The most extreme manifestation of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women (IPVAW) is femicide, which has received special attention in the academic sphere in recent years. A history of violence preceding femicide does exist in many cases (Campbell et al., 2007; Vatnar et al., 2017). The idea that these are different phenomena with different dynamics is becoming more and more widely accepted, with the perpetrators of lethal and non-lethal violence also exhibiting different characteristics (Dobash et al., 2007; Jung & Stewart, 2019; Sev'er et al., 2004). In Spain, approximately 38.4% of homicide victims are women, with half of the cases being femicides (González et al., 2018b). According to the Statistics Portal of Government Office against Gender-based Violence (2022), between 2004 and 2021, a total of 1059 femicides have been registered, with an annual average of 58.8 victims. As is shown in Fig. 1, between 2004 and 2010, more than 70 femicides per year were recorded, except for 2005, 2006 and 2009. A downward trend can be seen from 2010, registering 60 cases or less during the following years.
One of the main topics that the studies on femicide have addressed is the identification of risk factors that may help to predict a fatal outcome (Matias et al., 2020; Spencer & Stith, 2018). Other main topic is the identification of different types of perpetrators of femicide (Dawson & Piscitelli, 2021; Dixon et al., 2008; Elisha et al., 2010). Regarding the latter, the typological approach is based on the premise that there are characteristics that distinguish certain aggressors from others. It is important to build on the typological studies, given that they hold particular relevance from a therapeutic standpoint, as they make it possible to adapt the prison programmes and the therapies to the characteristics of the aggressors (Lila et al., 2019; Loinaz et al., 2014; Vignola-Lévesque & Léveillée, 2021). Moreover, they are also valuable in terms of predicting and assessing the risk, since each type of aggressor may exhibit different risk indicators (González-Álvarez et al., 2021). In the present study, we examined a typology of those who commit femicide in Spain, with the intention of building on work by Dawson and Piscitelli (2021). Risk factors serve as a reference point to classify the murderers of women in our study.
Risk Factors for Femicide
One of the main objectives of the studies on femicide is the identification of risk factors and of the existing differences between lethal and non-lethal aggressors. The identification of these factors has been translated into the creation of various instruments for assessing the risk of IPVAW, such as B-SAFER (Kropp et al., 2005), DV-MOSAIC (Roehl et al., 2005), ODARA (Hilton et al., 2008), SARA (Kropp et al., 1995), DVSI and DVSI-R (Williams & Houghton, 2004), KSID (Gelles and Tolman, 1988), and the Spouse Violence Risk Assessment Inventory (Dayan et al., 2013). Although all these instruments are focused on the assessment in cases of IPVAW, studies such as that of Campbell et al. (2003) and other more recent studies (e.g. Matias et al., 2020) have shown that specific risk factors for femicide do indeed exist. This gave rise to the development of the Danger Assessment (DA) (Campbell, 2012; Campbell & Glass, 2009; Campbell et al., 2003, 2009) and the Spanish VPR5.0-H (López-Ossorio et al., 2020), which is described below.
Two meta-analyses centred on the risk factors associated with femicide were recently published. Spencer and Stith (2018) evaluated a total of 17 studies that included risk factors for male perpetration and female victimisation. This review revealed that the aggressor factors that increased the probability of femicide were the following: access to firearms, having previously threatened the victim with a weapon, having previously strangled the victim, having threatened to hurt the victim, having committed forced sex, demonstrating controlling behaviours, abusing the victim while she was pregnant, harassing the victim, demonstrating jealousy, substance abuse, having a level of education lower than that of middle school, being young, having anger issues, and having a prior record of mental health problems. If the perpetrator was employed, this was a factor of protection against femicide. In turn, the major factors for victims of femicide were as follows: having a level of education lower than that of middle school, breaking up with the aggressor, substance abuse and having children from a previous relationship. One of the main conclusions of this paper is that the factors associated with the perpetrator show a stronger association with femicide. On the other hand, the meta-analysis by Matias et al. (2020) led to the conclusion that the perpetrators of femicide appear to be more socially integrated, seeing as they are more likely to be married and employed and have higher levels of education, and they tend to exhibit suicidal ideation as well as mood disorders. Access to firearms continued to be one of the factors most associated with femicide.
