Nineteen femicides in 4 years – “Need for effective intervention”

Recommendations for effective prevention and intervention

viasmos 1 femicides, Suzana Pavlou

During the period 2019–2020 there were 13 femicides, 5 in 2021 and 1 in 2022, reaching a total of 19 femicides in a 4-year period, according to the data of the Mediterranean Institute for Social Gender Studies.

Feminicide – the intentional killing of women motivated by gender – is not only the most extreme manifestation of gender-based violence against women, but also the most violent manifestation of discrimination and inequality against them, the Director of the Mediterranean Studies Institute told KYPE Social Gender, Suzana Pavlou.

Despite the magnitude of the problem and calls from the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, he noted, data on femicide is not formally and systematically collected in the EU, and there is a lack of cross-national tools to study femicide.

"With the creation of the European Observatory on Femicide, an international database began to be developed, through which comparisons can be made. However, femicide is an under-researched topic. There is no common definition of femicide. Furthermore, harmful attitudes, behaviors and stereotypes, as well as a lack of understanding of the gendered dynamics of intimate partner femicide, hinder prevention measures, including early and effective intervention,” he added.

Ms. Pavlou mentioned that the "Policy for the prevention of femicide: Cyprus" within the framework of the FEM-UnitED project, co-financed by the European Union, aims to improve the response to cases of intimate partner violence (intimate partner violence) and domestic violence, to reduce harm to women and children and prevent femicide, and to generate data for collective policy change.

The collaboration under FEM-UnitED covers five EU countries and includes: the University of Malta, the Cyprus University of Technology, the Institute of Empirical Sociology (IfeS) at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, the University of Zaragoza in Spain and the University of Porto in Portugal.

The project team also includes NGOs for women's rights and gender equality: the Mediterranean Institute for Gender Studies (Cyprus), the Foundation for Women's Rights (Malta) and UMAR – União de Mulheres Alternativa e Resposta (Portugal ).

Prevalence of femicide

During the period 2019–2020 there were 13 femicides, 5 in 2021 and 1 in 2022, reaching a total of 19 femicides in a 4-year period.

According to Ms. Pavlou, the FEM-UnitED project revealed that official national data collected by the Police and Courts are not comparable between partner countries in the project, due to different legal definitions and/or different statistical frameworks for counting cases.

Therefore, a key priority and objective of the FEM-UnitED project was the development of two data collection tools: one for quantitative and one for qualitative data collection. The information was collected from the media, police press releases or other sources available for the years 2019-2020.

“Based on the data collected, during the years 2019-2020, the total number of femicide cases recorded in Cyprus was 11, as well as 2 victims who were girls. All but one of these cases occurred in the context of intimate partner violence and/or domestic violence," added Ms. Pavlou

Among the 5 partner countries in the FEM-UnitED project, the highest proportion of femicides, according to population proportions, was in Cyprus.

Based on the quantitative data collected, the main characteristics of femicides in Cyprus were the following: (i) the majority of femicides occurred in the context of partner violence and/or domestic violence (ii) all perpetrators were men (iii) ) the majority of the victims were non-Cypriot nationals, with an immigrant background (iv) the majority of the perpetrators were Cypriot nationals (v) only one case was known to the Police and the Social Welfare Services, where the victim had filed a complaint and an order had been issued for restrictive measures (vi) the majority of femicide cases went to trial, and the perpetrator was convicted of murder.

Based on the qualitative analysis, the following commonalities were identified: (i) there was a history of intimate partner and/or domestic violence (ii) the femicides occurred in the context of separation between the victim and the perpetrator and (iii) the perpetrator had threatened to kill the victim before the femicide.

The results of the investigation highlight that: (i) the issuance of a restraining order in one of the cases was not sufficient to prevent femicide (ii) although the refugee status of one of the victims led to the very early involvement of social welfare services and the Police, the possible language and cultural barriers, as well as the increased vulnerability of the victim, were not adequately addressed (iii) in one of the cases the perpetrator allegedly had mental health problems and had threatened to kill himself before committing the femicide (iv) the media portrayal identified the perpetrator's threat to kill himself only as a mental illness and not as a strategy of coercive control by the perpetrator over the victim.

