression, they are less likely to acknowledge this fact or attempt to seek help for the condition. In addition to this, men are far more prone to developing schizophrenia during the period from their late teens to early twenties and do not appear to respond to treatment as well as women.
Men are also more probable candidates for addiction – especially with regards to alcohol and drug abuse, with the abuse of solvents still considered almost entirely a male dominated addiction. (Around seventy percent of all solvent abuse is thought to involve young males.)
In addition to this, as it is considered that ‘alcohol and drug use is the major contributory factor in violent crime’ (Mind) it is highly unlikely to be a co-incidence given that alcohol abuse is known to affect five times as many men as women, that sixty-two percent of violent offenders were found to be acting under the influence of alcohol.
It would appear that in general, men are also unfortunate with regards as to other mental health problems, with an average of sixty-three percent of male prisoners on remand in the UK, and forty-nine percent of male prisoners serving custodial sentences shown to be suffering from some type of antisocial personality disorder such as, for example paranoid, schizoid or schizotypal personality disorders.
It is my conclusion that the reason for the continuing trend of men being the main perpetrators as well as victims of criminal homicide, and of other violent crime is due in large part to the sociological conditioning that educates and expects men to be artificially ‘tough’ with regards to their own emotional well being and mental health, they are often schooled in hiding their true emotions and face derision for ‘acting like a girl’ when brave enough to admit to or to showing emotions such as pain and grief.
Men have also, during the past century had to cope with their changing roles in society – while the aftermath of the second world war was instrumental to the advancement of the feminine (and feminist) cause, allowing women to slowly begin to achieve the roles within society they had long striven for, these events proved detrimental to the male cause, leading to a loss of the old ideals that served to make up the accepted masculine identity.
Changing social issues coupled with new economic trends such as high levels of unemployment due to the increased size of the mixed gender workforce, and lower salaries coupled with a rise in the breakdown of traditional family life and a marked increase in divorce rates could be said to have led to a lack of conventional role models in whose footsteps to follow along with the increased stresses of modern living have led to sociological factors that were simply not a problem for their ancestors.