Intimate partner violence against women is all too common and takes many forms.1 The most serious is homicide by an intimate partner.2 Guns can easily turn domestic violence into domestic homicide. One federal study on homicide among intimate partners found that female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than all other means combined, concluding that “the figures demonstrate the importance of reducing access to firearms in households affected by IPV [intimate partner violence].”3

Guns are also often used in non-fatal domestic violence. A study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed gun use at home and concluded that “hostile gun displays against family members may be more common than gun use in self-defense, and that hostile gun displays are often acts of domestic violence directed against women.”4

The U.S. Department of Justice has found that women are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes committed by intimate partners than men, especially when a weapon is involved. Moreover, women are much more likely to be victimized at home than in any other place.5

This is the 25th edition of When Men Murder Women. From 1996 to 2020, the rate of women murdered by men in single victim/single offender incidents dropped from 1.57 per 100,000 females in 1996 to 1.34 per 100,000 females in 2020, a decrease of 15 percent (see graph on the following page). Since reaching its low of 1.08 in 2014, the rate has increased, with 2020’s rate of 1.34 up 24 percent since 2014.

The data presented over the years in When Men Murder Women coincide with the passage and implementation of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as well as the enactment of federal laws restricting firearms possession by persons with misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence or who are subject to certain protective orders for domestic violence. The Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 was passed by Congress as part of the Omnibus appropriations package and signed by President Biden in March 2022. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the package of new gun violence prevention laws passed this year by Congress, expands the prohibition on gun possession by domestic violence misdemeanants to include those in a dating relationship. This prohibition expires after five years if the person is not convicted of another offense. The bill, however, did not extend the prohibited category of persons subject to a final domestic violence protective order to those in a dating relationship.

Since the passage of these laws, domestic violence has increasingly been treated as the serious problem that it is. States have also reformed their laws to better protect victims of domestic abuse and remove firearms from persons with histories of domestic violence.

In 2020, there were 2,059 females murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents that were submitted to the FBI for its Supplementary Homicide Report. 12 The key findings of this study, expanded upon in the following sections, dispel many of the myths regarding the nature of lethal violence against females.

  • For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 89 percent of female victims (1,604 out of 1,801) were murdered by a male they knew.
  • Eight times as many females were murdered by a male they knew (1,604 victims) than were killed by male strangers (197 victims).
  • For victims who knew their offenders, 60 percent (967) of female homicide victims were wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers.13
  • There were 298 women shot and killed by either their husband or intimate acquaintance during the course of an argument.
  • Nationwide, for homicides in which the weapon could be determined (1,735), more female homicides were committed with firearms (61 percent) than with all other weapons combined. Knives and other cutting instruments accounted for 18 percent of all female murders, bodily force nine percent, and murder by blunt object five percent. Of the homicides committed with firearms, 64 percent were committed with handguns.
  • In 88 percent of all incidents where the circumstances could be determined, homicides were not related to the commission of any other felony, such as rape or robbery.

The study also analyzes available information on the murders of Black females. Not surprisingly, these homicides mirror the trends for females overall: most homicides against Black females are not committed by strangers, but by males known to the victims.