Abstract: Violence Against Women and Public Mass Shootings (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Violence Against Women and Public Mass Shootings

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Juliann Nicholson, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Boston University, Boston, MA
Ellen DeVoe, PhD, LICSW, Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: The public mass shooting death toll is rising by the decade. Among the ten deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, nine were committed by men with histories of violence against women (VAW). While news media have recently spotlighted the connections between VAW and public mass shootings, these links remain understudied. We developed the current study to understand the patterns of public mass shootings committed by individuals with VAW histories and related motivations.

Methods: We cross-reference several established, publicly available databases (The Violence Project, Mother Jones, and Everytown for Gun Safety) and utilize open-source data to identify a list of public mass shooters between 1966 and 2020 with known VAW histories. To understand the role of VAW in these acts of public violence, we develop detailed narratives of each shooter’s known VAW history and a series of variables to measure shooters’ known histories of intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual assault, stalking, harassment, child abuse, and expressed VAW fantasies. Additionally, we create variables to measure shootings that targeted women and girls, stalking victims, current or former intimate partners, and relatives, respectively. Next we conduct t-test, ANOVA and chi square analyses to understand the individual, relational, and community-level patterns among shootings perpetrated by individuals with VAW histories and motivations. Data for these analyses primarily came from The Violence Project Database of Mass Shootings in the U.S., which includes approximately 200 variables pertaining to individual shooters and respective shooting circumstances.

Results: Preliminary findings indicate that nearly half of public mass shooters between 1966-2020 have known histories of VAW. Among these shooters, their most frequently perpetrated acts of VAW are IPV and sexual assault. In addition, according to these data, the number and percentage of public mass shooters with VAW histories, in particular IPV, have increased over time. These figures are likely conservative, given that sexual assault, IPV and stalking are vastly underreported. Statistical analyses indicate that public mass shooters with VAW histories, compared with shooters with no known VAW histories, were significantly more likely to have experienced childhood trauma, to have grown up in middle- and upper-class families, to have criminal records, and to have known histories of suicidality.

Conclusions and Implications: These findings contribute to our understanding of public mass shootings and their links to VAW. In 2019, ending a 20-year freeze, the federal government allocated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds for studies of firearm safety. With this boon to gun violence research and the apparent increase in prevalence of VAW related mass violence in the U.S., we aim to contribute to the understanding of this public health crisis and lay groundwork for future research and prevention efforts.