Homicide in Switzerland

Homicide in Switzerland
Nora Markwalder and Martin Killias
Homicide events in Switzerland do not only gain
considerable attention from the general public,
but have also provoked increasing scientific interest over the last few years. However, research on
homicide is facing problems related to low absolute numbers, especially in small countries with
low murder rates. To overcome this drawback,
a national database of all cases of homicide, a
regional sample of attempted homicides, and a
national sample of suicides covering the entire
country from the years 1980 to 2004 has been set
up over several years, in a combined effort of the
Institutes of Forensic Medicine and the Lausanne
and Zurich Institutes of Criminology and with
financial support from the Swiss National Science
Foundation. This chapter is based on this database that contains information gathered from
coroners’, police and court records on offenders,
victims, and events (Killias, Markwalder, Walser,
& Dilitz, 2009). By completing the findings with
official statistics and the existing literature in this
field, this chapter aims to give an overview of
homicide and its characteristics in Switzerland.
N. Markwalder ()
Institute of Criminology, University of Zurich,
Zurich, Switzerland
e-mail: [email protected]
Switzerland is a small country in central Europe,
with a surface comparable to, but a population
about half of, the Netherlands. Surrounded by
Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy, and
France, it has been able to keep out of wars
between these nations for over two centuries
thanks to its neutrality. With its direct democracy,
Switzerland has one of the highest living standards in Western Europe, with a literacy rate of
almost 100% and a life expectancy among the
highest in the World (CIA, 2009). There are four
official languages spoken in the country, which
consist of German (63.7% of the population),
French (20.4% of the population), Italian (6.5%
of the population), and Romansh (0.5% of the
population). Switzerland has one of the highest
percentages of immigrants within Europe; in
2009, 22% of the population were of foreign
nationality.1 The majority of immigrants, namely
86%, come from countries within the European
Union, especially Italy (17%), Germany (14.7%),
and Portugal (12%), and 11% are immigrants
from Serbia and Montenegro (OFS, 2009a).
In regard to firearm possession, Switzerland
presents one of the highest prevalence of households owning at least one firearm (approximately
28%) in Europe. This high number is mainly due
Foreign nationality is defined as not being of Swiss
M.C.A. Liem and W.A. Pridemore (eds.), Handbook of European Homicide Research: Patterns, Explanations,
and Country Studies, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-0466-8_22, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012
N. Markwalder and M. Killias
to the Swiss militia system that drafts most
young male Swiss citizens into the military and
requires the soldiers to keep their army ordnance
weapons at home. Furthermore, after completion of the military duty (which includes 18 or
21 weeks of mandatory training and then seven
recalls of 3 weeks during the next 10 years), the
soldier can acquire his ordnance weapon for private use. In former times, most soldiers kept
their guns after being discharged. Today, this
proportion has shrunk to about 10%, due to several conditions that nowadays have to be met
(VBS, 2011). Table 22.1 (see Appendix, pg. 485
or online at extras.springer.com).
Definition of Homicide in Switzerland
Homicide and its various subtypes are described
in the second book of the Swiss Criminal Code
(StGB), under the first title called offences against
life and limb (Straftaten gegen Leib und Leben).
Article 111 covers premeditated homicide and
constitutes the general clause of homicide
(Stratenwerth & Jenny, 2003). It defines intentional homicide as the intentional causing of the
death of a person without the presence of special
conditions enumerated in the following sections.
Therefore, article 111 represents a residual category, applicable only if no other aggravated or
privileged type of homicide described by the articles 112, 113, 114, and 116 of the Swiss Criminal
Code is more suitable in casu. This three-level
legal model (one neutral article as basis, followed
by aggravated (qualified) and minor (privileged)
legal dispositions) is also in use in the German and
Italian penal legislations (Schwarzenegger, 2007).
The Swiss Criminal Code knows one qualified
form of homicide (“first-degree murder” according
to section 112) and three less severe forms, namely
manslaughter (or second-degree murder, section
113), homicide on request of the victim (article
114) and infanticide (or neonaticide, section 116).
Murder according to article 112 stipulates that the
offender acts in a particularly reprehensible,
unscrupulous manner, i.e., his motives, the method,
or the circumstances of the act are particularly
shocking (Schwarzenegger, 2007).2 First-degree
murder is, according to section 112, punishable by
either lifelong imprisonment or imprisonment no
less than 10 years. It is for the rare offences that
lifelong imprisonment is allowed.
