The Year the Murder of Women Reached a Tipping Point

image“One day someone is going to hug you so tight that all of your broken pieces stick back together,” James Harris wrote on Jasmine Wright’s Facebook wall. Later, he posted a picture of a dozen roses with the words: “All in for you.”
To someone looking at her Facebook page, it would be easy to assume Harris was dating Jasmine. But they were not in a relationship. In fact, Jasmine did not know him. All she knew about him was that he worked as a maintenance man in her apartment block.

Harris regularly stalked and harassed Jasmine, and she often told friends that she felt uneasy around him. In July, Jasmine – a 27-year old Drexel University graduate from the Bronx, New York – was on her way back from the gym to her apartment block in Philadelphia. She was talking on the phone to her mother, Virginia, when she arrived home.

Her mother heard a scuffle on the other end.

The line went silent.

Jasmine was later found dead on her apartment floor. Harris, the man who had been harassing her, was charged with sexually assaulting and murdering her. After he’d been fired from his maintenance job, he had kept hold of the keys to the apartments, and had been hiding in her home, waiting for her. While Jasmine was on the phone, he sneaked up on her from behind. Her mother said she could hear the struggle before the call cut off.

Despite having been arrested for or charged with more than 30 serious offenses – including rape and murder – Harris was allowed to work in Jasmine’s building, where his harassment of her was overlooked by authorities. According to a local report, another woman in the building had even changed her locks because she felt unsafe around him.

Jasmine’s murder may be just one case among the thousands of instances of violence against women worldwide. But it is also emblematic of a series of gender-based killings in 2015 that have begun to force a recognition that these are not isolated incidents, but part of a larger pattern of endemic, gender-based violence that need to be addressed.

Last month, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, urged all member states to establish a “Femicide Watch” to tackle gender-related killings. She described violence against women as the most “atrocious manifestation” of the “systematic and widespread discrimination and inequality that women and girls face around the world.”

“Women and their children continue to die as victims of gender-related killing, often in cruel ways,” Šimonović said. “The weaknesses of national prevention systems, lack of proper risk assessment, and the scarcity or poor quality of data are major barriers in preventing gender-related killing of women and developing meaningful prevention strategies. These weaknesses result in misidentification, concealment, and underreporting of gender-motivated killings, thus perpetuating impunity for such killings.”

Gender-related murders – often referred to as “femicide,” a term used to describe killings in which the gender of the victim plays a role – differ from male homicides because they “involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence, or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner,” according to the World Health Organization.

Jasmine Wright’s murder highlighted the failure of the authorities to take action to deal with someone who was a known threat to women.

“This guy had been harassing her, and a couple of weeks before her death, she was getting really paranoid,” Bri, an old high school friend of Jasmine, told BuzzFeed News. “He had been leaving her flowers and cards by her door. It should’ve been obvious that as a repeat offender he was a very clear threat to the public. What everyone is now asking is: How was this man allowed on the street?”

After her friend’s death, Bri said she believes there is a “lack of protection” for women who are stuck in similar dangerous situations. She described Jasmine as a “really sweet girl”, the “mother” of the group who gave back a lot to her community. The last time Bri saw her was two years ago, working a summer job, where Jasmine was saving to go to grad school.

“You don’t see those who beat their spouses convicted until the victim is hospitalized or murdered,” Bri said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore feminist or anything, but I would say there is a worldwide plague of violence against women. It harms all classes, all races, all social and economic backgrounds. It’s something that happens every day.”

This year, reports of gender-related killings around the world have been hard to ignore. In England, a woman was killed by her boyfriend when she refused to hand over her Facebook password. Miss Honduras and her sister were killed in an attack by her boyfriend. A journalist and women’s rights campaigner in Fiji was killed at home – her partner was charged with her murder. In South Korea, a man impersonated his girlfriend for two weeks after he murdered her. In Turkey, a teenager admitted to killing a woman because she “insulted his masculinity.”

But 2015 also showed that the tragic murder of a woman could galvanize an entire country to sit up and call for an end to gender-based killings – and nowhere was that more noticeable than in Central and South America.

In June, following the killing of Chiara Páez – a 14-year-old girl who was buried alive at eight weeks pregnant – Argentina erupted in wave of protests that took over cities across the country. The public demands were loud and clear: Take gender-based violence seriously, and put an end to it. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest against gender violence in Argentina – more than 1,808 women have been killed in the country in seven years – using the slogan “They are killing us”, and later #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneLess) on social media.

