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April 18, 2002

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U.S. leads world in female homicides

A new School of Public Health (SPH) study finds that among high-income nations, the United States has the highest rate of female homicide victimization. The United States accounts for 32 percent of the female population among 25 high-income countries, but 70 percent of all female homicides, and 84 percent of all female firearm homicides. Some 4,000 American females are murdered each year.

A female in the United States is three times more likely to be murdered than a female in Canada, five times more likely to be murdered than a female in Germany, and eight times more likely to be murdered than a female in England and Wales. The U.S. female homicide victimization rate is five times that of all the other high-income countries combined. The firearm homicide rate for U.S. females is 11 times higher than that in the other high-income countries.

The article, "Firearm Availability and Female Homicide Victimization Rates among 25 Populous High Income Countries," is published in the spring 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association (http://www.jamwa.org).

David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at SPH, and lead author of the study, said: "The difference in female homicide victimization rates between the U.S. and these other industrialized nations is very large and is closely tied to levels of gun ownership. The relationship cannot be explained by differences in urbanization or income inequality."

Other studies of high-income countries have found a relationship between levels of household gun ownership and overall homicide rates, but this association was primarily driven by male homicides, since most homicide victims are male. The current study is one of the first to examine international female homicide rates.

"The circumstances of male and female homicides tend to be quite different," said Hemenway, "at least in the United States. While men are typically killed away from home by a non-intimate, women are more likely to be killed at home by a spouse, ex-boyfriend, or other intimate acquaintance."

Copyright 2002 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College