Femicide – Men’s Fatal Violence Against Women Goes Beyond Domestic Violence

I wrote this piece for Women’s Aid’s magazine Safe:

The Office for National Statistics released findings from the 2013/14 Crime Survey for England and Wales on 12 February. Men continue to be more likely to be killed than women, there were 343 male victims compared to 183 female victims (of all ages including children and babies). Court proceedings had concluded for 355 (55%) of 649 suspects relating to 536 homicides.  For those suspects where proceedings had concluded, 90% (338 suspects) were male and 10% were female (38 suspects). Men are more likely to be killed, but their killers are overwhelmingly men. Women are less likely to be killed, when they are, they are overwhelmingly killed by a man.  When we’re talking about fatal violence, we are almost always talking about men’s violence.

The words homicide, from homo “man” and cidium “act of killing”, and manslaughter “ma” and “slæht or slieht” “the act of killing”  are identical etymologically but have developed different legal meanings.  Like the word “murder” both could be described as being ‘gender neutral’, but they are not, both render the killing of women invisible.  The word femicide seeks to address this.  The first modern and feminist definition of ‘Femicide’ is attributed to Jill Radford and Diana Russell (1991). They used it in the context of feminist analysis of men’s violence against women to address the sex-specific killings of women. Whilst some contentions remain over a definition, the definition ‘the killings of women because they are women’ is most frequently used. As well as women killed through intimate partner violence, femicide includes (but is not limited to): women killed by other family members, the torture and misogynist slaying of women including serial killings, the killing of women and girls in the name of “ honour”, targeted killing of women and girls in the context of armed conflict, dowry-related killings of women, female infanticide and gender-based sex selection feticide, killings of women due to accusations of sorcery and/or witchcraft, the deaths of women associated with gangs, organiSed crime, drug dealers, human trafficking and the proliferation of small arms, the killing of women and girls because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and FGM related deaths. Femicide can include women killed by women if the motive is associated with sexist or misogynistic patriarchal values, but is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men.

Femicide is a global issue.  About 66,000 women and girls are violently killed every year, according to a 2012 report by the Small Arms Survey.1 But comparing county-by-county data is challenging, partly because there isn’t a globally accepted definition, or even a globally agreed need for a definition, but also because most countries’ data-collection systems do not record the necessary information, whether that is the sex of the victim and perpetrator, their relationship or any known motives for the killing.  The data that is available suggests that countries with the highest femicide levels correspond to those with the highest rates of fatal violence. El Salvador has the highest femicide rate (12.0 per 100,000 female population), followed by Jamaica (10.9), Guatemala (9.7), and South Africa (9.6). Half of the countries with the top highest estimated femicide rates are in Latin America, with South Africa and Russian and Eastern European countries having disproportionately high rates.  It should be noted that high rates of female infanticide, sex-selective and forced abortion challenge the absence of countries including India and China  from this data. England and Wales’ femicide rate, by comparison, was 0.66 per 100,000 female population for 2013/14.

The ONS findings for 2013/14, consistent with previous years, found that women were far more likely than men to be killed by partners or ex-partners than men.  84 women, around 53% of female homicide victims (over 16) had been killed by their current or a former partner, compared to 23 men (7% of male victims over 16).  The ONS definition of partner/ex-partner homicide includes  killings by a “spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, ex-spouse/ex-cohabiting partner/ex-boyfriend/girlfriend and adulterous relationship” but also “lover’s spouse and emotional rival”.  Combining data for 2011/12 and 2013/14, the ONS tell us that of 57 men killed in partner/ex-partner homicides, 21 of them, over a third, were killed by a man.  Of these 21 men killed by men in the context of partner/ex-partner homicides, 14 of them were killed by a lover’s spouse/love rival.  Of 249 women killed in partner/ex-partner homicides over the same 3 years, 247 were killed by a man, one by a woman (in one case the primary suspect is listed as unknown).  None of the female victims of partner/ex-partner homicide were killed by the spouse of their lover or an emotional rival. Similarly, no male victims of partner/ex-partner homicide were killed by a female spouse of their lover or a female emotional rival. Not only are men killed in the context of an intimate relationship less likely to be killed by their actual partner or ex-partner, they are much more likely than women to be killed by someone of the same sex.

