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The Human Side of Homicide

On 28 February, Marieke Liem, Associate Professor at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs, appeared as a guest on the Dutch NPO Radio 1 Brainwash Podcast to discuss the 'big homicide questions' she is trying to find the answers to.

In fact, in some way or another, most people have a certain fascination for homicide. For Marieke Liem, her professional fascination has to do the fact that homicide is generally perceived as such an extreme act that those committing these acts are oftentimes considered to have some 'abnormal' trait. The question is, however, whether extreme behaviour necessarily calls for an extreme explanation? Or is that we come up with such extreme explanations because it makes it easier for us to distance ourselves from it? Up to a certain level this need to distance ourselves is justified, according to Marieke, in order to help maintain our self- identities. The empirical reality, however, portrays a different image: The majority of homicides are committed by people who are not deemed 'crazy'. It is very likely that every so often we will be able to identify with homicide offenders. In fact, the vast majority of homicides are relatively impulsive acts.

'Family is a dangerous social unit'

After initially getting involved in the aftermath of a domestic homicide, Marieke became interested in the big 'how could this have happened?'-question, but at the time she was unable to come up with an answer. The fascination for her research into this subject has in part to do with the need to provide a certain level of reassurance to the people involved. It is usually the scary men lurking in the bushes on our way home that we are afraid of but – statistically speaking – one is more likely to be murdered by the person they are sleeping next to. Families and couples can be faced with enormous conflicts, that take place behind closed doors, hidden for the outside world.

Female and Male Homicide Offenders: A Different Species?

Do female homicide offenders differ from their male counterparts? Marieke discusses how the underlying motives for women to kill are different than those of men and they usually use less physical means to kill. Closely examining all homicides committed by women, knives and firearms are still predominantly used but, despite that, most homicides by poisoning are perpetrated by women.

Despite considerable shifts in emancipation and equality for women, generally speaking homicide is still a male domain, the majority of both homicide perpetrators and victims being male. Women commit relatively few homicides outside the family home. Theoretically speaking, this is a because women find themselves less frequently in dangerous situations compared to men, who are more often involved in disputes over  pride, honour or money.

Another possible explanation, according to Marieke, is that men and women have been taught to deal differently with frustrations and other emotions from a very young age. The question is whether we should be looking at gender at all when dealing with domestic violence. In modern society gender is actually perceived a social construct. It is difficult to determine whether a woman has been killed because she is a woman or for completely different reasons.

Listen to the entire segment [in Dutch], in which Marieke also discusses life after long-term imprisonment for homicide offenders.

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