Femicides – The war against women in Europe

“Every time it happens, you relive it. It’s terrible. I always think, ‘Oh that mother, that father, what they have to go through’.” For Katerina Koti, the mother of 31-year-old Dora Zacharia, who was murdered in Rhodes in September 2021 by her ex-boyfriend a few days after their breakup, each new femicide announcement is another small tragedy. Dora was the 11th victim that year, in a list that was destined to grow considerably.

In the middle of last summer, three women lost their lives in less than 48 hours in different corners of Greece at the hands of their partners.

This kind of “epidemic” of murders of women by their current or former partners is the culmination of a trend that has long plagued Greece and seems to have intensified during the recent pandemic. And not just Greece: in Spain there were four murders of women in different cities in one single day at the beginning of the year. Similar grim reports are arriving from other European countries, fuelling the debate on whether femicide should be recognised as a crime in its own right. So far only two European states, Cyprus and Malta, have ventured to take this step.

But what is happening in reality? Has there been an increase in the number of women murdered in recent years by male partners or family members? Is this development consistent with a wider increase in gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence, during the pandemic period? Has there really been an increase in femicide rates in Europe? And which countries are having the most difficulty in curbing violence against women?

The MIIR-EDJNet cross-border data investigation
The answers to these questions are not easy to find, as no official data has been published at a European Union level for the period after 2018. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which is in charge of conducting research and monitoring policies on violence against women, launched a survey in 2020, but the results are not expected to be published before 2024. This means that the EU will not have a full picture of what has been happening in a crucial area affecting half of its population for a period of around five years!

MIIR, together with a total of 17 European media outlets within the European Data Journalism Network, attempted to generate the most up-to-date map of violence against women in Europe today. By requesting statistical figures from the competent national authorities for the years 2010-2021, MIIR created a new database which contains important findings for the direction of gender-based violence in European countries. With the contribution of iMEdD Lab the data was analysed, focusing on the years of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A data black hole on gender-based violence in the EU

The total number of femicides from 2010 to 2021 in the 20 countries providing data is estimated at 3,232 – but no data is available for eight EU member states (Poland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, Portugal, Ireland, Romania). However, the above figure is a sign of serious indications of underreporting by the police authorities. This is because, at the same time, Eurostat data shows 6,593 intentional homicides of women in Europe between 2011-2021, including 4,208 by partners and 2,385 by relatives (these figures concern these 20 countries: Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden).

Both for our research and for policy-making, the lack of up-to-date data is a major limitation. EDJNet members discovered significant gaps in the publishing of recent data by state actors. Adding to this is the lack of data with similar, and thus comparable characteristics. “No score is given to the EU in the domain of violence, due to a lack of comparable EU-wide data,” claims EIGE, which is looking for ways to overcome this obstacle.

Explosion of femicides

For more reliable results, due to both incomplete data and different methods of recording femicides based on the EIGE index from country to country, we chose to compare not absolute numbers but rather the percentage change in femicides between years, for those countries with available data. In addition, the data was extrapolated to comparable rates per 100,000 population.

Greece had the highest increase in femicides in 2021 with an increase of 187.5%, from 8 incidents in 2020 to 23 in 2021. Sweden also took a “leap” with a 120% increase in femicides in 2018 compared to 2017, while Estonia and Slovenia saw a 100% increase in 2015 and 2020 respectively. Comparing data for the two-year pandemic period with 2019 shows that Greece, Slovenia, Germany and Italy saw a significant increase in femicides.

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For the purposes of the investigation the participating teams also collected data from unofficial sources, such as local monitoring groups for the recording of femicides. Such organisations mostly monitor media coverage with the aim of countering the underreporting of violence against women. This choice was made in order to compare the official number of femicides with the unofficial one.

Examining Eurostat data on intentional homicides of women by men, partners or relatives, a similar increase of 156% in 2021 compared to 2020 is confirmed for Greece. The analysis further shows that Slovenia had a 100% increase in the first year of the pandemic in homicides of women by intimate partners and relatives compared to 2019. Croatia, Austria, and Hungary followed with increases of 55.6%, 28.6%, and 26.1% respectively.

Cristina Fabre Rosell works as Gender-based Violence Team Leader at the European Institute for Gender Equality, and explains that during the first lockdown of the pandemic there was a relative decrease in the number of femicide incidents, but the risk lingered: 

“Women were not at risk of femicide during the pandemic because they were stuck with the perpetrator, and therefore the perpetrator felt more confident. All the power and control was in his hands. She had nowhere to go, so she had no exit. So the intimate partner violence increased, but not the more severe form that is worse, femicide. What was more worrying for us were the measures that were to be established after the lockdown. How were we going to protect all these women that were running away from their perpetrators. And so our fear was that the severe form of intimate partner violence that is intimate femicide could increase after the release of the lockdown measures. This has happened in some member states. But we are still not able to see if this is a common pattern that happened across all EU member states, and to what extent we can say that it’s a result of these measures.