Another important difference between women and men killed in the context of intimate partner violence is the history of the relationship.  When men kill women partners or ex-partners, this usually follows months or years of them abusing her, when women kill male partners or ex-partners, it is usually after months or years of having been abused by the man they have killed.2 So, there are four important differences when we compare women and men killed in the context of a current or previous intimate partnership (figures from the ONS 2011/12 to 2013/14 data):

  • Far fewer men than women are killed in the context of intimate partner violence (57 v. 249)
  • Men are much more likely to be killed by the spouse of a partner or a love rival (14/57 v 0/249)
  • Men are much more likely than women to have been killed by someone of the same sex (21/57 v 1/249)
  • Men are more likely to have been killed by someone they were abusing, women are more likely to have been killed by someone they were being abused by.

If we look at men who kill women (who are not current or ex- intimate partners), it is clear that they have more in common with men who kill female current or former  partners, than the much smaller number of  women who kill male former partners. The concept of femicide, making connections between all forms of men’s fatal violence against women provides a more useful theoretical framework than comparing people killed in the context of intimate partner relationships across the sexes. Sex inequality in patriarchal society cannot be ignored.

Since January 2012, I’ve been recording and commemorating UK women killed by men in a project called Counting Dead Women.  Looking at my own records for the same year as the ONS data, the next biggest group of women killed by men was women killed by their sons.3 Between April 2013 and March 2014, at least 12 women were killed by their sons, two more by their son-in-laws, three by their grandsons and one by her step-grandson. These patterns are not replicated in rates of women killing older male relatives: fathers, fathers-in-law or grandfathers. A further three women were killed by their fathers, and one more by her step-father.

Male entitlement is a deadly seam running through male violence against women, whether coercive control, rape, prostitution, trafficking or femicide.  Prostitution, pornography and trafficking are forms of violence against women, reducing women to commodities, possessions and objects for market exchange. Men are the purchasers, controllers and profit-makers, this market of women cannot be extricated from a context of inequality between women and men. At least 5 women killed last year (the same year as the ONS data) were women exploited through pornography and/or prostitution. There were over 64,000 sexual offences recorded by police last year, overwhelmingly committed by men, with young women those most likely to have experienced sexual assault. 1.4 million domestic violence assaults against women were recorded. When men kill women, regardless of their relationship or lack of it, they are doing so in the context of a society in which men’s violence against women is entrenched and systemic. When misogyny, sexism and the objectification of women are so pervasive that they are all but inescapable, can a man killing a women ever not be a sexist act?

In addition to the women killed in partner/ex-partner homicide and those killed by sons or other family members:

  • One woman was found dead, hanging with a tow rope belonging to the man accused of killing her around her neck. She had more than 30 injuries to her face and arms. He was found sleeping on a blood-stained bed beneath her dead naked body by police who had been called by a neighbour who found water dripping through her ceiling.  The man, who had been in a relationship with her,  claimed not to remember anything that had happened for five hours before police woke him up in bed.  In the weeks before her death, he had sent her a text which read “You’re getting tied up, I will treat you like a random victim, gonna do you Manchester style.”  He claimed she had died during a consensual sex-game and was found not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter. He walked free. The influence of eroticised violence against women cannot be disregarded in this woman’s death.
  • Glen Nelson murdered Krishnamaya Mabo, the court where he was convicted heard that he had gone out seeking a woman to rape. The sentencing judge commented “He killed her deliberately to prevent her testifying about the attempted rape. The violence and sexual assault were inextricably interwoven.”
  • 23-year-old Jamie Reynolds murdered 17-year-old Georgia Williams. During his trial Prosector David Crigman said Reynolds carried out a ‘scripted, sadistic and sexually-motivated murder’ and described him as ‘a sexual deviant’ who has had ‘a morbid fascination in pornography depicting violence towards young women in a sexual context since at least 2008’.  When arrested he had 16,800 images and 72 videos of extreme pornography including digitally modified  images of up to eight other women he personally knew in which ropes had been added around their necks.  Georgia Williams and Jamie Reynolds were ‘friends’, they had not been partners.

