University of Delaware Scholar Seeks to Find Out Why Women Kill

In 2015, women were only 11 percent of homicide perpetrators in the United States, according to the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Kathleen Brewer-Smyth, an associate professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Delaware is conducting research on the factors that contribute to women perpetrating homicide and other violent crimes. One commonality she found is that many are survivors of abuse. The research suggests that hormones are unbalanced in sexually abused women in the same way as women who commit homicides and other crimes. These risk factors are associated with adverse health outcomes, including violent behaviors later in life.

“Sexual abuse can change the entire internal stress system,” Dr. Brewer-Smyth said. “This creates situations where they may be prone to overreact.” In addition, she said, damage to the brain’s prefrontal cortex from brain injuries suffered during abuse can lead to decision-making problems. Often, when combined with alcohol consumption, catastrophic results follow.

“The human and financial cost of abuse is exorbitant,” Dr. Brewer-Smyth added. “It’s more important to do what we can to prevent homicide and other violent crimes by trying to prevent abuse and by working earlier with survivors after childhood abuse.”

Dr. Brewer-Smyth holds a master’s degree in neuroscience nursing and a Ph.D. in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Neuroscience of Trauma, Resilience and Healing Throughout the Life Course (Springer, 2022).

Filed Under: Research/Study


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