Increase in violence against women

This is confirmed by the analysis of other EIGE indicators on physical, psychological, economic and sexual violence. The figures in the following graph show the variation in the number of victims of each type of violence in recent years.

“I do think that we are now kind of conceptualizing psychological violence and people are more aware of what psychological violence is, and the huge impact that psychological violence has. I do think that this is probably the trend that we are seeing, more victims are aware of ‘this is unacceptable, this is an offense, this is violence’,” EIGE’s Gender-based Violence Team Leader explains.

According to EIGE, at least 44% of women in Europe have been subjected to psychological violence at some point by a partner. However, there do seem to be countries that have managed to slow its spread, such as Serbia and Germany, where the increase was limited to 3.4% and 1.5% respectively in the first year of the pandemic.

There are but a few reports about enforcing economic violence against women (this is the suffocating financial control or financial bleeding that a man may exert towards his current or former partner). Of the ten countries reporting it, six saw an increase and four a decrease from 2015 to 2018.

In regard with the sexual violence indicator, Greece, Serbia and Slovenia showed significant increases in the years of the pandemic.

Based on Eurostat data, Hungary and Greece recorded the largest increases in reported rapes of women in 2020, with 41.2% and 36.5%, respectively, followed by Romania and Slovenia.

The negligence of law enforcement authorities that costs lives

In a historic decision on 22 February 2023, after 6 years of delays due to constant opposition from various member states, the European Council decided that the EU should accede to the Istanbul Convention as a transnational entity. This follows the agreement of the European Parliament, which had previously called for violence against women to be included in the list of recognised crimes in the EU. In force since 2014, the Convention is the first legally binding international text that sets criteria for the prevention of gender-based violence, and could serve as a guide for follow-up initiatives by Brussels.

On 25 November 2022, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the European Commission had asked the European Parliament to adopt as soon as possible a proposed directive submitted in March 2022 to combat violence against women and domestic violence. Among other things, the directive aims to enshrine in EU legislation minimum standards for criminalising certain forms of violence against women; protecting victims and improving access to justice; supporting victims and ensuring coordination between relevant services; and work on prevention.

The directive also proposes that data collection should finally be made compulsory throughout the EU. The extent of violence against women is underreported and under-communicated, and, as noted, the data is not easily comparable between EU countries. In fact, the directive mentions that the last relevant pan-European survey was published in 2014.

It is clear in any case that without a common European system for the recording of violence against women and the strengthening of the victims protection system, enforcement of the law and increasing penalties for perpetrators, and systematically educating young people about gender identity and sexual relations, gender-based violence will continue to flourish. It is always a possibility of course that no one will find out about it, because incidents will simply not be recorded.

👉 Original article on MIIR

Sources and methodology

The research was based on two primary data sources. The first of these are the EIGE indicators for recording intimate partner violence against women and femicide by male perpetrators, as included in the 2021 Gender Equality Report, which includes data up to 2018. EIGE defines “intimate partner violence” as any act of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occurs between former or current spouses or partners, regardless of whether they live in the same house. The teams participating in the investigation sought and contributed with as up-to-date data as possible, which was audited based on EIGE guidelines. 

Regarding “femicide”, it is worth mentioning that EIGE adopts the statistical definition of “the killing of a woman by an intimate partner and the death of a woman as a result of a practice that is harmful to women”, and places crimes pertaining to these characteristics to “Indicator 9” which measures the deaths of female femicide victims aged 18 and older. In Greece there is no specific law for the criminal prosecution of the act of femicide, and so the phenomenon is monitored in the country through the collection of data regarding the female victims of intentional homicide, while the relationship with the perpetrator is generated in combination with the law for the handling of domestic violence.

As a second source and tool for informal verification of the results, Eurostat databases were used, providing data for the crimes of intentional homicides, rapes and sexual assaults, where the perpetrator is a partner or family member, up until 2020, as well as some details on the criminal sanctions against perpetrators. In the case of Greece, data was collected from the General Secretariat for Gender Equality, which in turn collected data from the Hellenic Police and the ministry of Justice. Along with Slovenia, Greece was one of the countries that contributed data in most categories. But the hidden picture behind these is quite dark. 

Participating media organisations

This cross-border data-driven investigation was organised and coordinated by the Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Journalism (MIIR.gr ) within the European Data Journalism Network. Data analysis and visualisations was conducted by iMEdD Lab (incubator for Media Education and Development); data analysis check was performed by Kelly Kiki (iMEdD Lab).  

14 more EDJNet members participated in this investigation, which was conducted from October 2022 to February 2023: Deutsche Welle (Germany), Openpolis, OBC Transeuropa (Italy), Civio, El Confidencial (Spain), Divergente (Portugal), CINS (Serbia), Pod črto (Slovenia), BIQdata/Gazeta Wyborcza, Frontstory.pl (Poland), Deník Referendum (Czechia), EUrologus/HVG (Hungary), PressOne (Romania), Journalism++ (Sweden). Three more media teams contributed data from their respective countries: Atlatszo (Hungary), Investigace (Czechia), and Noteworthy (Ireland). EfSyn is the main publishing partner.

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