Sexual violence runs through these murders and many others that are not men murdering partners or ex-partners. Gender, the social constructs of masculinity and femininity are also integral.  One of the significant achievements of feminism is getting male violence against women into the mainstream and onto the policy agenda.  One of the threats against this achievement is that those with power take the concepts and under the auspices of dealing with the problem shake some of the most basic elements of feminist understanding right out of them.  It is important that we do not allow the connection between the different forms of men’s violence against women to be lost. We need to name the problem as men’s violence against women and we cannot allow a ‘gender’-neutral approach to domestic violence intimate-partner to obscure this.

On the same day that the ONS released their data from the 2013/14 Crime Survey for England and Wales, Women’s Aid and myself launched The Femicide Census. The Femicide Census was built with support from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Deloitte LLP and for the first time will allow detailed tracking and analysis of fatal male violence against women in England. So far data of 694 women killed by men in the years 2009 to 2013 has been collected.

It is self-evident that each woman killed by a man is a unique individual, as is each man who kills a woman or women. The circumstances around each killing are never identical.   But that doesn’t make them isolated incidents.  By refusing to see a pattern we are refusing to see the myriad connections between incidents of men’s fatal violence against women; and by refusing to see the connections we are closing our eyes to the commonalities in the causes. When we link the killings of women by men and stop thinking about isolated incidents, we begin to see the real scale of the problem. The Femicide Census will contribute to increasing awareness of men’s violence and to greater knowledge and analysis of men’s violence against women and girls, it is a crucial step towards prevention.  We also want The Femicide Census to commemorate women, to remember the women and girls who have been killed and the friends and families that mourn them.

To reduce femicide we need to protect the network of specialist services dealing with all forms of men’s violence against women. Refuges in particular can provide a crucial place to escape, though given that women killed years after the end of a violent relationship are not rare, it cannot be assumed that women will be safe after leaving a refuge and this may be particularly important in the context of on-going child contact.  In addition, community based support, ‘Healthy relationships’ education, policing,  prosecutions,  and work with perpetrators are all vitally important, but none of this will tackle the root cause of men’s violence against women.

Men’s violence against women is not natural and it is not inevitable, but it is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men and underpinned by other manifestations of that inequality: gender and/or sex roles, sexism, misogyny, and the commodification and objectification of women. We need to name men’s violence. We need to keep the connections between the different forms of men’s violence at the forefront of our analysis. We need to say that all the women killed by men were important. If we don’t make the connections and look for the true root causes, we will not reduce the numbers of women being killed by men.  By enabling us to record and analyse comprehensive data on women killed by men, the Femicide Census can be a step towards the change that we want to create.

1 Small Arms Survey, Femicide: A Global Problem

2 Browne et al., 1998; Websdale, 1999; Dugan et al., 2003.

3 Karen Ingala Smith, Killed by their Sons, 2015

12 thoughts on “Femicide – Men’s Fatal Violence Against Women Goes Beyond Domestic Violence

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  4. Yes, I am afraid of men. When I told male partners about my abuses they didn’t want to hear. Men don’t want to imagine the helplessness.

    I don’t think we are afraid that we won’t know how to build a kind and respectful world. We have just been systematically and forcibly domesticated by males for thousands of years.

    Women remember in our bones and in our cells and in our dna. I know my mother and grandmother were required to perform female submission. Through a miracle of modern life I escaped that by education, divorce and self-sufficiency. No male has shadowed my door for twenty years. My house is a male free zone, except one or two close family persons.

    Are we afraid of taking personal responsibility? Most people would rather elect depression rather than taking responsibility to change the things they need to change. You know, resist change.

    I think human beings are just ignorant. And, greedy. Even women.

    When women were overtaken, it had to have been by armed struggle. We must have put up a jolly bloody fight for the repression to be so draconian such as the many hundreds of years of burnings and torture and theft of our properties in the dark ages of male angers at women. The Mycenean pottery depicting males on battlefield with spears to fallen women’s throats must have been the way they did it.

    In my own life I have tried to create a world that is kind and respectful. And, female-identified. I created occupations with/for women. I taught women’s fitness. Owned/operated a preschool that was mostly engaging of mothers and their children. I don’t buy men culture as much as possible, even to seeking female designed and ecologically produced garments. I try to find teachers with tits. I buy womens art, writing, attend concerts by women.

