Victim-Precipitated Homicide


More than any other type of crime, violent crime has the greatest impact on the public’s perception of crime in general: people fear violent crime. Although people are much more likely to be victims of burglary, larceny, and car theft, what affects people’s behavior and attitudes towards crime is their fear of homicide. Fear of homicide drives people to stay in at night, refuse to open their doors to strangers or help strangers in need, and travel in groups when walking in the streets. Law enforcement agencies have concentrated more on conventional homicides, overlooking the assumption that some homicides could be taking place in households between husband and wife, or between two friends or acquaintances, and the homicide could have been initiated by a provocation of the offender by the victim. This results’ to an over-concentration on typical homicides as opposed to a form of homicide which is victim precipitated. It is thus important that law enforcement agencies treat victim-precipitated suicide with the solemnity it deserves. This can be achieved through continuous capacity building of law enforcement officers to ensure that they can handle such situations when need arises, and they can be in a position to identify and differentiate a justified murder from an unjustified murder, thereby, minimizing chances of incarcerating the offender wrongly.



Researchers trying to understand criminal behavior have typically focused on the offender. With the advent of victimization surveys, however, attention has turned to considering the role of the victim, and now, many scholars believe that no explanation of crime would be  complete without a consideration of the victim’s involvement. In 1958, Marvin Wolfgang began examining the relationship between victims and offenders in homicide incidents and introduced the term victim precipitation to reflect those incidents in which the victims played an active role in the outcome. Although often criticized as victim blaming, the consideration of victim involvement in violence remains an important research direction. This paper presents various perspectives to a criminology term that has come to be known as victim precipitated homicide (VPH), which is a form of homicide in which the eventual victim played an active role in causing the homicide.

Do you believe that the commission of homicides precipitated by the victim amounts to a statistically relevant proportion of all homicides committed?

Depending on various definitions of homicide,victim-precipitated homicide should and should not amount to a homicide statistic. In its simplest definition, homicide is the killing of a person by another person.It is the unlawful taking of life by another human. It may include not only premeditated and intentional killing, but also non-intentional killing. Based on this definition, then the commission of victim-precipitated homicides are a statistically relevant proportion of homicides committed. However, there are various categories of homicides which qualify the killing of a person as either lawful or unlawful. According to Alvi, Ellis, & DeKeseredy(2006), homicide can either be Excusable, Justifiable, or Criminal. Excusable Homicide refers to situations where people are killed accidentally and in which there is limited negligence on the part of the perpetrator, Justifiable Homicide is considered a non-criminal murder in  which a an individual might have killed someone in self-defense or as a consequence of defending another person. On the other hand, Criminal Homicides are situations in which human life is taken without justification or excuse. This category has several subcategories, depending on the jurisdiction, and includes types such as negligent homicide, reckless manslaughter, first degree murder, second degree murder, and felony murder. In my opinion, if I am to go with this classification of homicide, I would opine that only Criminal Homicides should be included in homicides statistics, while excusable and justifiable homicides should not.

What factors do you think are relevant in such victim-precipitated homicides?

Some of the factors that I think are relevant in VPH include, the gender of offender, the weapon of choice and the case of death, the victim-offender relationship, alcohol in the homicide situation, previous arrest and assault record, as well as firearm availability.

Various studies have found that in victim-precipitated homicides, women are more likely to be the offenders and men are likely to be the victims.According to literature one factor that is relevant to VPH is the domestic context. According to studies, because a fight between a man and a woman is usually not fair because men are generally bigger and more familiar with fighting, women are more likely to suffer from injury in domestic disputes and this makes self-defense by women an adaptive and perhaps life-saving strategy. In domestic conflict in which the man strikes first, the woman may be forced to defend herself by killing the male. As such, many of the domestic homicides are judged to be VPH. This can further be evidenced by statistics that show more stabbings occurred in VPH cases reflecting on the domestic context, with a kitchen knife being then weapon of choice. Another factor is the effect of alcohol. The relationship between alcohol ingestion and homicide has been well established. According to studies, given the pervasiveness of alcohol as a concomitant to homicidal violence, it should be no surprise that it is a factor in VPH cases.

Prior arrest histories are also a factor to consider in VPH cases. Studies have found that a higher percentage of VPH victims have a previous arrest relative to non-VPH victims. Literature suggests that VPH victimscommittedand are more violence. That is, VPH victims are more violent on average and are more likely to have a history of criminal arrest and of violent offenses.

Would you expect to see different cultural, social, cognitive or psychobiological characteristics in offenders that committed homicides that could be classified as being precipitated by the victim? If so, why? If not, why not?

Yes, they are different.According to Karmen(2010), offenderswho committed victim-precipitated homicides have no identifying cultural, cognitive or psychobiological characteristics. However, according to the author, the characteristics of the offender of VPH closely resembled those of the victim’s. In some cases, two criminally inclined people clashed, and chance alone determined which one would emerge as the winner or the loser. In most serious assaults, detectives often discover that both the injured party and his assailants were mutually combatants immersed in lifestyles that championed a willingness use force to resolve disputes. The readiness to resort to combat to settle arguments is not a sign of psychopathology but is instead learned behavior.

However, Fisher & Lab(2010)stated most VPH offenders had some common characteristics that could identify them. According to the authors, VPH offenders have some form of interpersonal relationship with the victim.The authors state that the offender are mostly female and the victim male, they were mostly African American, and are persons who easily gointo a rage and did not value human life.The authors further add that the typical offenders are likely to be between the age of 25-39 years, unemployed or not having a constant source of income, once married, having a dependent or children, not a user of alcohol and not a drug abuser.

Would you consider a homicide to be “victim precipitated” if the victim unintentionally provoked the offender by being unaware of cultural norms and thereby unintentionally violated certain cultural norms important to the offender? Why? Why not?

Yes, I would consider the homicide to be victim-precipitated if the victim unintentionally provoked the offender. Victim precipitated homicide has been defined as a murder where the victim played an important part in bringing about his own death, and it was as a result of a provocation by the victim, intentionally or unintentionally.For as long as the victim played a direct role in his or her own death, knowingly or unknowingly then a murder should be considered as victim precipitated.The underlying idea is that the assault was initiated by the eventual victim. The assault can be a physical and non-physical precipitation.

According to most definitions of victim precipitated homicide, what qualifies a homicide as victim precipitated is not the awareness of the victim about pressure points that are likely to provoke the final offender to commit homicide, but rather the fact that the initial confrontationwas initiated by the victim. The involvement can either be passive or active. Therefore, in my opinion “Yes,” I would consider the homicide to be victim-precipitated if the victim unintentionally provoked the offender.


In conclusion, victim precipitated homicide has become a salient issue in present day America. Statistics on this form of crime have continually risen; attracting the need to know what could be the predominant reason resulting to these rising statistics. This is especially so in the face of the continual risingcases of suicide by cop which has caught the public’s eye and equally enraged communities from various races. It is therefore imperative that the causal effects that resultsin victim-precipitated homicide are aptly studied and law enforcement agencies are educated on various predisposing factors that may build their capacity to prevent the occurrence of such cases.



Alvi, S., Ellis, D., & DeKeseredy, W. S. (2006). Deviance and Crime: Theory, Research and Policy (3 ed.). Cincinati, Ohio: Routledge.

Fisher, B. S., & Lab, S. P. (2010). Encyclopedia of Victimology and Crime Prevention, Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE.

Karmen, A. (2010). Crime Victims: An Introduction to Victimology (7, illustrated ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

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