from the world's big
A murder map of Denmark
Lovers deadlier than gangsters, first comprehensive Danish homicide study since 1970s shows
- Danes love tv crime, but rarely commit (and barely study) murder
- The typical Danish murder involves knives and relatives, study reveals
- Wealth of stats can help forensic scientists - and lawmakers
One map, 1,417 murders
A geographic representation of all 1,417 murders committed in Denmark from 1992 to 2016.
Image: Ruland Kolen / Dagbladet Information
Scandinavians love bloody murder. On their tv screens at least: if they're not binge-watching the latest, locally-sourced Scandi noir crime thriller, they'll happily re-watch Morse, Vera, Barnaby, Taggart or any other of the mostly British (and strangely often mononymous) homicide procedurals clogging up all channels, any day of the week.
That massive, if passive, interest in killing must somehow serve as an antidote for its active pursuit, because the Nordics are among the least murderous countries worldwide.
In 2017, Denmark had a rate of 'intentional homicide' of just 1.20 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is among the lowest in the world (1). Given its relatively small population (5.8 million), that translates to a mere 71 murders that year. The other Nordics have similarly low stats: also in 2017, Finland also had a murder rate of 1.20 (69 Finns finished), in Sweden it was 1.10 (113 Swedes silenced), in Iceland 0.90 (just 3 Icelanders iced) and in Norway 0.50 (28 Norwegians neutralised).
The only major countries doing better than that were Indonesia (0.40, i.e. 1,150 murders) and Japan (0.20, for 306 homicides). The United States trends to the other side of the spectrum (2), with a murder rate of 5.30 in 2017, which translated into 17,284 intentional homicides (3).
With murder rates this low and home-grown crime dramas as popular as they are, it could be argued that there are more fictional murders on screen in the Nordic countries than actual ones. It's certainly true that the actual murders - outshone and perhaps outnumbered by their fictional counterparts - get less attention.
Objectified information helps forensic scientists transcend their own knowledge of previous cases.
Image: Ralf Roletschek / FAL 1.3
Enter Asser Hedegård Thomsen from the Institut for Retsmedicin (Institute of Forensic Science) at Aarhus University. He is conducting the first comprehensive analysis of Denmark's murder statistics since the early 1970s. For his Ph.D. thesis, to be completed next year, he has spent five years examining each and every one of the 1,417 murders committed in Denmark in the quarter century from 1992 to 2016.
Why? "When autopsying a murder victim, forensic scientists use their own knowledge of previous cases to reach their conclusions. My analysis is helpful because it is objectified information, extending beyond personal knowledge", Hedegård Thomsen told the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information, which devoted an entire supplement to his findings.
But there is also a broader, societal value in a close reading of all those autopsy reports, the paper editorialises: "Even if murder is relatively rare here (in Denmark), it remains the ultimate crime against society, and the one that is punished most severely. That's why knowledge on this topic is so relevant: if murder is to be discussed, prevented or legislated on, it's important to do so based on facts."
X marks the spot
More chilling than 'The Killing': a real-life murder map of Denmark.
Image: Dagbladet Information
So, what does murder in Denmark look like? According to this map, one X for the location of each murder, a lot like Denmark itself.
Murder density is highest where most people live: first and foremost in the capital, Copenhagen (the white blob, bottom right). Odense (middle, bottom) is also easily visible. Smaller areas of overlapping crosses correspond to other Danish cities such as Esbjerg, Aarhus and Randers.
But killing happens in enough places for the geographic outline of the entire country to become visible. The densely populated islands of Sjælland (on which Copenhagen is located), Fyn (Odense) and Lolland can be clearly discerned. A few murders in Skagen, the northern tip of Jutland, help identify the Danish mainland.
One isolated cross north of Odense seems to indicate a solitary murder on the small holiday island of Samsø. The bunch of x'es to the right represent the island of Bornholm, at greater distance from the rest of Denmark, halfway between Sweden and Poland.
Typology of violence
For reference, an actual map of Denmark
Image: CIA / Public domain
Perhaps more interesting to coroners (and legislators) is the study's typology of violence and victims.
Stabbing was the most frequent cause of death (33.2%), followed by shooting (22.2%), blunt-force trauma (21.9%) and strangulation (17.6%). Since most murders happen at home, Denmark's favourite murder weapon is the kitchen knife. Access to guns is strictly regulated in Denmark, otherwise death by gunshot would probably be the larger category.
Familiarity breeds contempt - and worse: 44% of all killings happen within families. No less than 77% of all female murder victims die at the hands of a relative, and just 24% of men. Spousal homicide is the biggest single subcategory of all murders (26.7%), and 79% of its victims are women. In fact, more than half of all female murder victims are killed by their (former) significant other. For men, that figure is just 9%.
The second-largest category are drink- and drugs-related murders. Here, 97% of the victims are male. Gangland killings and other crime-related murders - which receive wide media attention - are a distant third.
Three out of four murders take place at a home (rather than out on the street), two-thirds occur between 6 pm and 6 am, and most happen on a Friday or Saturday. Monday is the least lethal day of the Danish week.
'Ideal' victim profiles
Line up the usual suspects...
Image: Kent Wang / CC BY-SA 2.0
Based on the 1,417 murder cases in Denmark from 1992 to 2016, Mr Hedegård Thomsen has established three profiles for the 'ideal' Danish murder victims.
- The average murdered Danish male is between 18 and 50 years old, is killed on a Friday night by a drinking buddy with a kitchen knife, either at his own home or that of a friend.
- The typical female murder victim in Denmark is between 30 and 39 years old, and is killed at home by her partner or her ex, out of jealousy or because of separation issues. She is either knifed or strangled.
- Murder victims under 18 years are as often boys as girls, most often killed by a relative - in 75% of cases by their father or another man.
While studying a quarter century of murder must have made for much grim reading, even in a relatively peaceful society like Denmark, there is at least one positive conclusion: the murder rate is dropping to ever lower levels. The annual figures zig and zag up and down, but the trend line goes from just under 80 murders in 1992 to just over 40 in 2016.
This may partly be the result of better care and, thanks to mobile phones, faster reaction times. But other factors may be at work. Perhaps, if the quality of fictional murders on Danish tv keeps increasing, it will be much harder to spot the country's outline on the homicide map of the next 25 years.
Map from the 24 August 2019 edition of Moderne Tider, a supplement of Dagbladet Information. Text: Line Vaaben, illustration: Jesse Jacob, data: Asser Hedegård Thomsen. Image reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps #987
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.-------------------
- Recent estimates for a global murder rate vary from 6.2 per 100,000 (UN, 2012) to 7.6 (Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, 2004).
- But the U.S. is far from the worst offender. In 2017, El Salvador had the world's highest murder rate: 61.80 (3,942 Salvadorans killed); and Brazil had the highest murder count: 63,895 (and a murder rate of 30.50).
- If the U.S. had had the same murder rate as Denmark in 2017 (1.20 instead of 5.30), it would have had just 3,910 homicides, more than 13,000 fewer than the actual total. On the other hand, if the US had had El Salvador's murder rate, the total would have been 201,531 murders - over 180,000 more.
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Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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- This effect causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
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