When we think about women killed through male violence, most of us think of the two women a week killed by their current or former partner, yet in the last two years, 30 women in the UK have been killed by their sons, 16 women were killed in 2012, 12 in 2013 and so far two men have been charged with stabbing their mothers in 2014.
So called 'mercy killing' has been used in the legal defence of at least four men and implied in the case of one who killed himself after killing his mother. The level of brutality used by some of these men to kill their mothers belies any notion of mercy, but in others the possibility of a desire to end suffering is real. Euthanasia, assisted suicide and/or the right to die should never become the duty to die for fear of being a burden on others and the costs and difficulties of care cannot be permitted to become reasons to kill. It's clear that a rigorous ethical legal framework and guidance are necessary; but with or without recourse to assisted suicide as a legal option, it will continue to occur.
The average age of women killed by their sons was 63 years-old, the average age of the son, their killer, was 35 years-old. Mother killing crosses boundaries of race, where it has been possible for me to find out the race of the men who killed their mothers, the distribution is proportionate to the population across the UK.
Mental ill-heath has been cited around half of the cases of men who killed or allegedly killed their mother, as has drug and alcohol use. This is not to say that mental health problems and/or substance use cause violence against women or cause men to kill their mothers. Many people with mental health problems and/or people who use drugs/alcohol are never violent. An estimated one-in-four people experience a mental health problem in a year, clearly the vast majority do not commit violent acts. However research suggests a relationship between mental illness and violence, it is a risk factor, with combined problematic substance use and personality disorders being identified as a significantly increased risk. Just as in the population who do not use substances problematically, or who do not experience mental health problems, men are more likely to kill their mothers than women are to kill either their mothers or fathers. Whatever the cause, health professionals must take seriously risks to mothers as well as partners for men with histories of violence against women.
The primary methods selected by the men who killed, or allegedly killed, their mothers have been:
- Battered with metal fireguard & slit throat - 1 man
- Multiple injuries and decapitation - 1 man
- Multiple injuries, dismembered and decapitated - 1 man
- Shot - 2 men
- Blunt force trauma - 2 men
- Strangled - 4 men
- Stabbed - 9 men
- Smothered/suffocated/asphyxiated - 4 men
- Slapped and pushed, causing death thro' heart condition - 1 man
- Head injuries - 4 men
- Undisclosed - 1 man (case not yet gone to trial).
When looking at men's violence against women - whether their mothers, partners or otherwise - mainstream analyses rarely ask whether perpetrators are more sexist and misogynistic than men who are not violent to women. Problematic substance use, mental health problems, emotional problems, employment and economic problems, jealousy, 'snapping' and 'rows' are routinely considered, reinforcing excuses for what is seen as significant. This must be recast and the role of inequality between women and men, the social constructs of masculinity and femininity, sexism, objectification and misogyny need to be placed at the centre of our analysis of all forms of men's violence against women and our efforts to end it.
Further information on men who have killed the mothers in the UK since January 2012 can be found here.
1 I have found no cases of women killing their fathers in the same period. I have found two cases of women who killed their mothers in 2013.