Gender differences in homicide offenders' criminal career, substance abuse and mental health care. A nationwide register-based study of Finnish homicide offenders 1995-2004

Crim Behav Ment Health. 2011 Feb;21(1):51-62. doi: 10.1002/cbm.782.


Background: It is generally considered that women who kill are more likely to have a psychiatric disorder than their male counterparts, but as a relatively small group, women are much less often studied than men in this context.

Aim: To explore gender differences in the psychosocial history of homicide offenders.

Method: In this nationwide register-based study, data were extracted from the forensic psychiatric examination and crime reports of all 91 women prosecuted for homicide in Finland between 1995 and 2004 and from those of the next adjacent man convicted of a separate homicide (n = 91).

Results: Both female and male homicide offenders had a troubled childhood, but more women had witnessed or experienced family violence; more women had failed to complete their primary education. Men, however, were more likely to have had an offending history. Although there were no differences between the men and women in the frequencies of psychiatric diagnoses or of substance abuse, the women had more often received prior mental health treatment. The women were also more likely to have had a history of suicidal behaviour.

Conclusions: Both female and male homicide offenders are a troubled group of people, with slightly different criminal careers. Many use mental health services and therefore prevention could be improved. The suggestion of a special sub-group of women characterised by early educational and behavioural difficulties needs replication, as it may have implications for service development.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Criminals / psychology*
  • Domestic Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Homicide / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Environment
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Young Adult