In the case of Spain, the Secretary of State for Security of the Spanish Ministry of the Interior manages the VioGén System (González-Álvarez et al., 2018a, b) which, in response to articles 31 and 32 of the Organic Law 1/2004 on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender-based Violence, unites the various public institutes involved in the fight against intimate partner violence against women. Among the functions fulfilled by the VioGén System is that of the police assessment of the risk faced by the reporting victims of suffering repeated aggression. The System is equipped with two tools for carrying out this task, namely Police Risk Assessment tool (Valoración Policial del Riesgo; VPR following the Spanish abbreviation of its name), which serves to make an initial evaluation of the case, and Police Risk Evolution Assessment tool (Valoración Policial de la Evolución del Riesgo; VPER following the Spanish abbreviation of its name), which enables a follow-up of the case. Since their creation in 2007, the performance of these tools has undergone continuous revision and they have been updated accordingly (López-Ossorio et al., 2019a, b); at present, version VPR5.0-H is in effect (López-Ossorio et al., 2020). This most recent version consists of 35 dichotomous risk factors. In this most recent revision of the VPR, a distinction was made between the risk factors associated with a new episode of non-fatal violence and those that resulted in fatal violence. It was found that the weighting of the 35 factors that served to predict non-lethal recidivism was not effective when it came to predicting femicide, while a different weighting of the factors associated with femicide made it possible to significantly distinguish the deadly cases, yet failed to predict recidivism. Based on this finding, the decision was made to implement a dual protocol, adding to the scale of recidivism a second complementary scale of assessment of the risk of homicide (VPR5.0-H) using the specific weightings of the 13 factors that displayed a significant association with fatal violence, which are the following: threats of suicide by the aggressor; the aggressor exhibits exaggerated jealousy or suspicions of infidelity by his partner in the last 6 months; the perpetrator exhibits controlling behaviours in the last six months; presence of problems in his life (stress) in the last 6 months; the aggressor has had economic or work-related problems in the last 6 months; presence of past violations of the conditions of his sentence; presence of a prior record of physical or sexual aggression; the aggressor exhibits a mental or psychiatric disorder; presence of suicidal ideas or attempts; presence of any kind of disability in the victim; mental or psychiatric disorder in the victim; any kind of addiction or involvement in substance abuse in the victim; history of gender-based or domestic violence within the victim’s family (López-Ossorio et al., 2020).
Typological Approach to Intimate Partner Violence Against Women
The importance of creating typologies lies in the identification of aggressors who share a series of characteristics that distinguish them from the rest, and that make it possible to group them together (Cavanaugh & Gelles, 2005). This classification of individuals is important from the academic perspective, but even more so at the operational level, both from a welfare as well as a police or judicial point of view, given that once the pure types have been identified, it is possible to classify both the current perpetrators of partner violence as well as future aggressors, which in turn will allow for the design of more individualised methods to handle the cases, not only in terms of therapeutic intervention (Elisha et al., 2010; Lila et al., 2019; Loinaz et al., 2014; Vignola-Lévesque & Léveillée, 2021) but also prediction and prevention (González-Álvarez et al., 2021), all of which will contribute to improving the protection of the victims (Cavanaugh & Gelles, 2005; González-Álvarez et al., 2018b). Nonetheless, the conceptual and clinical usefulness of the typological strategies is still under debate (Babcock et al., 2004; Capaldi & Kim, 2007; Dixon & Wride, 2020; Sartin et al., 2006; Ward & Carter, 2019), with some pointing out the need for new ways of developing systems of classification.