Fabiana Tuñez, executive director of La Casa del Encuentro, an NGO dedicated to women’s issues, told BuzzFeed News: “This is a worldwide problem, but in Argentina in particular, there are a few structural inequalities between men and women that are deeply rooted in our culture, and violence is the vehicle for these inequalities to persist.”

A month later, in July, Mexico jailed five men for nearly 700 years each for the gender-driven murders of 11 women, a historic sentence against femicide and a significant move in a country where six women are killed every day, according to the National Citizen Femicide Observatory. In Colombia, where on average one woman is killed every two days, femicide was made a distinct and legally defined crime in the same month, with jail sentences of 20 to 41 years.

Gender-related killing is beginning to be recognized worldwide, but experts say a lot still needs to be done to address the problem. Dr Aisha K Gill, reader in criminology at the University of Roehampton, in London, said it is important for countries to collect information on gender-based violence, and stressed that policies and initiatives to prevent it need to be grounded in “the reality of the experiences of the survivors of gender-based violence.”

“Policy-makers need to recognize that acts of femicide occur within a general framework of the abuse of women – they does not simply happen ‘out of the blue’, and so need to be conceptualized as part of a broader effort to end gender-based violence,” Gill told BuzzFeed News. “The most urgent requirement is to establish specialist refuges, shelters, and support services for girls and women who are at risk of femicide and other forms of gender-based violence in the countries and communities most concerned, as an issue of basic human rights.”

In the meantime, women are taking the task of documenting gender-related murders into their own hands. In Turkey, local activists built a digital “wall” on which they listed the women killed in their country year by year, including Ozgecan Aslan, the 19-year-old student who was killed after fighting off a rapist in February, sparking nationwide protests. Murals of dead women and the slogan #NiUnaMenos on walls in cities across Mexico and Argentina remember and pay tribute to the lives lost to gender violence. In Australia and the UK, a project called “Counting Dead Women” collects the names of women thought to have been murdered for their gender. Compiling the names and images of the victims may not stop gender-based killing, but activists say they will continue to do so until governments around the world recognize that the responsibility ultimately lies with them.

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Femicide: The Hate Crime You’ve Never Heard Of

Twenty years after the Beijing Platform for Action set out its agenda to prevent and eliminate global violence against women, such violence is still ubiquitous. Even in the U.S., four women each day die at the hands of a past or current intimate partner. Femicide, the killing of women because of their gender, is the most extreme form of violence against women. Current U.S. law doesn’t pay adequate attention to the role of gender dynamics in violent interpersonal relations. In order to more effectively protect the lives of American women, the US needs federal law prohibiting femicide.

The prevalence of violence against women is startling. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 35.6 percent of American women have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. The impact of that violence can include physical injury, psychological distress, loss of work and the need for legal services. Women need legal protection from violence and its consequences. The laws we currently have on the books aren’t enough.
The Violence Against Women Act and its hotly contested 2013 reauthorization do not even scratch the surface of femicide. The law focuses mainly on much needed support services for survivors but does nothing to document or punish femicide. Meanwhile, some states have tried to respond to femicide by enacting their own legislation on violence against women.

Take the case of Gwen Salley, who was kidnapped and later shot in May 2014 by her husband in Caddo Parish, La., shortly following his release from jail on a domestic violence arrest. “Gwen’s Law” passed the Louisiana legislature with unanimous approval and was signed into law less than month after Gwen Salley’s death. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle coalesced around the egregious case of violence.

“Gwen’s law requires a cooling off period and a fatality risk assessment for offenders of domestic violence statutes in an effort to save lives” said Patricia E. Koch, 9th Judicial District Court Judge. It is a major step toward protecting victims, but it doesn’t provide for the criminalization of femicide. Existing Louisiana statues for first-degree murder provide protections for specific groups like police officers, youths and the elderly as well as individuals who have existing protection or restraining orders. Yet there is no specific mention of murder prosecution for intimate partners or the role of gender in the crime of murder.

Over half (51.8 percent) of women killed in the U.S. are murdered by an intimate partner or family member. By its nature as a crime committed on the basis of gender, femicide is inherently discriminatory. While hate crimes legislation does include gender-based violence, there’s evidence that federal hate crimes statistics drastically underestimate the prevalence of femicide.