Sections 113, 114, and 116 of the Swiss
Criminal Code describe privileged forms of homicide.3 Section 113 defines manslaughter as an
intentional homicide committed under conditions
of extreme (and excusable) emotions, or in a state
of profound mental confusion. Section 114 provides for a prison sentence not exceeding 3 years
for homicide at the request of the victim, and section 116 defines infanticide, i.e., the killing of a
new-born by the mother either during or immediately following delivery. The sections 111–116
SCC require the offender to present the intention
to kill his/her victim(s). However, if the death of
a person was caused without such an intention,
i.e., through negligence or recklessness, section
117 SCC (negligent manslaughter) is applicable.
Previous Studies on Homicide
Because of a very limited amount of nationwide
data sources on homicide, research on national
homicide trends has remained rather limited. First
trend data, covering the period from 1877 to the
present, were published by Killias (1991) and
Bieri (1998). Cross-sectional data on police
records of attempted and completed homicides
were published by the Federal Office of Statistics,
with a focus on domestic violence (Zoder &
Maurer, 2006). To overcome the limits related to
too small absolute numbers, a national database
of all cases of completed homicide was established by all Swiss institutes of Forensic Medicine
and coordinated by the Institutes of Criminology
This notion of unscrupulous manner was introduced by
the amendement of 1989 and remplaced the concept of
reprehensible attitude or dangerousness in the original
version of 1937.
Article 115 StGB concerns the incitement of or assistance
with suicide (punishable only if the motives are egoistic).
This offence, thus, does not constitute homicide.
Homicide in Switzerland
of the Universities of Lausanne and Zurich
(Killias et al., 2009). This database will be presented in more detail later. It covers the period of
1980–2004 (in some areas, records older than
1990 were no longer available), with a random
sample of all suicides and a regional sample of
attempted homicides. Finally, the first step of the
Swiss Homicide and Suicide Database project
sponsored by the Swiss National Science
Foundation consisted of creating a database limited to four cantons in the French-speaking part
of Switzerland and was based on legal medicine,
police and court files (Villettaz, Killias, & Mangin,
2003). This first database was used in several MA
dissertations (Chamot, 2003; Ruiz, 2007).
Some studies have analyzed homicide within
the context of violence in general at the regional
level. Eisner (1997), for example, analyzed 1,100
police reports on homicide, assault, robbery, and
sexual violence in the city of Basel and analyzed
victim, offender and circumstantial variables for
these offences. Another study (Frei, Graf, &
Dittmann, 2003) is based on 81 homicides in the
region of Basel City and it particularly considered the ethnical aspect of these crimes. Further,
Massonnet, Wagner, and Kuhn (1990) analyzed
basic victim, offender, and circumstantial variables and based their research on police reports
of the canton of Zurich and Vaud. Another study
(Fernandez & La Harpe, 1996) covered homicides in the Canton of Geneva between 1971 and
1990 by analyzing files from the Institute of Legal
Medicine in Geneva.
Specific subtypes of homicides have also been
the subject of studies. Homicides within the family and intimate partnerships have been especially
subject to extensive research (Baggiano, 2004;
Bayala, 2006; Buonvicini, 2007; Killias, Dilitz, &
Bergerioux, 2006; Levray, 2007; Pedevilla, 2008;
Zoder, 2008; Zoder & Maurer, 2006). Furthermore,
some studies have more closely examined childvictims of homicide (Bärtsch, 1997; Michaud,
1985). In recent years, homicide followed by the
suicide of the offender has gained considerable
attention, which is a reason why research has considerably increased in this field (Frei, Han, Weiss,
Dittmann & Adjacic Gross, 2006; Grabherr et al.,
2010; Haenel & Elsasser, 2000; Liem, Barber,
Markwalder, Killias, & Nieuwbeerta, 2011).
