How Do Rates of Women Killed by Men Vary, State by State?

The greatest threat a woman faces comes not from a stranger, but from someone she knows—too often a spouse or boyfriend—most frequently armed with a gun.

A March For Our Lives student protest for gun control in St. Paul, Minn., on March 7, 2018. (Fibonacci Blue / Flickr)

Nearly 1,800 women were murdered by men in 2019—the most recent year available—and the most common weapon used was a gun, according to the most recent edition of the annual Violence Policy Center (VPC) study “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2019 Homicide Data.”

Each year, the VPC releases its report in advance of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The study analyzes homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender using data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Supplementary Homicide Report.

From 1996 to 2019, the rate of women murdered by men in single-victim or single-offender incidents dropped from 1.57 per 100,000 women in 1996, to 1.18 per 100,000 women in 2019—a decrease of 25 percent. Since reaching its low of 1.08 in 2014, however, the rate has increased, with 2019’s rate of 1.18 up nine percent since 2014.

Now in its 24th year, the VPC study consistently finds that women who are murdered by men are almost always killed by someone they know. This year’s study found that nationwide, 91 percent of women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew and that the most common weapon used was a gun.

In 2019, for homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 58 percent of female victims were shot and killed with a firearm. Of the homicides committed with guns, 65 percent were killed with a handgun. The number of women shot and killed by their husband or intimate acquaintance was more than three and a half times the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined.

The study also consistently shows that Black women are at a significantly higher risk of homicide victimization than white women. In 2019, Black females were murdered by males at a rate of 2.34 per 100,000, more than twice the rate of 0.99 per 100,000 for white women murdered by men.

Southern states and Alaska tend to dominate the list of states with the highest rates. In this year’s report, Alaska had the highest rate while the Southern states of Louisiana, South Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee filled out the fifth, sixth, ninth and 10th spots. Historically, the same states tend to routinely occupy the highest rankings.

For each of the 10 states with the highest rates of females killed by males, the study offers a detailed summary including: the number of victims by age group and race; the most common weapons used; the victim to offender relationships; and, the circumstances of the homicides. For example, in top-ranking Alaska, the majority of victims were American Indian or Alaskan Native.

The data contained in “When Men Murder Women” has been used by advocates and policymakers to help identify effective strategies to protect women and their families, increase funding for domestic violence prevention strategies and inform the public of the reality of lethal violence against women (including spurring a Pulitzer-prize winning series on domestic violence in South Carolina by The Post and Courier).

Some of the prevention strategies that emerge from the patterns identified by the study year after year include ensuring that abusers do not have access to firearms as well as providing adequate resources to organizations, including local shelters, that work every day to protect women and their families from domestic abuse. To help accomplish these two goals, it is imperative that Congress prioritize reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a main pillar of the federal government’s efforts to prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. (VAWA’s authorization lapsed in 2018.)

The greatest lethal threat a woman faces is from the man she has shared her life with—and much more must be done to ensure that women are safe from the risk of homicide.

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Kristen Rand is the legislative director of the Violence Policy Center (VPC), a national gun violence prevention organization. Each year the VPC releases "When Men Murder Women," an analysis of female homicide victimization by males.