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Q: What is femicide? I keep hearing that term being used when I read about domestic violence—is it some new buzzword?
– Amy M.
Great question with a disheartening answer, Amy. Femicide is not a new word, unfortunately. For a long time, women have been killed simply because of their gender, which is what femicide means, although some definitions of femicide encompass any murder of women and girls. An article in Elite Daily goes so far as to describe it as “the sexist violence against women because of a patriarchal system that believes in the inferiority of women themselves.”
One type of femicide is intimate femicide, which is probably what you’re hearing about in relation to domestic abuse. It occurs when a woman is murdered by a current or former intimate partner.
According to the World Health Organization, intimate partners are responsible for more than 35 percent of all murders of women globally. And the figure may be even higher given what WHO says is a significant amount of missing data from non-industrialized countries.
Compare that to similar research showing only 5 percent of male murders are committed by intimate partners and you can see why intimate femicide is considered a global epidemic.
A study out of the National Institutes of Health showed that in the U.S. alone intimate femicide was the leading cause of death for African American women ages 15-45, and the seventh leading cause of premature death among women of all races.
Furthermore, intimate partners are responsible for more murders of American women than any other perpetrator.
In “Will He Kill You?” we list 11 lethality indicators that, should they be present in an abusive partner, warn of an increased risk of the survivor being murdered. They include perceived loss of control after victim leaves, stalking, access to a weapon and violation of a protection order.
The Danger Assessment Tool was also created to help predict the risk level a survivor is facing with their abusive partner. It was developed in 1986 by Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, RN, a domestic violence advocate and a professor at the John Hopkins University School of Nursing. The more of the 20 questions a survivor can answer “yes” to, the higher his or her risk is of being killed.
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If a survivor fears for his or her life and suspects their partner is capable of homicide, leaving that partner is key, but often, that choice also puts the survivor at the greatest risk. Advocates with The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women echo this sentiment in their annual Femicide Report. Released yearly, it lists the names of all the women killed by intimate partners in Minnesota that year. In 2015, that number was 22, and 8 of those murders occurred either after the woman had left her abusive partner, as she was attempting to leave, or within a year of a previous attempt to leave.
The Coalition urges those of us who know a survivor with an abusive partner to educate ourselves about the resources that exist in order to help stop femicide from occurring.
“From our observation over the years, it is apparent that women often confide in family members, friends, or coworkers about their intention to leave an abusive relationship. As a community, we must educate ourselves about existing resources for victims such as voluntary and confidential services through domestic violence programs that can safety plan with victims.”
Femicide not only affects its victims, but also those surrounding the women who are killed. According to the report from WHO, the partner is seldom the only victim in cases of intimate partner femicide. Others who are also at risk for being killed by the abuser include the couple’s children; unrelated bystanders; people perceived as the victim’s allies by the perpetrator, such as police, lawyers, relatives, neighbors or friends; and the victim’s new partner.
The report also describes the heart-wrenching consequences femicide has on children. “Surviving children of women killed by their intimate partners experience long-lasting effects, since they lose one parent to the murder, the other parent to jail, and often have to leave their parental home and adjust to a new environment in which they might be labeled as the child of the murderer.”
WHO says femicide can be prevented with stricter screening tools to predict femicide before it happens. They also advocate for a greater understanding of the social context behind femicide, including gender inequality.
Besides that, strengthening gun laws and educating law enforcement are also important measures. “… It would be beneficial for police and other members of the criminal justice system to receive training and sensitization to identify and document cases of femicide,” the report reads. “Training for police should also include instruction related to gun removal and enforcement of gun laws in cases of family violence.”
Here’s hoping that someday, Amy, femicide really does become just a buzzword that gets phased out.
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