Furthermore, legal aspects of homicide offenders
(Contat, 2005; Rodieux, 2008), serial homicide
offending (Brughelli, 2010) and certain other
aspects of homicide events, such as factors influencing the lethal outcome of an aggression
(Décosterd, 2007), situational factors and modus
operandi (Hardegger, 2008), as well as unsolved
homicide cases (Gruber, 2005) have been subject
to these studies based on the French part of the
homicide database.4
Data Sources Used for This Study
General Description of the Database
The Swiss Homicide Database (SHD) is part of a
research project realized by the Universities of
Zurich and Lausanne and sponsored by the Swiss
National Science Foundation SNF (Killias et al.,
2009). The project’s goal was to improve the
empirical knowledge about homicide and suicide
in Switzerland by creating a national homicide
and suicide database based on legal medicine,
police and court files. The first part of this project
started in 2001 and was limited to four cantons in
the French-speaking part of Switzerland.5 After
completion of this first SNF-project, the SNF
sponsored an extension of the project to all Swiss
cantons. The extended Swiss project differs only
slightly from the original project. To shorten the
already complex data collection process, only
completed homicides were included in the data
collection, excluding attempts that were previously considered. Also, some questions have
been added to the original questionnaire to complete the database.
These theses are limited to the French part of Switzerland
because they are based on the first homicide database
project in four french-speaking cantons. For more information about this database, see Villettaz et al. (2003).
The fist project included homicides in the cantons of Vaud,
Neuchâtel, Valais, and Fribourg (Villettaz et al., 2003).
N. Markwalder and M. Killias
As a general rule, only cases that were assumed
to be committed intentionally by the offender
were considered in the data collection process,
whereas negligent manslaughter or assaults followed by death of the victim were not taken into
consideration. However, this selection process
was sometimes difficult to achieve, as legal medicine files, which constituted the starting point of
the data collection, do not usually include legal
classification of the offense. Hence it was sometimes not possible to clearly know from the
beginning whether the offender would be found
guilty of an intentional offense or not,6 so there
are a limited number of marginal cases where the
intention of the offender was not clear from the
beginning.7 Furthermore, some offenders were
consecutively discharged by the courts. Also, in
some cases with multiple offenders, not all of
them were finally found guilty as cooffenders8 of
homicide by the courts, but convicted of a less
serious crime, such as aggravated assault (Article
122 SCC). To keep the complete picture of the
case and those involved in it, most cases include
data on all participants of the crime, regardless of
the legal outcome of their conviction.
period of time, with exception of the region of
Berne where the Institute of Forensic Medicine’s
records prior to 1991 were no longer available. In
some other cantons, some files were not available
electronically before 1985 and could therefore not
be retrieved. Further, cases where no autopsy has
been performed are not included in the study.
However, such cases are rare in Switzerland, at
least in fatalities with an unknown cause where a
homicide cannot be excluded from the beginning.
In a second step, police and court files were
used to complete the data from the Institutes of
Forensic Medicine. As autopsy files mostly contain information about the homicide victim, as
well as about medically relevant circumstances
of the act, this step was particularly important for
data concerning offender characteristics, legal
qualifications, and circumstances of the act that
were not relevant to medical examiners and therefore rarely present in autopsy reports. Finally, the
earlier data collection of the four French-speaking
cantons has been updated to the year 2004 and
merged into the new nationwide sample.
Data Coding
Data Collection and Timeline
of the Data
As a first step in the data collection process, homicide cases were identified through autopsy registries in the Institutes of Forensic Medicine of
Lausanne, Geneva, Berne, Basle, Zurich, St.
Gallen, Chur, and Lugano. All intentional homicide cases that took place in Switzerland between
the years 1980 and 2004 were collected. Therefore,
the study presents a complete dataset of all homicides that took place in Switzerland during this
This is especially true for cases where no trial had been
held yet. Furthermore, for cases with unknown offenders,
the intent of the offender was determined on the base of
presently known circumstances.
There are 30 cases with known offenders which can be
classified as “borderline” intentional.
For the notion of cooffending in Swiss Criminal Law, see
Trechsel & Killias (2004).
