Over half of women murdered in the UK were killed by men with histories of violence to women and six out of 10 such killings were committed by a current or former partner. The Femicide Census was launched in 2015 and reported that 149 women were killed by 147 men in the UK in 2018, the highest figure since 2009. The study found that only 6% of killings were committed by a stranger or where there was no known relationship between the victim and attacker.
The Femicide Census was founded by Karen Ingala Smith and Clarissa O’Callaghan and is backed by Women’s Aid, Freshfields, and Deloitte and inspired by Ingala Smith’s blog Counting Dead Women.
- 41% (37 of 91) of women killed by a partner/former partner had separated or taken steps to separate
- 102 murders (68%) took place in the woman’s house
- ‘Overkilling’ – use of excessive violence beyond that necessary to cause the victim’s death – was evident in 56% of cases
- 16 men (11%) who killed women were known to use prostitution and pornography
- 52% of perpetrators had previous histories of violence against the victim or other women
- Three men had previously killed a woman.
The report took issue with media coverage of such describing attacks as ‘frenzied’ and involving ‘a loss of control’. Killing women was ‘the act of ultimate control rather than a loss of control’, it argued.
‘There is a high degree of normalisation of men’s violence against women and no end of excuses or rationales assumed and extended to perpetrators often without foundation,’ commented Karen Ingala Smith. She called on the media to be ‘more professionally curious’ and to ‘situate such killings in current research and in the context of what we know about the history of the relationship’. ‘For instance, robustly challenging the narratives that killers lay out in court, asking whether, in a so-called mercy killing or suicide pact, there has been a history of controlling behaviour or violence towards her,’ she said.
Ingala Smith explained that in over half of femicides (52%) there was evidence of ‘some sort, often from things victims had said to friends or families even if not actually in reports to police, to suggest a previous history of his violence and controlling behaviour towards her’. ‘In too many cases there was also evidence of his having a history of violence towards other women with three perpetrators having even previously killed another woman,’ she continued. ‘Women are reaching out for help and many men are known to be dangerous to women but we don’t seem to be turning this knowledge into ways to save women’s lives.’
‘Cuts to funding of criminal justice agencies and womens support services is part of the problem, but there is no doubt that some of these deaths could have been avoided if the police, probation and others were performing their jobs with all the tools available to them,’ commented Harriet Wistrich, director of Centre for Women’s Justice. She added that CWJ were still waiting on the outcome of their super complaint which highlights a range of ways in which the police are failing to use domestic violence protective measures available to them.