Women Who Kill

When women kill, which they don’t do very often, the motive can be quite different from their male counterparts. Learn what situations make women snap, making murder feel like the only option they have.

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Why men commit more murders then women is a loaded question. It probably has something to do with a natural, evolved propensity for violence needed to gain social status, resources and control over a sexual mate. Women, on the other hand, are the natural nurturers and caretakers which could make them less "hard-wired" for violence.


Most people, of course, don't resort to murder when provoked or upset. That's because there is an area in the brain that intercepts these ferocious thoughts before they can be acted upon. So what goes wrong when someone snaps? And is it different in men and women?

There isn't a lot of research about women killers because most studies focus on men. Criminologists say the psychological and behavioral characteristics of male murderers are not easily applied to women. Although the motives vary in women, just as they do in men, there are some motives that tend to trigger deadly violence by women more often.


Identifying women at risk , and getting them the help they need, may prevent some women from making the biggest mistake of their lives.


Profile of a Murderess

Studies show that when men commit murder, they typically kill people they don't know well, usually over money, power, or when they lose face. Female-perpetrated homicide, on the other hand, typically has a personal emotional component. The victim is usually a person they have been intimately involved with who may have initiated some type of aggression toward them at some point in their life.


There are some extremely rare serial cases involving misplaced mercy or extreme psychopathy. But, women mostly kill a current or former spouse or dating partner, child, friend or relative.


The murders typically occur in the home and are generally unplanned. They kill out of desperation to protect themselves or their children from a real (or imagined) life-threatening situation or in reaction to physical, sexual or psychological abuse. It is often a crime of opportunity; a chance situation presents itself and is acted upon without much thought.


Women who kill their children (infanticide) may do so during a psychotic event related to severe mental illness or as a consequence of drug or alcohol abuse. They feel like they have no real resources to cope with the responsibility of caring for children and are unable to manage the rigors of managing a household, work and family. Murder is perceived as the only way out.


And, like men, women will kill because they live in communities where there is a culture of violence, gangs or drug addiction.

There is never a good reason for murder. Yet, when a women kills as a way out of an abusive relationship or has an unrecognized or untreated mental illness, it pulls on our heartstrings. Years of domestic abuse can cause depression, post-traumatic stress, sleeplessness and battered-woman syndrome – and getting these women to recognize unhealthy situations is difficult.


The key is to give women in jeopardy the tools that prevent them from viewing murder as the only option.


Learn the signs of an abusive relationship – Intimate partner violence is any violence that occurs between 2 people in a close relationship. It can happen once, or over a long period of time.

Violence can be:

  • Physical – Any activity that causes physical harm or pain such as hitting, punching, poking, kicking or pinching
  • Sexual – Any non-consensual activity relating to sex
  • Emotional – Any threatening activity such as stalking, name-calling or withholding something important

Learn how to protect yourself and create a safety plan for when things get dicey.


Recognize an abuser –
When you enter into a relationship, it may not always be apparent who is likely to abuse, but there are some factors that put an intimate partner at risk.

  • Recreational drug use
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Alcoholism or heavy drinking
  • Exposure to violence or abuse as a child
  • Unemployment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mental illness
  • History of aggression in relationships
  • Over-the-top jealousy, hypersensitivity and control

Find other ways to gain control – If you feel like you are pushing a boulder uphill, unable to care for yourself or your children, or feel like you are ready to snap, violence is not the only way out. Problems feel insurmountable when you don't have a safety net. Getting help early can prevent problems from escalating to the point that violence seems like the only solution. Get help early to defuse some of the stress bubbling under the surface and gain back control of your life.



If you see something, say something – People with mental-health problems are not always able to advocate for themselves. If you see that someone is in an abusive relationship, is drifting away from reality, unable to care for themselves or their children, refusing to take controlling medications, or is slipping into a depression or psychosis, step in to help.


Dr. Oz's Get Help Toolbox

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)

Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation

American Psychiatric Association

United States Department of Justice State Domestic Violence Coalitions

SafeHorizon