One of the most cited works on typologies of intimate partner aggressors is that of Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994). By analysing 15 typological proposals, the authors concluded that the partner aggressors could be classified based on three dimensions: (1) severity and frequency of the violence; (2) whether the violence was exercised only within the relationship or outside of it too; and (3) the psychopathology or personality disorders of the aggressor. This resulted in a classification into 3 groups: Family-Only (FO), Dysphoric or Borderline (DB) and Generally Violent and Antisocial (GVA). The FO aggressors are those who present low levels of violence and little to no psychopathology. In turn, the DB are violent towards their partner but do not exercise violence outside of the relationship, although they do exhibit the highest levels of psychopathology by way of characteristics associated with borderline personality disorder. Lastly, the GVA are those that are violent both towards their partner as well as towards other people and, as far as psychopathology is concerned, tend to exhibit characteristics of antisocial personality disorder. Subsequent studies have found subtypes similar to the GVA and DB proposed by Holtzworth-Munroe and Stuart (1994). For example, the subtypes instrumental and impulsive (Tweed & Dutton, 1998), cobra and pitbull (Gottman et al., 1995) and proactive and reactive (Chase et al., 2001) could be considered similar to the types GVA and DB, respectively. In a later study, Holtzworth-Munroe and Meehan (2004) reduce the dimensions to two: antisociality (violence) and borderline personality-relevant measures (psychopathology). The study by Vignola-Lévesque and Léveillée (2021) drew attention to the lack of psychological variables when developing typologies of partner aggressors. This is to be expected, given that accessing this type of information is complicated in comparison to other variables that can be more easily observed directly, such as the existence of violence or the presence of a criminal record. These authors emphasise the role that may be played by alexithymia (personality trait characterized by difficulties in recognising, distinguishing and expressing emotions) and the deficits in recognising emotions, and they highlight the importance that including psychological variables would have for the treatment of partner aggressors, and even for the prevention of cases of femicide.
Recently, Vignola-Lévesque and Léveillée (2021) proposed a new typology of partner aggressors, basing this on an analysis of 67 aggressors (45 partner aggressors and 22 perpetrators of femicide). This study identified four types of aggressors: (1) the homicidal abandoned partner (19.4%); (2) the generally angry/aggressive partner (23.9%); (3) the controlling violent partner (34.3%); and (4) the unstable dependent partner (22.4%). The first group, according to this typology, consisted of aggressors who kill their partners, who had suffered a breakup and presented previous suicide attempts. All of the aggressors in the second category had criminal records, while in half of the cases, they had suffered a breakup and had tried to commit suicide, and 93.8% exhibited alexithymia. None of the aggressors in this second category went so far as to kill their partner. The third group includes both those who commit femicide (30.4%) as well as non-lethal aggressors (69.6%). In this group, a breakup was not as common as in the previous two groups; more than half had a prior criminal record and 34.8% had previously tried to commit suicide, with 87% exhibiting sub-alexithymic behaviour. The last group also included perpetrators of femicide (13.3%) and non-lethal aggressors (86.7%), and what characterised this group was the total absence of breakups and criminal records; all of them were alexithymic and in 40% of the cases, they had presented previous suicide attempts.
In Spain, the application of the two-dimensional model has been used to create partner typologies. In this context, it is worth mentioning the recent work of González-Álvarez et al. (2021), in which 9731 partner aggressors were studied and classified based on the dimensions of antisociality and psychopathology, resulting in a typology of four types: high instability/low antisociality (HiLa; 27.5%), high instability/high antisociality (HiHa; 21.4%), low instability/high antisociality (LiHa; 10.5%) and low instability/low antisociality (LiLa; 40.6%). These results highlight the presence of aggressors with a low tendency towards violence and instability, as is evidenced by the fact that 40.6% of the aggressors were classified as LiLa. But the identification of the HiHa type is also important, not just because the percentage of these aggressors is 21.4%, but also because they demonstrate a high level of violence accompanied by great instability, meaning that they have a very high risk of continuing to exercise violence against their partner and, what is more, of doing so in a very unpredictable manner, given that their instability can cause them to react violently to different situations and to different conflicts that may arise within the relationship.
