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Firearms are not the main weapon of choice in homicides in Australia. AAP/Caroline Schelle

Three charts on: Australia’s declining homicide rates

Australia’s overall homicide rate continues to decline: it has reached a historic low, according to newly published data.

Australia’s homicide rate is declining

Through its National Homicide Monitoring Program, the Australian Institute of Criminology has outlined the trends in homicides for the financial years 2012-13 and 2013-14. In this period there were 487 homicide incidents involving 512 victims and 549 offenders.

The national homicide rate has decreased from 1.8 per 100,000 people in 1989-90 to 1 per 100,000 in 2013-14.

For Indigenous people, the homicide rate was much higher at 4.9 per 100,000 in 2013-14. The Northern Territory had the highest homicide rate in Australia, with 6.5 per 100,000 for 2013-14.

While there are differences in data collected by each country, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes International Homicide Statistics database allows Australia’s homicide rate to be compared to other countries (see the chart below).

In terms of the homicide rate, it can be argued that Australia is safer than some other countries. In 2012, for example, the US recorded a homicide rate of 4.7 per 100,000 – with 14,827 incidents of homicide.

The United Nations Global Study on Homicide 2013 estimated an average global homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000 people. Other countries had much higher homicide rates in 2012: Colombia (30.8), Mexico (21.5), and South Africa (31).

Most victims are killed by someone they know

While we might fear being attacked by an unknown assailant, this perception does not match reality.

Between 2012 and 2014 the most common relationship between offender and victim was domestic relationship (41%), followed by acquaintance (27%). 13% of homicides are committed by a stranger.

As seen in the graph above, the number of domestic homicides in 2013-14 was far lower than the number in 2001-02; there has been a 36% decrease over that period. Intimate partner relationships account for the most homicides in the domestic relationship category.

Around 19% of homicides between 2012 and 2014 were unclassified due to police not knowing the nature of the relationship between victim and offenders.

Of those killed, 64% of victims were male – and the offending rate for males was six times that for females.

In terms of apparent motive, domestic argument was the most common cause at 16% of homicide incidents, while alcohol-related arguments and other arguments accounted for 8% each. Revenge and jealousy accounted for 4% and 5% of incidents respectively.

Guns are not the main weapon used in homicides

Despite recent claims of Australia having a rising gun culture and an upcoming national gun amnesty, firearms are not the main weapon of choice in homicides.

The use of guns features in only 14% of homicides. The two leading causes of homicide are stab wounds (38%) and beatings (25%).

This trend is supported by longer-term Australia Bureau of Statistics data that shows the use of firearms in homicides remains at historically low levels. In contrast, UN data indicates that about 40% of global homicides are caused by firearms.

Of note is that the use of firearms in homicides in Australia has increased since a low in 2005.

Only 16% of homicide incidents between 2012 and 2014 came following, or in the process of, committing another crime. The most common offences that later led to a homicide were robbery, sexual assault, and break-and-enter.

Are we on the right track?

Homicides are the most serious of crimes, with far-reaching implications for both individuals and society in terms of harm. In terms of economic cost, the Australian Institute of Criminology estimated each homicide incident had cost A$2.7 million in 2011.

The outlook for Australia is positive, with a continued reduction in the homicide rate.

However, challenges remain, such as the over-representation of Indigenous people, and that domestic-related homicides still make up the largest number of homicides.

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