    I’d like to see us build an Angie’s List but by for and about women only. Our own female bitcoin. Our own women’s self protection units armed to the teeth and can patrol neighborhoods to keep us and our children safe. Like the Kurdish women.

    I wish every small girl was told she never had to have penis in vagina sex if she didn’t want, and there are alternatives to that for getting pregnant. And, she should know how to fight back. Every five year old girl should know how to kick, punch, scream and poke eyes and bite off balls. We should all be kind and respectful but not to male violence or offenders.

    I wish women could refuse to have sex with men. Worldwide. Overnight. Nope. No nookie. No baby for your cannon fodder. Give them about a decade of no procreation while we re-spin our webs of female interconnectedness and womyn based economy. A gal can dream, right?

    Men are out of control. Patriarchy is not sustainable. It’s death contortions are killing us all.

  5. Tiptoeing around the dinosaur
    By Elaine Charkowski

    Copy Paste and Postable

    In response to my statement “male violence is the worst problem in the world,” a woman emailed me and wrote: “I do not believe that male violence is the cause of the world’s problems, but a symptom of a very sick system that produces violent men and submissive women. If you say that violent men are the problem, then what is the solution short of suppressing or eliminating them?”

    So I wrote: Violent men created the “very sick system that produces violent men and submissive women,” which is patriarchy. Thus, I stand by my statement that male violence is the worst problem in the world. Furthermore, I trace the source of ALL the “isms” and oppressions to male violence. These include racism, sexism and colonization, both external and internal. Internal colonization is seeing one’s Self through the eyes of the oppressor.

    Male violence is also the source of genocide, war, homophobia, nationalism, cruelty to animals, slavery, economic oppression, prostitution, pornography, all sexual slavery, and child abuse.

    Male violence includes the plunder of the Earth and all Her resources (animal, vegetable and mineral). It is the systematic murder of the Living World, upon which humanity and all other living beings depend for their existence. Thus, it is the worst of all the forms of male violence.

    How can we solve the problem of male violence, the worst problem in the world? Where do we begin? Men control all the power institutions. These include the military, education, technology, law, finance, the global economic system, media and all the male-supremacist organized religions (spiritual backup for men’s earthly atrocities).

    I can’t solve the problem of male violence single handedly. However, what I can do is name male violence as the worst problem in the world. This is because naming the oppressors is the first step toward ending their oppression. I will not be discouraged, deflected or distracted.

    I hold ALL men responsible for ending male violence. This includes non-violent men because ALL men profit from a world in which male violence exists, especially male violence against women.

    As more and more women and men take up the cry and shout from the rooftops that male violence is the worst problem in the world, more and more people can offer their solutions. We can learn from each other and create the synergy necessary to end these millenniums of horror. Hopefully hundreds of millions of women and men will soon be joining this discussion.

    Concepts to Consider
    Is naming male violence as the worst problem in the world a serious threat to patriarchy, the social structure of violent male power? I believe it is because its linguistic contortions, generalizations, obfuscations, denials and outright LIES are incredibly numerous and varied. If a lie is repeated often enough, it begins to look like the truth. Thus, this endless repetition reveals that male violence must NEVER be named as the worst problem in the world.

    Naming male violence would threaten the power of violent men-and also of men in general who benefit from male violence. Any possible evasion must be used to avoid naming male violence as the worst problem in the world!

    These include but are not limited to:
    “Not all men are violent”
    “It’s capitalism”
    “Women are violent too”
    “It’s racism”
    “It’s colonization”
    “It’s genocide”
    “Women collude with men against women”
    “Women profit from male violence”
    “It’s gun violence”
    “Men also suffer under patriarchy” (notice that men suffer overwhelmingly at the hands of other men)
    “Violent society creates violent men”
    “What about Margaret Thatcher?”
    “Women also oppress women”
    “I love the men in my life who are not violent,”
    I am a man and I am not violent” etc.

    “Patriarchy is the fatal need to rank diversity” – Elizabeth Dodson Gray

    The suffering of those who are directly affected by the various types of male violence further clouds the focus specifically on the general societal condition of male violence. Thus, women would say sexism is the worst problem, people of color would say its racism, Jewish people would say its anti-Semitism and so on.

