Rates of violence have been declining in developed countries. Each year there are fewer cases of murder and other violent crimes in the population, however, this does not in itself mean that all violence is reduced.

There are different patterns of victimization that, despite the development of society, are still quite noticeable, one of them being cases of domestic violence.

In this article we will see the laws of Verkko that explain this phenomenon , as well as contextualize it.

Who was Veli Verkko?

Veli Kaarle Verkko (1893-1955) was a Finnish criminologist , a pioneer in the study of comparative homicide research between countries. This researcher tackled how and in what way cases of murder occurred in various societies, both in a domestic context and in the street, relating it to culture, development, awareness of inequalities and wealth, among other factors.

From his research he postulated two laws, which are known as Verkko’s laws, that explain patterns in statistics with respect to violence and especially homicides, both at the temporal level and at the cross-sectional level.

Verkko noted that not all murders were the same . Although this may seem obvious, it is not so obvious when you consider that there are many reasons that can lead a person to commit a crime as serious as murder. Verkko saw the need to try to relate the context in which the murder case occurred to what relationship the killer had with his victim.

Not all murder victims have the same characteristics, nor do they have the same chance of being killed. If we compare the possibilities of being murdered, there are big differences between being a man or a woman . Worldwide, for every woman killed there are four men killed.

But it doesn’t stop there, because while more men are killed than women globally, it is different by country and by the type of violence that has occurred.

Verkko’s Laws

Veli Verkko noted that there were different murder rates in terms of the country’s level of development, seeing that the more developed a society was, the fewer murder cases there were. However, fewer murders in general did not mean that there were fewer cases of femicide.

Based on his observations, the Finnish criminologist introduced his two famous laws.

1. Verkko’s First Law

Verkko’s first law, also called Verkko’s static law, postulates that the degree of victimization of women in a society will be reflected in the total number of homicides .

It is called static because it explains the variations in the homicide rate of a country at a particular point in time, without having a perspective over time.

This law holds that the more homicides there are in a society, both of men and women, the lower the percentage of women murdered is to be expected.

Conversely, the fewer murders there are, the more likely it is that the percentage of women victims of homicide will be higher .

In most cases, when a homicide is committed, it usually occurs in an already criminal situation and, statistically, men are more likely to be involved than women.

This is why the more crimes committed in a society, the more likely it is that the people killed will be men.

2. Verkko’s Second Law

Street violence, also called non-domestic violence, is not the same as domestic violence. The way both types of violence evolve, and therefore the homicides they may end up committing, is different.

The more a country develops, the more predictable it is that street violence will decrease , but it does not, or at least, in the same way, domestic violence.

Verkko’s second law or dynamic, which is the best known, postulates that changes in homicide rates in a society are due to the way in which, above all, men carry out fewer homicides in a street context than in a domestic context.

You have to understand what we mean by domestic violence. This construct would incorporate within it any violent act committed towards a person close to the aggressor , being the partner, children, parents, siblings or other relatives.

This may be related to interpersonal conflicts in families. This type of violence will always take place, regardless of the weather.

Cases of domestic violence are more stable than cases of non-domestic violence , which involve the aggressor committing an aggression towards someone he does not know.

By non-domestic violence we mean an act of violence, which can of course include homicide, perpetrated by a person who did not know or have a close or kinship relationship with the victim.

Non-domestic violence contexts are often situations of robbery, nighttime violence, sexual abuse or rape outside the couple, and drug crimes. Leaving aside the case of sexual violence, in most of these crimes the assault is man-to-man.

This type of crime fluctuates depending on how developed and prosperous the society is , in addition to whether or not there are laws that ensure that these criminal acts do not occur.

What’s the explanation behind all this?

As we were saying, Verkko’s best known law is the second one, the dynamic. It postulates that domestic violence cases, compared to non-domestic violence cases, have remained more static throughout history. The perpetrator of this type of violence is usually a man who kills a family member. Several people have tried to give a socio-cultural explanation to this phenomenon .

One of them is the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, who in his famous book The Angels Within Us highlights the explanation of other psychologists, Martin Dally and Margo Wilson. According to these two researchers, the reason why violence in a domestic context remains more or less stable is the fact that the members of every family tend to get on each other’s nerves, something that has always happened and will always happen .

This is not to say that in every family in which there is some tension a crime will be committed, let alone a murder. However, with this explanation it is possible to understand why, as a society develops, street violence decreases, but not in the same way domestic violence: in every good family there are conflicts.

In a family, members will always have some kind of conflict of interest. Moreover, by sharing the same space and also the same genetics, there will always be two people who will want to have the same thing , but only one will be able to get it in the end, and to get it it will be necessary to fight. Aggression, from an evolutionary perspective, is carried out between equals in order to achieve what one wants, this being the most normal reason among men.

However, the majority of victims of domestic violence are usually women, which is reflected even in the statistics of the most developed countries. The clearest example of this is the case of the Nordic countries.

The five independent Nordic countries to date, namely Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, share two apparently contradictory characteristics: first, there is a deep sensitivity to the acquisition of equality and women’s rights in all of them, and second, they are the countries with the highest number of cases of murder due to male violence .

This is remarkable because one would expect that, with greater awareness of privileges in men and difficulties in women, society would have lower rates of male violence. Despite the fact that street violence has been considerably reduced in these countries, partner violence is still significantly higher than in the Mediterranean countries.

It can be said that this phenomenon in the Nordic countries has its explanation. In these countries, either because of their climate or because of cultural factors, it is more common to spend time with family and friends at home than to go for a walk . Given that Verkko’s second law explains that domestic violence is based on the struggle for resources and spaces, it is logical to think that the longer one is locked up at home with family members, the more tension may arise and, in turn, the greater the risk of violence.

Bibliographic references:

  • Kivivuori, J., & Lehti, M. (2011). Homicide in Finland and Sweden. Crime and Justice, 40(1), 109 – 198.
  • Kivivuori, J. (2017). Veli Verkko as an Early Criminologist. A case study in scientific conflict and paradigm shift. Scandinavian Journal of History 42(2), 144-165.