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Filicide in Australia: Comparing perpetrator mental Illness, substance misuse and suicide for male and female offenders

Jessica Bowring

Supervisors: Lillian De Bortoli, James Ogloff

Rationale and aims:

  • Research literature on filicide is under developed and to date, has largely been conducted overseas. Few studies compare female and male perpetrators and many are limited by fragile methodologies including inconsistent definitions of filicide, biased samples or small sample sizes.
  • The purposes of the present study were to overcome some of the methodological problems associated with existing research literature and fill the gap in Australian experience of filicide from a national perspective.
  • The primary aim of the current study was to compare the characteristics of filicidal males and females in Australia for mental illness, substance misuse and perpetrator suicide. In addition, the study aims to explore these comparisons for biological perpetrators.

Methodology:

  • Comparison of the characteristics of male and female filicide perpetrators based on a pre-existing data set of filicide cases.
  • Cases were sourced from Australian states and territories, excluding Western Australia. The data set included 123 filicide victims and 103 perpetrators (48 females and 55 males).
  • Filicide cases were identified in the National Coronial Information System and data was supplemented by information from Supreme Court Judgments (AustLII) and media articles (NewsBank).
  • Data were coded and analysed in a de-identified, non-re-identifiable format.

Results and conclusions:

  • For male and female comparisons, diagnoses of mental disorders were more frequent amongst filicidal females but no difference was found for substance abuse or suicide attempts at the time of filicide
  • For biological and non-biological relationship comparisons with victims, biological parents were more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour at the time of the filicide and were more likely to have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. There was no difference however for substance abuse.
  • For males and female comparisons amongst the biologically related perpetrators, there was no difference between mental illness, substance abuse or suicidal behaviour at the time of filicide.

Clinical implications and research translation:

  • The distinction between biological and non-biological relationships between perpetrator and victim is important in developing typologies for understanding filicidal perpetrators
  • A improved understanding of filicide which incorporates relationships between perpetrator and victim will potentially improve the responsivity of clinical practitioners working with vulnerable children living with high risk offenders