When women are murdered in Canada, the circumstances under which they’re killed are markedly different than for men.
Women are more likely to be killed by someone they know very well––more than half died at the hands of a partner, while 13 percent are murdered by a family member according to a report published today by the University of Guelph. Statistically, the most common place for them to be murdered is in their own home. Their deaths are more likely to involve sexual violence. And women between the ages of 25 and 34 are at increased risk.
Men, on the other hand, are most likely to be killed at the hands of a stranger or an acquaintance.
The differences are so stark that the report argues the need for a specific category for women who are killed because they are female: femicide. The lead author of the first annual report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, entitled “#CallItFemicide,” says looking at the prevalence and causes of these types of crimes is critical.
According to the research, 148 women and girls were killed in 133 incidents last year. Of the 140 people accused in their deaths, 91 percent are male. Although women between the ages of 25 and 34 make up 14 percent of the population, they are overrepresented as victims, accounting for 27 percent of those killed.
Lead author Myrna Dawson tells VICE that’s because this cohort is more socially active. “That’s when young women start moving out of the home and into larger society. People are getting into relationships and coming into contact with potential perpetrators more often through their activities or their relationship-building.”
Dawson highlights the fact that warning signs for this age group may be more subtle. Physical violence in a relationship is a red flag, of course. But with young people, cues like obsessive, controlling behaviour can be an indicator. Especially if it demonstrates a pattern of jealousy and stalking by a male partner, which she says young women are sometimes too quick to dismiss. “I’ve heard women say ‘oh, he texts me 60 times a day’ and sort of laugh about it. Potentially, that’s not a laughing matter. This is a sign of control over a female partner.”
Other risk factors include living in a rural area––although only 16 percent of the population lives outside of urban regions, more than a third of women killed were in rural Canada. Dawson says that support services for women are typically based on population numbers, but the stats suggest they could be re-adjusted based on need. The highest rates of murders of women and girls are in Nunavut, followed by Yukon, New Brunswick, and Manitoba.
One group in particular stands out as an outlier––Indigenous women and girls. Though they make up roughly five percent of the population, they represent 36 percent of female murders. Dawson describes the situation as “dire” for this group. “They often experience excessive violence and sexual violence both inside and outside intimate relationships. This is important because they have almost as much to fear from acquaintances and strangers which is much different than non-Indigenous women.”
The report’s title, #CallItFemicide is a nod to the #MeToo movement, which highlighted the prevalence of sexual violence against women around the world. Dawson says the misogynistic behaviour and societal structures that breed sexual assault feed into femicide. Factors like attitudes, including victim blaming and the gender pay gap, all put women at risk and make it harder for them to escape toxic relationships that can turn deadly.
The inaugural report looks back at 2018 and pieces together data from different sources. Statistics Canada, for example, can provide numbers in terms of how many women and girls were killed, but the contextual information is limited. Getting specific information about trends and stats is difficult for experts in Canada, across a variety of industries.
That’s why the researchers relied on media reports, because “newspapers were found to be more informative than official data.” Going forward, court documents will also be used to track cases as they go through the courts, with media being the primary source for situations that don’t make it into the judicial system (for example, when the perpetrator commits suicide). For these reasons, Dawson says this study is just the tip of the iceberg. Some cases remain under investigation and can’t clearly be labelled femicide––for now.
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