    However, the fact is that MEN are the *common denominator* in ALL these abuses! Even when women collude with men, or a member of a dominated race colludes with racists, it still does not change the fact that men are in charge. In the same way, collaborators with the Nazis were not in charge. The Nazis were.

    Unjust systems always encourage collaborators. Hence, there have always been, and always will be, collaborators in all the unjust systems MEN created. Collaborators may be privileged under these systems but they do not control them!

    What are the sources of our resistance to naming male violence as the worst problem in the world? Are they original thoughts from our own minds or have we internalized the endless propaganda and mind manipulation that patriarchy uses to protect and perpetuate itself? Have we been mentally colonized to avoid naming male violence so we won’t wake up and end more than 6,000 years of male domination?

    In the article “What is it About Men That They’re Committing These Horrible Massacres?” By Meghan Murphy
    http://www.alternet.org/gender/what-it-about-men-theyre-committing-these-horrible-massacres?page=0%2C1&paging=off, she writes,

    “‘But what about the men?’ It’s a question that’s been avoided by the mainstream within the context of mass shootings. The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut sparked thousands of conversations across the continent about gun laws, mental illness, and violence. And sadly, we’ve been here before.”

    She adds, “In the midst of all this horror, we are, understandably, up in arms, demanding change, grieving all the while. But within all this righteous anger, we are very carefully tiptoeing around the common denominator. In 31 of the school shootings that have taken place since 1999, the murderers were ALL men.”

    Why do both women and men often flinch away from speaking the truth, that male violence is the worst problem in the world? Do women fear that naming male violence will make violent men rape and kill them? They already are. Men are murdering women worldwide, in ever-increasing numbers.

    “Going Out of Our Minds-The Metaphysics of Liberation” is a book by Sonia Johnson in which she focuses on male violence against women. In Chapter 10 “Telling the Truth,” Johnson wrote,

    “To be female is reason in itself to be in servitude, to be hated, wounded and killed in every country, every culture of the world.”

    She adds, “Women’s agony at the hands of men must never be revealed. If women steadfastly and courageously began to tell the truth and would not stop, would not be co-opted, would not become afraid, the truth of our enslavement would be undeniable and the jig would be up.”

    Are women afraid that the men in their lives will stop loving them if they speak up and name male violence? If these men oppose male violence, they will understand and their love will endure.

    Do women fear facing the painful and heartbreaking fact that they live in a world in which so many men hate women and have contempt for them? Isn’t the global epidemic of male violence against women and the multi-billion dollar male-dominated porn industry, in which women are degraded, tortured and even murdered, enough proof of men’s widespread hatred and contempt?

    Sonia Johnson wrote about the time her daughter phoned her one night. “She said in an uncharacteristically small voice, an anguished, bewildered, very shaky voice, ‘Mom, why do men hate us so much?’”

    Do non-violent men fear that violent men will ridicule, beat and even murder them for betraying the Masculine Brotherhood by opposing male violence? They already are.

    The message to non-violent men is that betraying the Brotherhood will get them ridiculed, scorned, beaten and even killed. White men who opposed racist male violence in the US were often beaten or even murdered by violent racist white men.

    Too much space has been created for the acceptance of violent men to act out their unlimited depravity (the mass murders of indigenous people, black people, Jewish people, women during the witch burnings, nationalist genocides, “ethnic cleansing” etc.).

    However, not enough safe space exists for non-violent men to speak out against male violence.

    The message non-violent men got from the murders of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and other non-violent men is clear to see. Non-violent men get the carrot and the stick. The stick is ridicule, beatings and murder. However, the carrot is male privilege, the loss of which may also silence many non-violent men.

    These are reasons for men’s silence but reasons aren’t excuses. Non-violent men must no longer remain silent and avoid naming male violence as the worst problem in the world. Silence is complicity.

    Are women and men afraid that we won’t know how to build a new world based on kindness and respect? Are we afraid of taking personal responsibility for creating such a world?

    Violent men are already killing the world and everything in it! So, what do we have to lose by NAMING male violence as the worst problem in the world and addressing it?

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