Twenty-eight states have hate crimes legislation including gender and national hate crime legislation includes gender among the categories of crimes motivated by biases. The FBI reported only 25 anti-female gender-based hate crimes in 2013. Those numbers are in stark contrast to what we know about the murder of women.

Nearly 3,000 women are murdered in the US each year and just over half of those crimes are committed by women’s partners. That means that roughly 1,400 women a year are being killed by past or current intimate partners. Even if only a small portion of these murders are femicide, these numbers don’t align with the low number of gender-based hate crimes reported. Women and girls have even been targeted in some of the mass violence that unfortunately has become all too familiar with in our country. Current federal data can’t adequately capture or reflect the true frequency of femicide in the US.

Certainly, a federal law against femicide won’t prevent violence. However, the law would be an important piece of the puzzle in addressing violence that many women face. A well-conceived femicide law will define the crime of femicide at the national level and create mechanisms for more accurate accounting.

Federal legislation on femicide would affirm our belief in the value of women’s lives for the women at risk today and in the future.

By Dabney P. Evans – Evans is assistant professor at Emory University.

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Kansandra Perkins – Media Irresponsibility on Domestic Violence Enables Abuse of Women

Kasandra Perkins Did Not Have to Die

Jessica Valenti on December 5, 2012 


Photo via Instagram

A good person. Genuine. Pleasant. Nice. Hard-working. A family man. The media has used all of these terms to describe Jovan Belcher after he murdered Kasandra Perkins, shooting her nine times. In fact, these glowing descriptors are all from just one article in The New York Times. But don’t worry, there are plenty of pieces sharing lovely sentiments about the man who killed his girlfriend, the mother of his barely 3-month-old daughter.

While mainstream media and supporters of Belcher have no problem spouting off flattery, most are hesitant to call what happened domestic violence. They’ve gone out of their way to suggest that Belcher murdered Perkins—who friends called ‘Kasi’—because of sustained head injuries or because of alcohol or drug abuse. A police officer, Sgt. Richard Sharp, has even suggested that Belcher committed suicide after killing Kasi because “he cared about her.”

“I don’t think he could live with himself,” he said. What a romantic.

It’s horribly offensive to laud a man who murdered his girlfriend and left his daughter parentless. It’s also irresponsible. When the media reports domestic violence murders as random tragedies—or when individuals say the perpetrator must have “snapped”—they enable a culture of violence against women. Because when you don’t contextualize this violence as part of structural misogyny, you give credence to the myth that there was nothing anyone could have done to stop it.

Insisting that this murder or others like it are “unthinkable” or “shocking” is another way of saying that no one could have predicted it. (He was such a nice guy! A family man!) It’s a dangerous lie that allows us to wash our hands of responsibility when it comes to the violence that is perpetrated against women. Because the truth is that murders like this are predictable.

As Casey Gwinn, President of the National Family Justice Center Alliance, wrote,

Relationships do not go from healthy, happy and functional to murder-suicide overnight. It never happens. There is almost always a history and there is always a pattern. Over time it will be clear that friends, family, and colleagues knew things and saw things and did not take action.

Indeed, it has now come out that Belcher had a history of violence and controllingness in relationships with women. While at the University of Maine, campus police reports were filed when Belcher punched his fist through a window during a fight with a woman and again when police were called to break up an argument he had with his girlfriend after she failed to check in with him at a designated time. Belcher’s relationship with Kasi has repeatedly been called strained—so much so that the Kansas City Chiefs provided the couple with relationship counseling. (Which is actually not the right move, according to domestic violence experts.)

Reports indicate that Kasi was leaving or had left Belcher with their daughter. Women are most likely to be killed by their abusive partners when they try to leave—in fact, victims who leave an abusive relationship have a 75 percent higher risk of being murdered. Pregnancy and chilbirth excacerabte violent relationships and young black women are eleven times more likely than white women to be murdered while they are pregnant or in the year after childbirth.

This is not rocket science—we know how women die when they are killed by their partners. We know what precedes it and we know what the relationship looks like before it happens.

We also know the excuses that are made for the men who kill. When University of Virginia student and lacrosse player George Huguely V beat his ex-girlfriend (she had just left him) Yeardley Love to death, he insisted it was because of an alcohol problem. Articles said he snapped. I’m sure his friends liked him. People were shocked. But in the weeks leading up to her death, Huguely sent Love an e-mail threatening to kill her, and witnesses had seen him physically abusing her.