The data collected in the institutes of legal medicine, with the police, or in court archives were
coded electronically, using a coding file for general case information, one for victim information
and a third one for offender information. Filemaker
(Filemaker Pro 2005) was used for registering
data electronically. Although the Swiss homicide
and suicide research project combined several
data sources to obtain a complete dataset, the
problem of missing data could not be avoided
completely. Indeed, legal medicine as well as
police and court records do not systematically
include all pieces of information that are requested
in our coding list. This is particularly true for
variables that are not directly relevant to the
police investigation. Therefore, it is essential to
deal with missing cases in a coherent way. In this
research, the technique of complete case analysis
(or listwise deletion) was chosen, one of the most
commonly used techniques to deal with missing
data in homicide research (Riedel & Regoeczi,
Homicide in Switzerland
2004). This technique implies that all cases with
no relevant information available were excluded
for the analysis, and therefore only “valid” cases
were considered. However, when it comes to
questions in our coding list that allow for a “no”
answer, the items left empty and the “no” answers
were combined, given that an “empty” cell could
also mean that the characteristic in question (e.g.,
a history of alcohol abuse) is not present. In other
cases, the missing values only consist of cases
with unknown offenders, cases where the court
files were not available, and cases from the 2001
project that did not collect all of the information
included in the 2004 coding list.
Data Limitations
As the database is based on autopsy registries,
cases without any autopsy performed are naturally lacking. However, in cases of homicide, an
autopsy is almost always ordered by legal officials, and the number of missing cases due to the
inexistence of an autopsy is therefore small. In
fact, a comparison of homicides followed by suicide in the Swiss database with homicide-suicide
reports from the Swiss newspaper NZZ between
1995 and 2004 has shown that only 16% of all
cases were not reported in our database, but
reported in the newspaper. Homicide-suicide
constitutes, however, a special category of homicide, since the death of the offender usually closes
the investigation and an autopsy of the persons
involved is not routinely ordered. Thus, for other
homicide constellations, the proportion of cases
not examined by coroners is certainly far below
16%. In sum, cross-checking with a different
source reveals a rather high degree of matching.
Some of the earlier cases before 1985 might
be missing due to the nonavailability of these
data in electronic format. Also, some files were
unavailable or could not be found anymore in the
legal medicine archives. Finally, as homicide is a
rare event in Switzerland, the validity of the data
might be limited due to the small number of
events whenever less usual categories of homicide are at stake.
Epidemiology of Homicide
in Switzerland
Recent Trends in Homicide
Homicide rates in Switzerland are relatively low
in comparison with other European countries.
With a homicide rate of 0.9 per 100,000,
Switzerland presents one of the lowest rates in
Europe (Malby, 2010). According to the Swiss
Office of Federal Statistics (OFS), the total number
of homicide offences (article 111–116 SCC)
known to the police presents only slight variations during the last 20 years. However, a strong
trend toward an increase of attempted homicides
is visible over the years, whereas completed
homicides decrease during the same span of time.
A project on whether or not this can be attributed
to improved emergency care has just been started
by the University of Zurich Institute of Criminology and the Emergency Department of the Zurich
University Hospital (Fig. 22.1 - see Appendix,
pg. 484 or online at extras.springer.com).
Together with arrest rates and data from the
SHD, data on convictions are presented in
Fig. 22.1. Here as well, a trend is difficult to discern, although a slight increase in convictions
based on sections 111–116 SCC can be observed
over the years. However, the numbers for the
most recent years do not contain cases that were
not yet finally adjudicated. Conviction data
combine completed and attempted homicide.
Incident Characteristics9
In total, there are 1,313 cases (events) in the SHD,
with 1,403 offenders who ended the lives of 1,464
victims. For the variables on type of incidents,
location of the homicide, as well as modus operandi, the analysis was conducted based on the
number of cases. By doing so, we avoid the distortion of the findings by cases with a high number of
Because of the small size of Switzerland and the relatively low number of homicide cases per year, rates of
regional homicide distribution would not be very relevant;
therefore, the analysis is based on national homicide cases
only, without disaggregation into regional subgroups.
N. Markwalder and M. Killias
Fig. 22.1 Rates per 100,000 of police-recorded homicides, conviction rates and homicide rates from the Swiss Homicide
victims. In total, there are only two cases with
more than ten victims in our database. One case
concerns the incident in the government of the canton of Zug in the year 2001, where 14 persons were
killed by a gunman. The second case concerns the
male “death nurse” of Lucerne who, during his
employment in a nursing home, killed 22 patients.
However, all victims as well as all offenders will
be considered in connection with alcohol and drug
influences as well as demographic variables.
