'Fatal Fathers' Myth Promoted in Wake of Peterson, Hacking Cases

In the midst of the Scott Peterson trial and in the wake of the apparent murder of Lori Hacking, many are declaring the murder of pregnant women by their male intimates to be a nationwide crisis. The New York Post thunders “Pregnancy’s Greatest Risk: Daddy,” and the Chicago Tribune says that Peterson and Hacking represent a “violent, horrific trend.” Media Life magazine warns that the “Laci Petersons of the world [are] becoming more common,” and a recent A&E special called “Fatal Fathers” declares that the Peterson murder is part of a “frightening” and “much larger” phenomenon.

While one cannot fault observers for looking for culprits in such heartbreaking situations, a few facts are in order. According to the US Census Bureau, there are nearly 100 million women age 18 or over in the United States. Of these, only one out of every 75,000 are murdered by a male intimate each year. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, there are as many wives and girlfriends who murder their male partners as vice versa.

According to official Department of Justice statistics, there are about 1,300 female intimates and 500 male intimates murdered each year, excluding those killings deemed to be in self-defense. However, this apparent 2.6 to 1 ratio is distorted by several blinders which greatly conceal female murders of men. These blinders were delineated by author Warren Farrell, a high-profile expert witness in domestic violence cases.

One blinder is that women generally use less detectable methods to murder intimates than men do. One of the most popular female methods is to poison the victim, and these poisonings are often mistakenly recorded as “heart attacks” or “accidents” instead of murder.

Another blinder is that women are much more likely than men to use “contract” killers, and contract killers often disguise murders as accidents or suicides. Even when a paid killer is caught and the truth is known, the DOJ counts the murder as a “multiple-offender” killing instead of as a murder of a man by a female intimate.

Also, men who murder women tend to come from lower income backgrounds, whereas women who murder men are more likely to come from middle-class backgrounds. The financial disparities allow for women to have better legal representation, resulting in more acquittals. According to a Justice Department study, women are nine times as likely as men to be acquitted in a trial for the murder of a spouse, and 10 times as likely to receive probation instead of prison time.

Chivalry and our stubborn insistence that women are innocent and morally superior also play a role. The wife of a murdered husband is far less likely to be considered a serious suspect than the husband of a murdered wife. And even when women are suspected, they are much more likely to be seen as having acted in self-defense.

The DOJ’s statistics are further distorted by the roughly 7,800 unsolved murders of men and 1,500 unsolved murders of women which occur each year. If one were to combine the known number of murdered intimates with reasonable estimates of how many unsolved murders were committed by intimates, men would comprise over 40% of all intimate murder victims. This is consistent with the DOJ’s survey Murder in Families, which analyzed 10,000 cases and found that women make up over 40 percent of those charged in familial murders. In fact, the total may be far higher, since many murders of men by female intimates are not even recorded as murders.

Men have no monopoly on violence, cruelty, or murder. Convicted Texas killer Clara Harris ran her husband down in her Mercedes as the fallen man’s daughter begged her not to kill her father. Convicted Texas murderess Susan Wright stabbed her husband 193 times and claimed self-defense. As tragic as the murders of Laci Peterson and Lori Hacking are, their husbands – if guilty – are aberrations who are no more representative of American husbands than Harris and Wright are of American wives.

September 17, 2004