Perspectives: FEMICIDE


Femicide: The most extreme form of gender-based violence has a name. Let’s claim it

Lately, several issues that up until recently never made the public sphere, are finally being discussed publicly, such as gender equality, the visibility of gender-based violence victims, the protection of their rights and the legislative establishment of all forms of gender-based violence. Given the above, it makes perfect sense for the recognition of femicide to play a major role in the upgrade of the discussion concerning gender issues. After all, the legislative and social developments themselves contributed to this: On one hand, we’ve had a series of legislative changes, such as the inclusion of consent in the article regarding rape (336 of the Penal Code) with the 2019 amendment of the Penal Code, Law 4351/2018 concerning the Prevention and Combatting of Violence against women and Domestic Violence, also Law 4604/2019 concerning the Promotion of substantial gender equality, prevention and combatting of gender violence as well as Law 4808/2021 concerning the eradication of violence and harassment in the workplace.

On the other hand, social changes, such as the sudden meteoric increase in femicides, especially in the past year, the burst of the Greek #MeToo movement in the arts and sports, the numerous reports of a series of offences against women’s physical integrity and sexual freedom that up until now were rarely reported, and even then, the victim was often made to feel guilty or ashamed — such as domestic violence and violence against one’s partner, sexual attacks and rapes of underage and adult individuals, sexual harassment in the work place, even child and young woman trafficking rings —, as well as the forming of widespread social media support groups for the victims, have brought to the spotlight the issue of gender inequality and the vulnerability of women and the LGBTQI+ community, the legislative and institutional gaps and the need for radical change not just on an institutional level but also on the level of social awareness and social action.

Within this context, it became clear that the defence and protection of victims of gender-based and sexual violence, the demand for the punishment of the offenders and the forming of a distinct collective culture of inclusion and equality, require, amongst other things, claiming a place and visibility within the public sphere, which is often filled with gender stereotypes and discriminations: a more or less clear expression of accusations against victims emerges in each instance of gender-based abuse, even in cases of femicide.

The victims of gender-based crimes are faced anew with abusive behaviours as arguments that aim to deconstruct their testimonies, vilify their choices and undermine their words are raised against them. Indicative of the existing gender inequality and the conservative patriarchal stereotypes that permeate the dominant narrative is that despite the fact that various penal code violations are often committed without any witnesses (verbal abuse, blackmail, theft, etc.), gender-based crimes constitute the only cases where the argument of falsified accusations is constantly brought up. Unfortunately, this is also done by the authorities who are the first to receive the victims’ claims and reports. As a practice, per se, it involves gender discrimination, while it’s untrue in terms of the investigation findings and of course, it re-traumatizes the victim. After all, the whole process of reporting abusive behaviours often leads to the re-victimisation of the victims – without adequate forensic services, interpreters, therapists or due process of an in flagrante delicto offence followed properly, even when it should.

For the aforementioned reasons, the definition of femicide as an extreme form of gender-based violence ought to be recognized institutionally. For decades, all homicides committed against women because of their gender and social standing were presented as crimes of passion or honour, as accidents that happened because of too much love and infatuation, as family drama, as a temporary clouded judgement and jealousy, or as the result of the offender’s psychopathology. Never were they presented as the results of sexist, patriarchal views and behaviours reproduced within Greek society. It is, however, the most extreme form of gender-based violence, that aims to control the bodies and choices of the victims. When said choices are not well-liked by men, the punishment can be as severe as the loss of life of the women, in case the most conventional forms of violence are deemed insufficient to teach the women a lesson. It is a form of violence that is founded on deeply rooted social perceptions and gender stereotypes, according to which women should be subjected to male dominance and be controlled and corrected so that they conform to specific social behavioural standards through gender-based violence.

In gender-based violence, just like in the case of femicide, there is no boundary or limitation with regards to the social, financial or educational characteristics of the victims and the offenders. The myth that both the abused women and the offenders are often of a lower educational level has been debunked, as 30% of female domestic abuse victims are technical university or higher education graduates and 40% are high school graduates. At the same time, 60% of the offenders are at least high school graduates, while just one in ten is unemployed.

