The Femicide Census and men who kill women

31 December 2014 was not only the last day of the year for Sandra Brotherton (60) and Nadine Aburas (28); it was also the last day of their life.  They were two out of the 150 women buried by their loved ones in 2014 having been killed by men.  The names of the women and the details of the deaths are available thanks to one woman’s initiative.

Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of nia, noticed that in the first three days of 2012 eight women had already been reported as murdered.  Smith started tweeting the names of the women and realized she could not turn back.  The project was born: Counting dead women.   By the end of 2012 she had a list with over 100 names, a list that grew as she received more information from families and friends of women who had been murdered.  The numbers are frightening: in the UK, 143 women were killed by men in 2013 and 150 in 2014.

The killing of women because they are women                                                        

The project gradually gained momentum:  Ingala Smith partnered with Women’s Aid, an organization with an extensive knowledge of violence against women, Freshfields UK offered financial support and Deloitte constructed a highly sophisticated database.  The results were launched in London last week: The Femicide Census.

The word Femicide was introduced decades ago in an attempt to highlight and analyse the killing of women, because they are women. It is used to describe the killing of women by partners and family members, but also other gender related killings, such as those committed against prostitutes and killings associated with sexual attacks.

700 killed in four years

The Femicide Census consists of details of around 700 homicides between 2009 and 2013 where women have been killed by fatal male violence.  In almost half of the incidents the perpetrator was an intimate partner or an ex-partner.  6% of the women were killed by their sons, which is more than the 3% who were killed during a burglary.  In roughly 30% of the cases the relationship (if any) between the woman and the murderer is unknown.

For those readers who are now asking questions about women’s fatal violence against men, I will not address that here but refer to this informative article by Ingala Smith.  It is also worth exploring the work of Justice for Women to learn about women who have killed their intimate partners.

While the full census is not available to the public (due to the sensitive nature of the information), it already provides detailed information about fatal male violence against women.  Close to third of the women had already separated from the perpetrator before the killing.  This demonstrates the continuing threat of domestic violence, of which an estimated 1.4 million women and 700.000 men suffer in the UK alone.  According to the census, women are usually killed by knives or other sharp objects (42%), but around 22% are strangled or asphyxiated to death.  One woman was killed by a chainsaw.

Humanising the numbers

But what is Ingala Smith’s message?  She wants us to stop looking at these killings as isolated incidents.  Or, as she described in an interview with the Guardian, “Many people will now know the statistic for people killed by a partner or ex-partner; that two women a week in England and Wales die that way. But if you humanise that, and you can see that roll of names, then hopefully more people might think: well, there is a pattern going on here. If we continue as I think most of us are, to deny that this is something that’s happening, then we will never tackle it.”

The Femicide Census and Ingala Smith’s initiative remind us of the large scale of male violence against women.  It also reminds us that violence (whether the victim is a man or a woman) is neither natural nor inevitable.  Many of these deaths could have been prevented.  It is not an issue of the criminal justice system alone (which still is in great need for improvement), but of the society as a whole. These women deserve for their names not to be forgotten, but also to be used as part of the solution to the epidemic of violence against women.