Typologies of Femicide
The dimensions described in the previous paragraph have also been used to classify perpetrators of femicide. One such example is the study by Dixon et al. (2008), in which a sample of 99 adult men in prisons in England was analysed; the perpetrators of femicide were classified based on the dimensions of violence and psychopathology, which allowed the authors to satisfactorily classify 80% of the perpetrators of femicide as follows: (a) low criminality and low psychopathology (15.3%); (b) moderate-high criminality and high psychopathology (36.1%); and (c) high criminality and low-moderate psychopathology (48.6%). The remaining 20% were classified in accordance with two of the three classic groups of abusers identified in the literature: GVA/instrumental/cobra/proactive and DB/impulsive/pitbull/reactive. The study by Dawson and Piscitelli (2021) carried out in Canada is of particular importance, not only because of the methodology it uses, but also because it classified 183 killers of women on the basis of 10 risk factors identified by the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario. In their study, the authors identified the existence of a dimension composed of the following factors: a history of violence, death threats, isolation of the victim, escalation of the violence, obsessive behaviours, separation, and fear of the aggressor on the part of the victim. They named this dimension the dimension of violence, and it explained 30% of the variance. The second dimension comprised the following factors: depression, previous threats or attempts of suicide and unemployment of the aggressor. This dimension was termed depression and explained 14% of the variance. The authors subsequently calculated the indices of each dimension and, using a two-stage cluster analysis, they obtained a solution comprised of three groups: (a) non-depressed/non-violent (34%); (b) depressed/violent (34%); and (c) non-depressed/violent (32%). Lastly, proposals of typologies of those who commit femicide have also been made at a theoretical level. In this regard, Kivisto (2015) proposed a classification based on four types of aggressor: (a) mentally ill; (b) undercontrolled/dysregulated; (c) chronic batterer; and (d) overcontrolled/catathymic.
In Spain, there have only been two studies on typologies of perpetrators of femicide. In the first, Aguilar (2017) analysed 189 cases of committed and attempted femicide, classifying 70.4% of the perpetrators as normalised and the remaining 29.6% as antisocial, based on the definition provided by previous studies (e.g. Dobash et al., 2007). Furthermore, analysing only cases in which exemption from or attenuation of criminal responsibility was requested due to a mental disorder, Aguilar-Ruiz (2018) studied 237 cases of committed and attempted femicide, whereby he correctly classified 87.3% of the perpetrators of femicide into four groups: (a) mentally ill/not responsible (25.7%); (b) antisocial/coercive with reduced responsibility (18.6%); (c) normalised/fearful/responsible (38.4%); and (d) moderately antisocial/jealous/responsible with reduced responsibility (17.3%).
Considering the research described in the introduction, some of the limitations that are identified are related to the samples analysed, since these do not tend to have national representation. What is more, these samples are of a penitentiary more than a community nature, which is why the homicides in which the perpetrators have severe mental disorders are not included, nor are those in which they commit suicide, which constitute a significant percentage of the total of femicides. In the typology presented in this study, an attempt was made to overcome these limitations, given that the investigation is of national scope and includes cases of aggressors with severe mental disorders and others in which the perpetrator ended up committing suicide; this will enable a more complete understanding of the phenomenon, and the results will be generalizable to all of Spain. A further strength of the study is the methodology used to obtain the information, as not only was a documentary review of the information and the VPR factors carried out, but interviews were also conducted with the people in the environment of the victims and perpetrators, as were interviews with the perpetrators themselves. In the cases of the victims and the perpetrators who committed suicide, the procedure of psychological autopsy was employed. It is important to point out that the VPR factors of the VioGén System were used as a source of information, specifically the factors equivalent to those used in the study by Dawson and Piscitelli (2021), whose methodology will be followed here, since it is the only project in which the interaction between different risk factors was used to identify types of murderers of women. This is especially important given that the aim is to understand the usefulness that the VPR factors may have in terms of classification, as this would mean that, before the risk evaluation, it would be possible to classify the aggressors as soon as they are entered into the VioGén System, which would enable the adaptation of the risk evaluations based on the characteristics of each perpetrator.
The main aim of the research is to determine whether there are specific groups of risk factors of recidivism that make it possible to classify the perpetrators of femicide in Spain. To complement this question and the analysis of the risk factors, the sociodemographic and psychosocial characteristics of the aggressors will be analysed, as will the variables corresponding to the relationship dynamics, since it is expected that once they have been classified according to the risk factors, significant differences will appear in the profiles of each type.