Lethal violence compared in three countries

26 September, 2011
A new study compares lethal violence in  three EU countries.
In Finland and Sweden a large proportion of homicides take place between intoxicated, male acquaintances, while in the Netherlands, they take place in a criminal milieu to a greater extent. These are some results of a unique study comparing lethal violence in the three countries.
Johanna Hagstedt and Sven Granath, researchers at Brå.

Photos by P. Asplund and A. Jansson

— The results also show a pattern where Finland and the Netherlands show the largest differences, with Sweden most often placed in between regarding many homicide characteristics. One important exception is the homicide rate, where Sweden has the lowest homicide rate per 100 000 population and Finland has the highest, says Johanna Hagstedt, researcher at Brå.

When it comes to homicide structure, there are important differences between the three countries. Generally however, the two Nordic countries are more similar to one another than they are to the Netherlands. Although all the identified homicide types exist in all three countries, homicides committed in Finland and Sweden are often characterized by acquainted men killing each other in situations where alcohol is an important factor. In the Netherlands a larger proportion of homicides are associated with a criminal milieu, resulting in slightly younger perpetrators, a higher proportion of homicides committed outdoors with firearms and a lower clearance rate. In other words, homicides in Finland and Sweden more often have expressive motives, while instrumental motives were the most common in the Netherlands.

But there are also important similarities between the three countries. For example, most homicides take place during evenings or nights and weekends are more lethal than weekdays. Also, the characteristics of victims and perpetrators are alike. In all three countries the victims and perpetrators are largely characterized by being males born in the same country the crime took place in, a large proportion of these being between the ages of 25 and 64.

The study is based on four years of homicide data collected in each country. The project is important because it has shown that building a homicide database on a European level is feasible.

— The results are unique in that it is the first time that directly comparable homicide data are available for such a large number of variables for three European countries, says Sven Granath, researcher at Brå. 

The research possibilities are numerous: international comparisons, victim and perpetrator characteristics, in-depth studies of unusual homicide types, changes and differences in judicial definitions and sentencing practices and in the future, possibilities of making time series to study the development in lethal violence are some of them. Most important, however, is the possibility of identifying, designing and evaluating criminal justice measures aiming to reduce and prevent homicide.

The project partners are committed to continuing work on the European Homicide Monitor by gathering data nationally and combining data at regular intervals. The project partners also hope that other member states will compile and share data, laying the foundations of a European Homicide Monitor that includes as many European countries as possible.

The three-year project will come to an end during 2011. The project is financed by the EU and is a collaboration between the National Research Institute of Legal policy in Finland, the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Law of Leiden University in the Netherlands and the National Council for Crime Prevention in Sweden (lead partner).

With support from the ISEC Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Union European Commission - Directorate-General Home Affairs.