Type of Incidents by to Motive
& Victim–Offender Relationship
Based on 1,313 cases, almost half of the homicide
incidents happened within the family (N = 605).
Domestic homicide, as used here, includes homicides within the family, intimate partners or love
rivals. This category includes killings of children
(13.7%), other family members (19.8%), current
and former intimate partners (57%), and rivals
(8.1%). The next category in prevalence, with 17%
of all cases, is homicides as a result of arguments or
altercations. Homicide in connection with robbery
makes up for 7%, while other criminal homicide
makes up for 16% and includes cases connected to
drug sales, organized crime, and any other criminal
activities. Sexual homicide includes killings of
prostitutes or their clients or killings in combination
with a sex crime, such as sexual assault or rape, and
accounts for 4% of all homicide cases.
The residual category of “other homicides”
includes various constellations, such as unknown
offenders and circumstances, homicide related to
psychiatric disorder, and other cases that did not
fit the other categories. This residual category
accounts for 17% of our cases (Fig. 22.2).
Homicide in Switzerland
Domestic homicide Argument/altercation Robbery homicide
Other criminal
Sexual homicide
Other homicide
Fig. 22.2 Typology of homicide cases in Switzerland, in %
Table 22.1 Prevalence of completed intentional homicide (total, within the family including intimate partners, and
homicides followed by suicide) in 7 countries (several recent years)
Per 1 million
Within the family
Per 1 million
In % of all
Homicide followed by suicide
Per 1 million
In % of all
Source: Killias, Redondo, & Sarnecki (2011) (with indication of sources)
The preponderance of domestic homicides in
Switzerland is even more visible in an international
comparison. As Table 22.1 shows, Switzerland
presents the highest percentage of homicides
within the family as well as homicides followed by
suicides among the few countries for which the
necessary data was available. It ranges among the
countries with the lowest overall homicide rate.
The high proportion of domestic homicides is
by no means related to a high rate of domestic vio-
lence. To the contrary, the International Violence
against Women Survey (IVAWS) has shown that
women in Switzerland are considerably less often
exposed to (former or actual) partner violence
than women living in Denmark, Costa Rica, Italy
(ISTAT, 2007), and six more countries that participated in the IVAWS (Johnson, Nevala, & Ollus,
2008). As will be shown later, the surprising frequency of domestic homicide is likely to be due to
the high prevalence of guns in Swiss households.
N. Markwalder and M. Killias
In most of the cases (92.9%), the homicide
took place between one offender and one victim.
However, multiple victims and offenders are
more frequent among some categories. Domestic
homicides, for instance, present the highest
amount of multiple victims, namely 8%, whereas
sexual homicides are almost exclusively committed against one single victim. For all other categories, the percentage of cases with multiple
victims ranges between 5.6 and 6.4%. On the
contrary, robbery homicides are frequently committed in groups, as 25% of cases in this subtype
involved multiple offenders. Criminal homicides
are also often committed in groups, with more
than one offender being involved in 14% of all
cases. Only half as many multiple offenders (7%)
can be found in the argument/altercation category. In all other subgroups, multiple offenders
are below average (Fig. 22.4 - see Appendix, pg.
485 or online at extras.springer.com).
Modus Operandi
Firearms are the modal weapon of homicide in
Switzerland. In 44% of all homicide cases, the
offender killed his victim with a firearm. This percentage is even higher for criminal homicides,
where almost 70% of the cases are perpetrated by
means of a firearm. For all other types of homicides, the use of firearms lies within 40% of the
cases. However, sexual homicides present an
exception to this rule, since only 6% of the cases
were committed with a firearm. In this category,
knives and strangulation are the dominant modus
operandi, with 43% involving knives and 41%
strangulation – which were actually the highest
proportions of these modi operandi across all homicide categories. Knives, used in 30% of all homicide cases, are the second most prevalent weapon
in homicide. They are more frequently used in sexual homicides and argument homicides, whereas
firearms prevail in all other types of homicide.
In over half of the homicide cases (57%), the
location of the offence is situated in a private
dwelling, whereas 30% of homicides take place
in public places, such as streets, bars, or other
openly accessible places. Only a minority of cases
take place in natural areas (6%), on the workplace
(4%) or in other locations (3%).
