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Original Investigation
April 15, 2019

Intimate Partner Homicide of Adolescents

Author Affiliations
  • 1Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle
  • 2Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle
  • 3Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle
  • 5Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle
JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(6):571-577. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.0621
Key Points

Question  What are the characteristics of intimate partner homicides of adolescents?

Findings  In this multistate study of homicides of 2188 individuals aged 11 to 18 years, 150 were perpetrated by an intimate partner. Intimate partner homicide vitims were largely female and killed by a firearm, and homicides often involved broken relationships or jealousy.

Meaning  Intimate partner homicide of adolescents is an important problem that warrants further study and proactive intervention.

Abstract

Importance  Intimate partner violence during adolescence is widespread, and consequences can be severe. Intimate partner homicide (IPH) is the most extreme form of intimate partner violence, but literature on IPH has almost exclusively focused on adults.

Objectives  To determine the proportion of adolescent homicides that is perpetrated by intimate partners and to describe the victim, perpetrator, and incident characteristics of these IPHs.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Analysis of quantitative and qualitative surveillance data from the National Violent Death Reporting System from 2003 to 2016. Data represent 32 states that contributed to the system for 1 year or longer. There were 8048 homicides of victims aged 11 to 24 years with a known relationship between the victim and perpetrator. For persons aged 11 to 18 years, there were 2188 homicides. Analysis began September 2018.

Main Outcomes and Measures  An incident was identified as an IPH if the relationship between the perpetrator and victim was coded as spouse, ex-spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend, or girlfriend or boyfriend (unspecified current or former). Variables of interest included demographic characteristics (age, sex, race/ethnicity) for the victim and perpetrator, relationship status at time of death, homicide-suicide, homicide method, firearm type, and location of homicide. Contextual categories were created from the qualitative narratives.

Results  Of adolescent homicides, 150 (6.9%) were classified as IPH. A total of 135 victims (90%) were female (mean [SD] age, 16.8 [1.3] years). Overall, 102 perpetrators (77.9%) were 18 years and older (mean [SD] age, 20.6 [5.0] years), and 94 (62.7%) were current intimate partners of the victim. Firearms, specifically handguns, were the most common mechanism of injury. Compared with IPHs of young adults aged 19 to 24 years, perpetrators of adolescent victims were younger and less likely to be a current intimate partner. The most common categories of adolescent IPH homicides were broken/desired relationship or jealousy and an altercation followed by reckless firearm behavior and pregnancy related.

Conclusions and Relevance  Adolescents, particularly girls, in dating relationships may face risk of homicide, especially in circumstances of a breakup or jealousy and when perpetrators have access to firearms. Understanding homicide in early dating relationships can inform prevention and intervention efforts tailored to adolescents.

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