When hearing about femicide, people commonly envision impoverished nations living under highly intolerant or religious laws. One can think of the honor killings in Afghanistan or India occurring to this day, or the massive casualties of cartel drug wars in Mexico in the 1990s and continuing in modernity. However, only a few think about gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against women and girls (VAWG) happening behind closed doors of that nice suburban house in Atlanta or the urban streets of London. Some recent mainstream cases of femicide include a female soldier Vanessa Guillén or a low-profile blogger Gabby Petito. Femicide is a silent social epidemic that regular people, media, and politicians alike generally choose to ignore but has unique and far-reaching consequences for not only women but society as a whole as women are an integral part of this structure.
First, allow me to introduce you to some statistics. Nearly 2,000 women are murdered by men annually and between 960,000 and 3 million incidents of domestic violence are reported each year (estimated up to 10 million considering unreported cases), with the overwhelming majority women being the victim (Hackman, 2021). These numbers are increasing and are especially prevalent in the United States, having nearly ten times the cases of European nations. An analysis of FBI data reveals that for femicides where the relationship could be established, in 92% of cases the woman was killed by someone they knew, and 62% of killings were by an intimate partner (Hackman, 2021). The rise in femicide figures has been evident since 2014, with 2019 statistics showing that intimate partner killings have led to an average of 4 women dying per day (Hackman, 2021). Although the issue affects all women, racial and ethnic minorities are at higher risk, with black women being murdered by male offenders at three times the rate of white women, while Native American women face a six-time fold rate of femicide (Hackman, 2021). These statistics are harrowing and truly represent a social epidemic of significant proportions, that no one is comfortable with discussing.
It is important to explore why femicide and GBV occur in present day. While religion and culture, such as seen in other countries during honor killings, play a role, that is a rare cause for VAWG in industrial nations. However, the underlying causes are similar across the world – gender inequality and stratification caused by socio-cultural stereotypes, gender construction, and behavioral patterns For example, stereotypically, women are seen as weaker, softer, more emotional, less responsible in big decisions, which has historically placed them in the role of a caretaker, motherhood, supportive wife, or object of sexualization.
While modern society (albeit not everywhere around the world) has largely moved on from such blatant division and women can freely participate in society, the remnants of these gender-based stereotypes, perceptions, and discriminations remain in a covert sexism kind of way. This can be seen in both individual and societal behavior patterns, such as women are less represented in leadership roles or in certain ‘male’ professions, women are paid less for the same position and amount of work across virtually every industry. Furthermore, women are more likely to face sexualization and sexual misconduct, and sadly, women are more likely to be the victim of direct and intended violence or femicide by a male they know. The inherent social perspective positioning males as machismo and dominant, over women, and especially if they are partners – it also pushes many men too far as to believe they have the right to punish, abuse, or kill.
For the large part, the society views GBV and femicide as unfortunate, but frames it as largely outliers, not much different than regular criminal homicides. There are always going to be bad men. In fact, some critics argue that many women are attracted to the wrong guy, to the bad boy, so it is their own fault, and they choose to take the abuse often for years before a homicide even occurs. Ignorant men will ask, ‘why not walk away from the abuser?’ or ‘why not leave the relationship or situation?’ Research shows that while 40% of women may share with someone close, only 7-14% report GBV to an official source, even lower in some regions and cultures (Palermo et al., 2013). Barriers to reporting may vary, ranging from shame and stigma to the belief that nothing will happen to the offender. Some women may fear for their lives or for their children, others develop psychological or potentially financial dependence on their abuser. Some may lack awareness or access to services or distrust official sources, having been let down in the past. Finally, there are women that accept violence as normal, either due to cultural or social upbringing or severe psychological trauma (Palermo et al., 2013).
As this is a serious issue, many people wonder why has so little been done, and why the trend is still on the rise. This is not a new problem and has been ongoing as long as crime statistics have been collected. A vocal minority of activists have brought the attention to light, and periodically it catches the eye of mainstream media. The most prominent policy domestically has been the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence. It has established definitions of gender-based violence and domestic violence, improved criminal justice responses, and provided community resources for prevention or those who have survived GVB. The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) of 1984 has focused specifically on domestic violence prevention, family disputes, and public awareness of gender and partner violence (YWCA, 2021). Both VAWA and FVPSA have so far been successfully reauthorized as legislations, but despite all their benefits, they are not enough.
The COVID-19 pandemic has indirectly worsened the situation with GBV and femicide. With forced lockdowns in 2020 and beyond, intimate partners and families were forced to interact more closely and more often than previously. The crisis in the economy has caused greater poverty, job loss, and other socioeconomic issues, which often act as triggers for conflicts. There was a reported increase of GBV, with some states noting as much as a 20% uptick.
Despite being a progressive modern society, the United States continues to struggle with such archaic concepts based on essentially a twisted view of reality and women. This piece is a cry for help on behalf of millions of women just in our communities alone. Policymaking should go further, focusing on education, youth programs, and public awareness, as it is necessary to shift the framed sociological perspective embedded into the nuances of social relationships. Social protections should be increased, with law enforcement or medical professionals taught to recognize signs of abuse, and programs be made available through private-public collaboration which can protect women and their children and financially support them. Finally, it is in the hands of every single one of us, especially men, to defy the stereotypes and behavioral patterns, to demonstrate respect and equality for all genders. The most important thing is, to pay attention to signs of GBV, and intervene whenever possible to prevent the unfortunate cases of femicides, which takes the lives of countless women each year.
Hackman, R. (2021). Femicides in the US: The silent epidemic few dare to name. The Guardian. Web.
Palermo, T., Bleck, J., & Peterman, A. (2013). Tip of the Iceberg: Reporting and gender-based violence in developing countries. American Journal of Epidemiology, 179(5), 602–612. Web.
YWCA. (2021). Promote federal legislation to support survivors of gender-based violence. Web.