However, there is considerable variation in
location within the different subtypes of homicides. Domestic as well as sexual homicide cases
are usually committed in a private dwelling,
whereas criminal homicides, argument homicides
as well as robbery homicides are more prevalent in
public areas. This is plausible given the relationship between victims and offenders and the situations in which these homicides occur. Homicides
in the workplace are rare in general, but frequent
within robbery homicides, with stores, restaurants, or banks offering many opportunities for
stealing or robbing. Argument homicides also
relatively often take place in the workplace.
Finally, sexual homicides are relatively frequent
in natural areas. This might be due to the fact that
offenders may have brought victims of sexual
assault or prostitutes to some remote place to be
hidden from public view.
Alcohol and Drugs
Our variable of substance influence during the
homicide act includes alcohol, soft drugs, hard
drugs, psychotropic medication, and other medication, as well as other substances. If no indication of a substance was found in the files, we
assumed that victims as well as offenders were
not under the influence of any substance during
the offence. Therefore, our estimate of the prevalence of substance use is conservative and
probably underestimates the true impact of
For homicide in general, victims and offenders
are equally under the influence of alcohol or drugs
during the event. Around 35% of them present
any kind of intoxication during the offence.
However, the prevalence of substance use differs
considerably across types of homicides. In all categories but domestic and robbery homicides, victims present a higher rate of intoxication than
offenders. Sexual homicide victims were, with
60% of positive drug tests, found to be the victims most often under the influence, followed by
argument and criminal homicide victims.
When it comes to the relative victim and
offender intoxication, subgroups again differ considerably. As already stated, victims and offenders
Homicide in Switzerland
show, overall, similar rates of intoxication.
However, victims of criminal homicides are far
more often under the influence (49%) than offenders (30%). Apparently, victims are perhaps
selected by offenders in view of their intoxication,
which could indicate that criminal homicides are
more premeditated and planned and less often
committed by offenders under the influence.
Furthermore, sexual homicide victims as well as
offenders present the highest percentage of intoxication. It should be noted, however, that these
observations are based on low absolute numbers.
Victim Characteristics
Age and Gender Distributions
In general, the mean age of homicide victims is 36
in Switzerland. However, there is considerable
variation across types of homicide. The youngest
victims can be found in the criminal homicide category (31.6), followed by domestic homicide victims (34.0), argument homicide victims (37.0),
other homicide victims (38.4), and sexual homicide victims (41.2). Considerably older are victims
of robbery homicide, with a mean age of 50.7.
The peak in domestic homicide victims aged 0
is mainly due to neonaticide cases that are
relatively frequent (N = 22). Overall, homicide
victims tend to be considerably older than victims
of other violent crimes, as assessed by crime
surveys (Killias et al., 2007).
Gender is a very discriminating variable for the
different types of homicide, since 56% of all homicide victims are male and 44% are female.
Therefore, the overall risk of becoming a homicide
victim is only slightly higher for men than for
women. However, if we consider the different subtypes of homicide, the proportion of male
and female victims differs considerably. Female
victims are overrepresented in the categories of
domestic homicides (68%) as well as sexual homicides (54%). In all other categories, males are predominantly victimized. The prevalence of male
victims is around 10% higher than average in the
categories of robbery homicides (66%) and other
homicides (66%), whereas criminal homicides and
argument homicides present almost exclusively
male victims (92 and 88%, respectively).
Overall, homicide concerns women in similar
proportions as assault or robbery according to
Crime Victim Surveys (Killias et al., 2007).
The question of the ethnicity or nationality of
homicide offenders and victims has received
considerable scientific and political attention
throughout Switzerland and other European
countries over the past few years. We included in
the category of foreign nationals all persons that
were described as foreign nationals, i.e., persons
without a Swiss passport, in the legal medicine,
police and court files.
As indicated earlier, foreign nationals residing
in Switzerland account for around 22% of the
population. Hence, victims of foreign nationality
are overrepresented in almost all homicide categories, except for robbery and sexual homicide.
This is in contrast to crime victim surveys that did
not find disproportionate violent victimization
rates among immigrants (Killias et al., 2007).
Offender Characteristics
Age and Gender Distributions
Generally, with a mean age of 34 years, homicide
offenders are younger than their victims.
