Fri | Nov 24, 2017

'Till death do us part' - Jamaican men taking vow literally, with higher rate of murder-suicides than most other countries

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Pottinger
Employees of a funeral home remove one of the bodies following a murder-suicide in August Town, St Andrew.
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Jamaican men are killing their spouses and then themselves at a higher rate than men in the United States and most other countries in the world, with local researchers theorising that this is due to a pervasive cultural belief that a woman is a man's possession for life.

In the last 10 years, 27 Jamaicans have been killed by their intimate partners, who then committed suicide. That includes 26 women and one homosexual who was murdered by his male partner.

Clinical psychologist Dr Audrey Pottinger, who was part of a three-member team which studied these cases, said the prevalence rate on intimate partners murder-suicide in Jamaica was 0.92 per 100,000 between 2007 and 2017, which was higher than the international rate.

"To put it into some framework or perspective, in the US it is typically between .20 and .30 per 100,000. In some states in the US, it can go as high as .50. South Africa is one of the higher ones, and that was .87, and we are high above that," Pottinger explained during a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Thursday.

"The homicide-suicide tends to be higher among armed personnel. Again, that is consistent with the literature. They have access to guns - our security forces, our police, soldiers, security guards - they have access," added Pottinger, even as she noted that unskilled labourers also figured prominently in the instances of persons who kill their partners and themselves.

While the researchers found that the types of men committing these acts was somewhat standard, that was not the case for their victims.

"The occupation of the victims varied, so we could have the professional, we could have the businesswoman, we could have the self-employed, the security officers, so that varied for the victims.

 

DOCILE WOMEN

 

One thing the women did have in common, however, was a docile personality, as they were all described as quiet by friends and family members left to mourn their tragic end.

The vast majority of the 27 victims were killed late at night or early in the morning in the privacy of a house with either a gun or a cutting instrument such as a knife. The fact that some of them had a child or children was of little consequence to their killer who, the researchers found, in most of the cases, left behind children of their own.

"It's the suicide that drives it. It is the intent to hurt themselves, to kill themselves that actually drives the homicide-suicide. So after you kill your partner, it is easier for you to kill yourself," said Pottinger, who is also a senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies.

She said that the murders-suicides were often premeditated.

"The acts seemed intentional. It's not like an impulsive, wake up and say you know, I am going to do this," noted Pottinger, as she pointed out that in many of the cases, the women were completely blindsided.

"There was not that threat that if you do this, I am going to harm you. There were quarrels about whether you are cheating or not, but it wasn't as if I am going to kill you, which you tend to hear in the intimate partner violence to silence the woman, to keep the woman under control," said the clinical psychologist.

Pottinger noted that in most cases, it was an older man who killed the younger woman before killing himself.

"The average age of the perpetrator was 44 years old, and in all of the cases they were older than their victims, sometimes as much as between 15 and 27 years their senior. Possessiveness and jealousy often influenced their actions, as the men generally felt the women were unfaithful.

"A lot of the disputes revolved around the men who were just obsessive about their partners, were jealous about their partners, and whether the women were doing anything or not, it was perceived that there was actually infidelity," said Pottinger.

She concluded that, "The actual triggers now for the homicide-suicide was when the woman threatened to leave or actually initiated the separation."

Most of the cases were concentrated in St Catherine and Manchester, but while the researchers tied the frequency in St Catherine to a generally high crime level in that parish, Pottinger was at a loss to determine the reason for the high number of cases in Manchester.

The clinical psychologist along with her team, which comprised lecturer in the Department of Community Health and Psychiatry, Dr Althea Bailey, and Nickiesha Passard from the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, combed through data from the Jamaica Constabulary Force and media reports of the brutal acts to determine the profile of the typical offender.

"Our data is actually consistent with international studies. We are finding that these are older men who are murdering their partners. It is not the young juvenile person, it is the seasoned, experienced man," concluded Pottinger.

nadine.wilson@gleanerjm.com