There’s a new term we’re getting familiar with in crime jargon. It’s “femicide,” which loosely means the killing of a female. This definition was first used in England in 1801 but in modern times has most commonly been associated with genocidal killing of women in places such as the Congo, Mexico, Guatemala, and the Middle East. In fact, the term, in its genocidal form, has come to be known as killing women because they are women. A more horrifying term is used by http://www.femicide.info, which is dedicated to stopping femicide in the Kivu region of the Congo and Zaire. They mince no words and simply call it the extermination of women.
In the U.S., femicide is a relatively recent term which has come to be associated with the murder of women by intimate partners. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women has issued its “2010 Femicide Report” and it contains some surprising information.
First, out of 11 “lethality indicators” — “separation, extended history of domestic violence or other violence, pregnancy, threats or fantasies of homicide or suicide, access to a firearm, threats to use a weapon, stalking, attempted strangulation, forced sex, extreme jealousy and control of daily activities” — MCBW has isolated four which are considered the most reliable.
These high risk behaviors, which MCBW identifies as lethality factors, are: 1) the victim’s efforts to break free of the abuser, 2) earlier threats to murder the victim, 3) access of the abuser to firearms, and 4) any history of violence by the abuser.
MCBW has been investigating these four factors since 2006. Their most striking conclusion is that leaving a spouse abuser (or batterer) does not lessen the threat of lethal violence against the woman in the relationship. In fact, approximately two-thirds of intimate partner violent deaths occur after or while a woman is leaving. The issue of control by the man — or, more specifically, lack of it — appears to be a strong contributing factor.
MCBW also considers a previous threat to kill as one of the most predictive factors in fatal spousal assault. Ironically, they state that the criminal and civil justice systems tend to overlook such threats.
Firearms are used in two-thirds of domestic deaths. Access to any type of gun raises the likelihood of killing.
Finally, a batterer’s overall history of violence is a key predictor.
Because the MCBW relies on news accounts for its information, it has some holes in its statistics. For example, the 2010 report states that 47% of all abusers have a documented history of violence. However, the remaining 53% are not in the No Previous Violence category, as we might expect, but are in the Unknown category. Zero percent of documented abusers are categorized “No Previous Violence.”
Although this is a relatively local study, it has broader implications. We will have to see if other states begin collecting information on femicide as a specific category of offense or if this is a trend of definition that is simply below the radars of most law enforcement officials and judicial authorities. In the meantime, the term itself is enough to make many of us uncomfortable. Whether it’s genocide in the Congo or domestic male on female murder in the Twin Cities, femicide is something that needs to be seriously addressed.
For more information, see http://www.mcbw.org/femicides. You may also be interested in “Stalking and Intimate Partner Femicide,” a report by HOMICIDE STUDIES, Vol. 3 No. 4, November 1999 300-316 © 1999 Sage Publications, Inc. See http://www.ncvc.org/src/AGP.Net/Components/DocumentViewer/Download.aspxnz?DocumentID=39084. Although the report is over ten years old, it was done by an outstanding group of analysts and contains still relevant information.