However, the mean age varies across homicide
categories. The youngest offenders can be found
in cases of robbery homicide (26.7 years), sexual
homicide (29.2 years), criminal homicide (29.65
years), and argument homicide (31.8). Offenders
in the residual category of “other homicides”
have a mean age similar to the overall average
(34.5). Finally, offenders of domestic homicide
are considerably older than those in other homicide categories, with a mean age of 38 years.
Given the large proportion of domestic homicides
in Switzerland, we can conclude that the general
average age is inflated. However, even if only
nondomestic categories of homicide are considered, murderers are obviously older than violent
offenders in general (Killias, 2011).
N. Markwalder and M. Killias
Homicide is, in general as well as within the different subtypes, mainly perpetrated by males. In total,
nine out of ten offenders are male, and only the
category of domestic homicide presents, with 16%
of female offenders, a different picture. However,
this finding can be explained by the category of
neonaticides, where the offenders are almost exclusively female. In all other categories, the proportion of female offenders is minimal, ranging from
1% in cases of argument and 2% in robbery homicides to 4% in cases of sexual criminal homicides,
7% in cases of criminal homicides and, finally, 9%
in “other” homicide cases.
In general, around half of the homicides are committed by foreign nationals. Given the fact that the
foreign population in Switzerland constitutes only
22% of the total population, foreign offenders are
highly overrepresented. Only domestic as well as
sexual homicides are committed by a majority of
Swiss offenders. In all other categories, foreign
nationals outnumber Swiss offenders. This is particularly the case for homicides in the context of
arguments and altercations, where foreign citizens
account for 68% of the offenders. The residual category also presents a high share of foreign offenders. For criminal and robbery homicides, around
half of the offenders were foreign citizens.
Therefore, nationality constitutes a highly discriminating factor in assessing the risk of homicide
offending. This is also true for violent offences in
general and according to police statistics, victims’
accounts of offender characteristics during crime
surveys and self-report studies (Killias, 2009).
Explanations for Homicide Specific
to the Nation
Since Chap. 14 in the first volume of this book
will cover the relationship between firearms
availability and violence in Europe in general, as
well as in Switzerland specifically, readers will
find detailed information in that chapter.
Policies Specific to the Nation
Domestic Violence Programs
To prevent domestic violence, the Swiss legislature has changed violence and rape within partnerships into a crime that is to be prosecuted
without any initiative or request by the victim.
Furthermore, several cantons have introduced
new laws that require, in case of a police intervention, the abusive partner in a relationship to
leave the common dwelling for at least 10 days.10
However, to date, there are no evaluations that
have tested the efficiency of these relatively new
policies in regard to domestic violence in general
and homicide within families and intimate partnerships specifically.
In sum, Switzerland has a low homicide rate in
comparison to Europe and a rather stable development of homicide incidents over the last 20 years.
With almost half of the cases, homicides within
the family or intimate partnerships constitute the
most current type, whereas argument homicides
and homicides in the criminal milieu are, with 17
and 16%, respectively, much less prevalent. A considerable number of offences, namely 44%, are
perpetrated with a firearm, making firearms the
most frequently-used modus operandi in Swiss
homicides. Thus, Switzerland presents a much
higher amount of domestic homicides as well as
Firearm Availability
As mentioned earlier, Switzerland presents one
of the highest percentages of gun ownership per
household in Western Europe. This high number
of firearms in private possession is mainly due to
military weapons that are legally kept at home.
The cantons of St. Gallen and Appenzell AR were the
first cantons to introduce mandatory expulsion from the
common dwelling in 2003. The legal foundation of this
policy is defined in section 43 to 43quinquies of the law for
the maintenance of public order of the canton of St.Gallen
as well as in the section 17 of the law for the maintenance
of public order of the canton of Appenzell AR.
Homicide in Switzerland
gunshot fatalities then most other European
countries, which is most likely linked to the high
prevalence of firearms in Swiss households.
With respect to the different types of homicides,
we noticed considerable differences among the
analyzed subtypes. They differ among each other
not only with respect to circumstantial variables,
but also in their characteristics of victims and
offenders. Disaggregation has, thus, allowed retrieving valuable detailed information about the different homicide constellations that would have gone
unnoticed in an aggregated data sample. Hence, for
future research, we suggest the use of disaggregated
homicide data for analysis in order to respect these
particularities within the different subgroups.
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