Fatal violence against women across the world is increasing. A November 2020 report from the UK-based nonprofit Femicide Census spanning nearly a decade found that, on average, “a woman was killed by a male partner or ex-partner every four days,” with that number increasing to every three days when the focus is expanded to include killings outside romantic relationships. Due to a lack of accumulated data, the Femicide Census reports that these killings are typically treated as isolated incidents by law enforcement and legislators despite being “identified globally as a leading cause of premature death for women.”
According to the Femicide Census, 62 percent of the 1,425 women killed by men from 2009 to 2018 in the United Kingdom were killed at the hands of a current or former intimate partner, and the remaining 38 percent were either killed by a family member, a friend, or someone they had just met. Of the 888 women killed by intimate partners, 38 percent were killed within the first month of separating from their partner, 89 percent within the first year of separating or attempting to separate, and 5 percent were killed three or more years later. Fifty-nine percent of the femicides perpetrated by family members or current or former partners had a known history of abuse, and one-third of those murdered women had disclosed the abuse to police.
As Yvonne Roberts observed in her November 2020 Guardian article on the staggering statistics from the Femicide Census, these seemingly isolated killings are part of a bigger public health crisis—one that is likely even larger than reported, as the Femicide Census only considers killings that have been legally proven as having been committed by a man. The “Counting Dead Women” section of the UK website KarenIngalaSmith.com, created by Femicide Census co-founder Karen Ingala Smith, keeps a record of every killing—noting suspected killings as well—and reported at least 107 cases in 2020, and 74 so far in 2021 (as of June). However, “research […] is limited and unconnected” across the world, so data on femicides outside of the United Kingdom is not included.
The United States has its own version of the census, known as Women Count USA, which was started in 2017 by Dawn Wilcox. Women Count USA has collated incomplete but nevertheless essential information about violence against women and girls in the United States dating back to the mid-1900s.
The organization UN Women has described this global wave of domestic violence against women as a shadow pandemic within the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this warning, most corporate news coverage continues to fail to acknowledge the scope of femicide and gender-based violence throughout the world. Instead, coverage tends to spend more time on individual cases of abuse or on the stories of individual victims. The existing coverage on femicide provided by the corporate media also all too often excludes instances that occur in the United States or in advanced industrialized European nations like the United Kingdom. Corporate broadcast news outlets including ABC, and NBC have covered protests about violence against women in Turkey and Mexico, usually dwelling on politics and policy, rather than examining the issue holistically or exploring the systematic nature of the problem.
The lack of coverage is especially an issue when it comes to femicide that occurs in the United States. It is clear from the work of Women Count USA that instances of femicide are indeed growing domestically. Despite this, corporate news continues to gloss over the extent of the epidemic of gender-based violence in this country. In the limited existing coverage, writers tend to frame the issue as an international one that seemingly does not impact the United States. One notable exception to this is an August 2020 article from Teen Vogue that focused on the increasing rates of femicide in the United States and spotlighted the work of Women Count USA.
Julia Long, Emily Wertans, Keshia Harper et al., “UK Femicides 2009–2018,” Femicide Census, November 25, 2020.
Karen Ingala Smith, “Coronavirus Doesn’t Cause Men’s Violence Against Women,” KarenIngalaSmith.com, April 15, 2020.
Karen Ingala Smith, “2020,” KarenIngalaSmith.com, April 14, 2020, updated January 9, 2021.
Karen Ingala Smith, “2021,” KarenIngalaSmith.com, February 8, 2021, updated June 7, 2021.
Yvonne Roberts, “‘If I’m Not in on Friday, I Might be Dead’: Chilling Facts about UK Femicide,” The Guardian, November 22, 2020.
Student Researcher: Arden Kurhayez (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)
Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.