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Homicide rate drops, but not in criminal milieu

The annual homicide rate has decreased considerably since the 1990s. In their hunt for an explanation, researchers Pauline Aarten and Marieke Liem made a surprising discovery: if you divide homicides into categories, you find significant differences in the homicide rate. Publication in the European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research.

The homicide rate in the Western world has dropped over the last decades. Aarten and Liem divided the homicides in the Netherlands in the period of 1992-2016 into different subtypes. After analysing thousands of homicides, they concluded that these did not decrease equally for all the subtypes: whereas one type of homicide clearly decreased, other types remained remarkably stable.

Fewer ‘dispute homicides’, same number of criminal homicides

The drop in the homicide rate in this period is mainly due to the decrease in ‘dispute homicides.’ This could mean fights in bars or between business partners who resort to violence to settle a difference of opinion. The number of robbery homicides and intimate partner homicides declined in the same period. Surprisingly enough the number of crimes in the criminal milieu stayed almost the same.

Dividing homicides into categories can further our understanding of the mechanisms behind the downward trend, says researcher Pauline Aarten. ‘Possible explanations for the drop are often sought in broad sociological theories, such as the decreasing inequality. But why is the number of homicides in the criminal milieu more or less the same? We think there may be different explanations for different types of violence.’

Internet as possible explanation

One possible explanation for the drop in the number of dispute homicides and robbery homicides is the rise of the internet in the period studied. As people spend more of their leisure time in front of a screen rather than on the street, they are less likely to end up in violent altercations with others. Added to that, with cash gradually being replaced by digital banking, there is less opportunity for robbery. The decrease in the number of intimate partner homicides is thought to be due to women’s higher social status and because they have more options to end a bad relationship.

‘Dodelijke conflicten in het crimineel milieu zijn veel stabieler,’ zegt Aarten. ‘Hier heeft het internet veel minder effect, omdat het vaak gaat om de handel in of het gebruik van illegale drugs of wapens. Denk daarbij aan ruzies tussen drugsverslaafden, liquidaties door bendes en uit de hand gelopen ripdeals [berovingen tijdens illegale transacties, red.].’

Decrease is stagnating

In the past few years, however, the number of homicides does not appear to have dropped any further. In their future research Aarten and Liem want to use their Dutch Homicide Monitor to research how the trend has changed since 2016 and whether there are differences between the categories. Aarten: ‘We also want to study the effect of the pandemic. If people have to stay indoors during a lockdown, you might expect fewer robbery homicides but more intimate partner homicides. We want to find out whether these kinds of assumption are right.’

Text: Merijn van Nuland

Come to 3 October University to find out more

Researcher Marieke Liem will explain more about her research into homicide at 3 October University (in Dutch). This year’s version will be in Van der Werfpark on 4 October. Why not come along? (Talks are in Dutch).

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