The term femicide is not new. It has existed in law dictionaries since 1801, and in 1976, the criminologist Diana Russell introduced the term to contemporary science by defining this criminal phenomenon. As a term, multiple legal systems have already incorporated it – mainly in Latin American countries – while it’s also recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), EUROSTAT and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Specifically, EUROSTAT makes a special mention on the need for the statistical documentation of femicide as such. According to the World Health Organization “Femicide includes the intentional killing of women and girls because they are women, therefore because of their gender.

Femicide is usually perpetrated by men, but sometimes female family members may be involved. Most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners, who usually displayed a long-term abusive behaviour, threatened, abused and/or intimidated a woman who often had less power or fewer resources than her partner”. WHO also reports that the main cause of death for women between the ages of 16 and 44 is murder by someone they know. Out of the 87.000 reported murders of women in 2017, 58% was committed by (current or ex) husbands or partners or family members.

The term femicide doesn’t cancel out or contradict the term homicide. Nowadays, it emerges as a crucial necessity, it shapes and names something that will be treated as such from the police, the judicial authorities, jury members and society as a whole. Its accurate depiction and clear definition help render the issue “visible”, find the causes behind the very phenomenon itself as well as its peculiarity, so that we may take the appropriate measures to combat and eradicate it. Legislative changes (should), after all, correspond to a social necessity. Up until a few years ago rape within marriage didn’t constitute an offence, and there were no laws concerning domestic abuse.

The term doesn’t only describe the cases of the murder of the wife by her husband, partner, etc, but also the murder of any woman who, either in the context of an intrapersonal relationship or not, “overstepped” her role as a woman. Other than the wife, the act of femicide can very well pertain to any woman, sexual partner, a coincidental relationship, a daughter or, less often, a mother. In the eyes of the offender, the woman had a role that she didn’t fulfil as she should.

Naturally, the penal standardization of this offense is not, in itself, a sufficient tool for the eradication of violence against women, the causes of which can be traced back to gender discrimination that spreads throughout society as a whole. It would be, however, a first step towards combating this phenomenon. This standardization could be incorporated into the Penal Code in various ways, either by adding aggravating circumstance directly into article 299 of the Penal Code regarding homicide and article 311 regarding lethal bodily harm, or by adding to article 82A of the Penal Code (racially-driven crime), according to which “if a crime is committed against a victim, who was targeted based on traits relevant to their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, descent, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender traits”, the minimum sentence is increased, or by adding content to article 79 of the Penal Code, in paragraph 5 where the aggravating conditions and sentencing details at the expense of the offender are stipulated.

Under those circumstances, the guidelines of the District Attorney of the Supreme Court on how to handle gender-based violence, the statements of the Criminal Attorney Association on femicide and the participation of the open stance of the (usually absent in social issues) Plenary of Bar Associations regarding the spike in gender-based violence, as well as the use of the word “femicide” in mainstream media and social media constitute positive first steps. But they are not enough. Such developments will not achieve the victims’ protection nor will they prevent gender-based crimes. The institutional framework against gender-based violence requires free public support groups and safehouses in all municipalities, free legal aid and psycho-social support, sufficient forensic services, proper training for the police and district attorneys who are the ‘front line’ professionals and in direct contact with the victims, educating people on the meaning of consent, inclusion and gender equality.

Therefore, the consolidation of the term femicide works on a penal and social level: On one hand, it provides a cognitive framework for the professionals who come into contact with the victims and a distinct definition that is necessary for the statistical depiction on which prevention and protection policies are based. On the other hand, it shapes social conscience and changes the dominant perception of this specific offense. All of these can function as a deterrent for the offenders and a protective shield for the victims.

Thus, it’s the State’s responsibility to incorporate the definition of femicide into the Penal Code, with simultaneous changes to the penal layouts so that it’s either introduced as aggravating circumstance or as a racist crime whose victim was targeted because of their gender and relationship to the offender, or at the stage of sentencing, in which the claim of “heat-of-passion” is conceptually ruled out. Furthermore, there should be a separate chapter on gender-based crimes in the Penal Code which would record all their forms, including that of revenge porn, which is not recognized as one at the moment. Meanwhile, it’s necessary to form protection networks for gender-based violence victims and establish gender equality. Well-rounded action-taking frameworks that can approach the issue in all its aspects through prevention measures, social re-education, protection and victim rehabilitation are also required.

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