A third of domestic violence killers in Australia are middle class | HMA

A third of domestic violence killers in Australia are middle class



Statistics presented at Australia’s National Research On Women’s Safety (ANROWS) conference by Hayley Boxall from the Australian Institute of Criminology, saw that a third of domestic violence killers in Australia are middle class, challenging the common stereotypes that family violence abusers are from disadvantaged backgrounds and are in regular contact with Police.


We have known for some time that this group of men (the research describes them as Fixated Threat [FT] offenders) are whom we worry most about in terms of lethality, particularly post-separation or when the victim is likely to re-partner. Fixated threat (FT) men constituted one-third of all intimate partner homicides (IPH) in the study (33%, n=59).


As the report indicates men fitting this profile were relatively functional in other domains of their life. In many cases, they were typically middle-class men who were well respected in their communities and had low levels of contact with the criminal justice system. Their abusive behaviour often took the form of controlling, stalking and monitoring behaviours which escalated in the context of the victim’s perceived withdrawal from the relationship (e.g. separation). This group has been variously described as pit bulls (Gottman and Jacobson, 1998) and borderline-dysphoric (Holtzworth-Munroe and Stewart: 1994).


The report also identified two other dominant pathways: Persistent and disorderly and Deterioration/acute stressor (DAS). Persistent and disorderly (PD) was the most common pathway identified in the analysis (40%, n=73). These men were often Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples; had complex histories of trauma and abuse; had co-occurring mental, emotional and physical health problems; and had significant histories of violence towards intimate partners and others.


The relationships that the PD offenders were involved in were characterised by persistent IPV and frequent criminal justice system contact (including protection orders). Despite this, separation was relatively rare for these relationships. In many cases, the lethal violence incident was similar in nature to previously reported instances of abuse he had perpetrated on the victim. However, the risk of lethal violence was significantly heightened by co-occurring individual-level and situational-specific vulnerabilities, such as heavy alcohol use or the absence of capable guardians to stop the man. Again Gottman and Jacobsen’s research indicated that while the partners of men with the Fixated Threat presentation were 75% more likely to have left the relationship by the end of five years, only twenty-five percent of women in the PD group did. They described these men as cobras.


Deterioration/acute stressor (DAS) men are an interesting group. In the study, one in 10 men (11%, n=19) were classified as DAS. These men tended to be non-Indigenous, older, and to have significant emotional, mental and physical health problems. They also demonstrated low levels or an absence of aggression and violent behaviours or tendencies. As such, criminal justice system contact was rare. DAS offenders were in long-term, “happy” and non-abusive relationships with the victim until the onset or exacerbation of a significant life stressor (or stressors) triggered a deterioration in their health and wellbeing. This shift in their trajectory had a negative impact on the man’s attitudes towards the victim (for example, he may have begun to perpetrate IPV). At the time of the lethal incident, there was no obvious intent to harm the victim. Instead, an argument would occur which, coupled with the man’s impaired emotional regulation skills, resulted in a nearly instantaneous decision to harm the victim. Men with DAS presentations were likely to seek help for the victim, demonstrate remorse and plead guilty.


The implications of this research for those working on the frontline in programs are not insignificant. No longer can we deliver a ‘One size fits all approach.’
I have been teaching for some time that the key to effective intervention is a robust front-end assessment of the respective pathways that the men travel and then nuancing any intervention to disrupt the drivers of these (stable and acute risk factors). We can then more effectively work with the drivers of the behaviours to ensure the safety of previous, current and future partners.


Congratulations to Boxall and colleagues for a great contribution to our field of knowledge. The full report can be found here.


Gottman, J. & Jacobson, N, (1998)  When men batter women: new insights into ending abusive relationships, New York : Simon & Schuster
Holtzworth-Munroe, A., & Stuart, G. L. (1994). Typologies of male batterers: Three subtypes and the differences among them. Psychological Bulletin, 116(3), 476–497. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.116.3.476


Published on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022, under Family violence, What Ken thinks

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