As many as 151 women in France were killed by their partners or ex-partners last year. Approximately 219,000 French women each year are physically or sexually abused by a current or former partner. And France isn’t alone. Movements against femicide in Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Spain, among others, have demonstrated that collective action can effect real change. It’s time for the United States to use these movements as guideposts.
In the United States there have been no mass protests and no prominent national discussions. Approximately three women are murdered by their current or former partners every day, according to FBI data. Young women and women of color — including transgender women — are disproportionately murdered. Thousands of women in the United States have survived attempted femicide, including La’Shea Cretain, whose ex shot her five times in front of her two children. A recent study found that intimate partner homicide was on the rise. With 10 million people affected by intimate partner violence each year, this is nothing short of an epidemic.
Femicide is defined differently around the world, though it’s often symptomatic of the same issues: domestic violence, sexual violence and misogyny. In Mexico, it’s defined as the murder of women based on their gender, and femicides have increased 137 percent over the past five years, according to Mexico’s attorney general. This has spurred on a vibrant, grass-roots movement. Two gruesome recent cases — the murder and mutilation of a 7-year-old and the murder of a 25-year-old who was skinned — have drawn protesters into the streets almost daily. On Sunday, International Women’s Day, authorities estimate that at least 80,000 people marched through the center of Mexico City. And on Monday, women stayed home as part of a nationwide strike to call attention to the violence.
Ending impunity is the first step. Mexican women are asking for a federal registration system of gender-based violence, redistribution of resources to prosecute these crimes, and an overhaul of corrupt law enforcement. Accountability — both from legislative bodies and criminal justice systems— has become a rallying cry for women around the world. Women across Latin America and Europe are calling for special training for judges and police officers who handle domestic violence cases, as well as more and better-enforced restraining orders.
Many women killed had left abusive relationships and even taken out restraining orders. Such was the case for Amie Harwick, a Los Angeles therapist. Police allege that an ex-boyfriend strangled Harwick before throwing her from the third-floor balcony of her home in February. Harwick had previously taken out two restraining orders on him. In France, there was Ghylaine Bouchait, 34, who had mustered the courage to leave an abusive partner in 2017. As she was packing to leave, her partner doused her with gasoline and lit her on fire in front of their 7-year-old daughter. She died of her injuries two days later.
Femicide doesn’t happen because women put themselves in danger — it happens because an unjust system fails them again and again. Protest performances, such as the viral “A Rapist in Your Path,” have pointed to the complicity of the justice system when it comes to the issue. Symbolic action, along with mass protests, can produce tangible results. This month Chilean President Sebastian Pinera signed a bill into law to expand and strengthen existing legislation around femicide.
It’s not only the criminal-justice system that needs to be reformed. Many survivors of domestic violence are afraid to file reports, and women need access to services such as domestic violence hotlines, shelters or safe houses, and counseling. Peru, for instance, created a hotline for domestic violence and emergency centers for women, alongside a specialized police force.
Spain has become a success story for combining these two approaches, effectively halving the number of femicides over the course of 15 years. Spain installed 10,000 emergency phones nationwide, increased the issuance of protective orders, and created special courts tasked with prosecuting domestic violence cases, France 24 reported. They also put in place a bracelet tracking system that alerts police as soon as an aggressor is close to a past victim.
There are myriad cultural and political differences between these countries and the United States. One of the most challenging may be abusers’ access to guns. Legislation to close loopholes that allow some abusers to buy guns recently stalled in the Senate. Of all women murdered with a gun in the United States, half were killed by an intimate partner.
While a handful of nonprofits and motivated individuals are working on this issue in the U.S. — such as the full-time nurse who tracks femicides from her home — a popular movement needs to emerge. The leaders of these worldwide uprisings were often regular people who lost sisters, mothers, daughters or best friends. They have now transformed their lives to fight femicide. It’s time for the United States to do the same.
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