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Thursday January 4 12:44 PM ET

Protecting Battered Women Saves Lives of Men  

By Alan Elsner, National Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Efforts to protect women in the United States against  domestic violence has had the ironic effect of reducing the murder rate of  men by their partners by almost 70 percent over the past 24 years, according  to new figures released on Thursday.  The data, compiled by James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at  Northeastern University, show homicides by women of their spouses, ex-spouses  or boyfriends has declined steadily to 424 in 1999 from 1,357 in 1976.

Homicides of women by their male partners has also declined in the same  period but by a far less dramatic degree, to 1,218 in 1999 from 1,600 in 1976  -- a 24 percent reduction.

Fox and other researchers attribute the 69 percent fall in the number of male  victims of domestic homicides to the availability of alternatives for  battered women.  ``We have given women alternatives, including hotlines, shelters, coun
seling  and restraining orders. Because more battered women have escape routes, fewer  wife batterers are being killed,'' Fox told Reuters in an interview.

Women who in the past may have felt the only way to end their own  victimization was to kill their partner now have other options. The greater  availability and reduced stigma of divorce and the improved economic  independence of women may also have contributed to the decline.

Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University said, ``Our society has been  paying more attention to protecting women from domestic violence and this has produced a major decline in male victims of homicide.''     80 Percent Of Male Victims Abused Partners

He cited a 1999 study sponsored by the National Consortium on Violence  Research which suggested that the greater the availability of hotlines and  other resources for battered women, the greater the decline in homicide of their male partners.

That study found that four in five male domestic homicide victims had  physically abused their partners prior to the murder. Nearly two-thirds of  female murder victims had been abused before they were killed.

About one-third of female murder victims in the United States are killed by a  domestic partner or boyfriend. Only 4 percent of male murder victims are  killed by an intimate.  Breaking down the 1999 figures by race, Fox found the greatest decline was  among black male murder victims. In 1976, 846 black males were killed by  their partners. In 1999, that figure was down to 190.  Blumstein said part of  that decline might reflect the fact that so many young black males of the type who might have the propensity to commit  domestic violence had been incarcerated.

Among whites, the domestic murder rate of women by men was about the same in  1999 as it had been in 1976. The murder rate of men by women had fallen to 221 in 1999 from 493 in 1976.  Looking at the weapons used to commit such  murders, the data showed the major decline among men and women has been in the use of guns. Non-gun  murders of men by women has fallen by about 35 percent, while gun murders  fell by 73 percent between 1976 and 1998. But while gun murders of women by  men fell by 28 percent, non-gun murders rose by 6 percent.