There is a pattern that makes murders like Kasi’s and Love’s predictable and preventable. The only thing that seems to be questionable is the public responsibility and response to this violence.

In the wake of Kasi’s murder, Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said, “I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently. When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?”

We have a moral obligation to take responsibility for the people in our lives, in our families and in our communities. Kasi Perkins did not have to die. We have to stop pretending that her murder and those like it are a shock or “random” tragedies. It may give some comfort to believe as much, but it’s not the truth. And don’t we owe her at least that much?

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When Domestic Violence Grabs the Headlines

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Reporters buzzed this weekend with news about the murder−suicide committed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Before killing himself at the Chiefs’ practice facility, he shot Kasandra Perkins, his 22-year-old girlfriend, nine times in their home. The couple’s three-month old daughter and Belcher’s mother were in the house at the time of the shooting.

Much of the ensuing coverage has searched for reasons why Belcher, a member of Male Athletes Against Violence at his alma mater the University of Maine, committed such heinous crimes. Some commentators focused on widespread gun ownership in our country. Others questioned whether the players in the National Football League are especially prone to violence. Still others wondered whether Belcher had suffered traumatic brain injuries that triggered the episode. All are issues worth considering.

But as tragic as Kasandra Perkins’ death was on Saturday, she was not the only female domestic violence fatality that day. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every day in the United States more than three women are killed by their intimate partners.

Our country is suffering from a plague of domestic violence. Compare the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq (6,612) to the number of women killed during the same period in the United States as the result of domestic violence (11,766). Almost twice as many women died at the hands of men who supposedly loved them as did American soldiers on battlefields.

Here are some other chilling domestic violence statistics:

● 30 percent of the female homicides in our country are committed by the victim’s intimate partner
● The number one cause of death during pregnancy in the United States is homicide.

During the telecast of the Kansas City Chiefs’ game the day following the murder-suicide, broadcaster Bob Costas linked Kasandra Perkins’ death to our country’s gun culture. He has been criticized for his comments but they are very relevant. Here’s why:

● The likelihood that a woman will die a violent death is increased by 270 percent if there is a gun in her home.
● Two in three women killed by their intimate partners were shot with guns kept in their home by their partners.

But gun ownership is only part of a much bigger problem. Violence against women takes many forms from the sadly routine abuse of punching, strangling and shooting to bizarre homicides by chainsaw decapitation.

Kasandra Perkins’ tragic death occurred during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence that runs from November 25 to December 10.

Perhaps the single most effective thing we can do to stop more needless deaths like Kasandra’s is to loudly demand Congress re-authorize the Violence against Women Act. Both the House and the Senate have passed versions of the act, but the House’s narrower rendering is driven by the GOP’s concern that it covers “too many victims.”

Kasandra Perkins is one victim too many. Her death should represent more than yesterday’s news.

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The media on gender-based hate crimes

Excerpt from WIMN Media and News

Will Media Report FL Shooting As Gender-Based Hate Crime?
Posted by Jennifer L Pozner
June 8th, 2010

It happened again. Another violent guy shot and killed his wife — and went on to gun down six other women unfortunate enough to be in his path before committing suicide. Four women are now dead; three others are in critical condition. And some media outlets (such as the AP story on Yahoo! News, “5 dead after shooting in Miami-area restaurant,”) are still failing to report this as a gender-based hate crime… echoing previous journalistic failures.

This time it was Gerardo Regalado, half-brother of former baseball star Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, and the crime took place in South Florida. Last year it was George Sodini in Collier County, PA, who opened fire in an all-female aerobics class in an act of misguided revenge for a sexually frustrated existence. Before that, it was Cho Seung-Hui, the mentally unstable stalker of women at Virginia Tech, who ended up being responsible for the worst school shooting in U.S. history. In 2006, it was the school shootings in Amish country and in Colorado’s Platte Canyon. And in 1998, it was the murder of four elementary school girls and their female teacher in Jonesboro, AR.

I am sick to death that I have to keep writing some version of this same article or blog post on loop. But I have to, because in all of these cases, gender-based violence lies at the heart of these crimes — and leaving this motivating factor uninvestigated not only deprives the public of the full, accurate picture of the events at hand, but leave us without the analysis and context needed to understand the violence, recognize warning signs, and take steps to prevent similar massacres in the future.

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