The changing nature of murder in Russia
Social Science and Medicine, 55:10, 1713–1724 (2002)
The death rate from homicide in Russia increased rapidly during the 1990s. It is now about 20 times higher than in western Europe and is among the highest recorded anywhere in the world. However, this issue has received little attention so far from public health researchers or policymakers.
This paper describes the changing nature of homicide during the 1990s in Russia as a whole and, in more detail, in the Udmurt Republic. The study uses data from three sources: routine mortality data for Russia from 1970-1999; statistics on criminal investigations and convictions in Russia between 1990 and 1997; and an in-depth study of homicide trial records in the Udmurt Republic in 1989-91 and 1998.
Deaths from homicide increased between 1970 and 1985, falling slightly during the 1985 anti-alcohol campaign and then resuming their increase until 1994. Another fall in the late 1990s was arrested in 1998, with an increase in 1999. By 1999 the age standardised homicide death ratein Russia was 81% higher than in 1990, an increase almost twice that of all causes of death combined. Throughout the 1990s about 10% of those convicted of homicide were female. Of those homicides leading to convictions in the Udmurt Republic, 71% of those killed by males were male, as were 75.5% of those killed by females. Killings of women by men often involved sexual assaults. In Russia as a whole, about 80% of those convicted of homicide were reported to be under the influence of alcohol at the time. In the Udmurt Republic, where data on both offender and victim were available, victims were also commonly intoxicated.
The nature of homicide in Russia has changed considerably in less than a decade, with many more now involving aggravating circumstances, such as murder to conceal another crime, in association with robbery or rape, or by a group of people. Although still a small proportion of the total convicted, the number of murders by hired killers is also on the rise.
The characteristics of those convicted of homicide have also changed during the 1990s. They are now younger, less likely to have previous convictions, and to have a more diverse range of educational levels. The previous urban-rural gap, with higher levels in rural areas, has also narrowed.
Keywords: Russian Federation, homicide, mortality, violence