Gaps and challenges

According to the FEM-UnitED project, although the legal framework provides for the issuance of restrictive measures in cases of partner and domestic violence, there is no data available to ascertain the number and type of restrictive measures issued in Cyprus.

Therefore, it states, it is not possible to assess their prevalence or effectiveness in protecting victims or preventing further violence, including femicide. Furthermore, there is no information on whether restrictive measures are effectively monitored and/or what activities police/supervisory authorities undertake to control compliance with restrictive measures orders.

Moreover, despite the significant number of immigrant population in Cyprus and the high frequency of violence against women and femicides against this group, immigrant women and those from ethnic minorities are not specifically addressed in the National Action Plans, making them invisible at the policy level . Overall, the National Action Plans do not mention or foresee actions to combat violence against migrant women, women with disabilities, single parents and other vulnerable groups of women.

At the same time, public authorities do not collect comprehensive data on all forms of violence against women, by gender and age of victim and perpetrator, type of violence, relationship between victim and perpetrator. The available data only includes incidents of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault reported to the Police. There is limited research or data on violence against ethnic minority or immigrant women in Cyprus.

In terms of risk assessment, there is a protocol in cases of intimate partner violence, including cases of ex-spouses and ex-partners, which has been implemented by the Police since 2018. However, to date there has been no evaluation of the risk assessment protocol, therefore, it is not possible to ascertain its use and effectiveness in reducing and preventing intimate partner violence and by extension femicide. Other frontline professionals (eg Social Welfare Services, Health Services) do not use risk assessment tools to inform, so as to enable immediate response to cases of violence against women.

It is noted that although Cyprus has developed procedures for inter-agency cooperation between the Police, Social Welfare Services and Health Services in cases related to domestic violence, there is an absence of the gender dimension and the connection between domestic violence or intimate partner violence and femicide. This has led to gaps in victim protection systems, hindering the prevention of femicide. Front-line services, for example in health care, lack specialized or inter-agency protocols, procedures and guidelines for identifying and handling cases of domestic and intimate partner violence.

It is also noted that there is generally limited expertise in relation to violence against women among frontline professionals. This is a result of a lack of specialized training. Training is offered by NGOs, but not systematically due to lack of funding. There is also a lack of training on violence affecting specific groups of women, especially in relation to migrant women and women with disabilities.

According to Ms. Pavlou, to date, the national action plans have not mentioned or foreseen actions specifically for the prevention of femicide. In addition, national action plans are not accompanied by specific measurable targets, qualitative and quantitative indicators, adequate funding and no evidence for monitoring or evaluation. National action plans lack the political will and resources needed to implement them and remain largely on paper, he pointed out.

It is also noted that the media promotes sexist and stereotypical perceptions of women. Media reports on femicides do not present the gender dimension and the relationship of violence against women to domestic/intimate partner violence. This connection is often overlooked by focusing on the male abuser. Furthermore, media coverage of femicides in Cyprus is characterized by the use of sexist language that places blame on the victim, normalizing violence perpetrated by men against women.

Recommendations for effective prevention and intervention

Recommendations for effective prevention and intervention according to FEM-UnitED are to collect reliable and up-to-date statistics on victims and perpetrators of all forms of violence against women, by gender, age and victim-offender relationship.

Training of front-line professionals dealing with victims and perpetrators of all acts of violence against women – specifically in the prevention of intimate partner femicide – should be mandatory and systematic.

It is noted that a standardized approach to risk assessment should be adopted that promotes a common understanding of risk across the system and a common language for risk communication. Risk assessment protocols that are both gender-sensitive and culturally tailored should be used by all front-line professionals.

Additionally, risk factors associated with compulsive and controlling behavior should be incorporated into these protocols. Specialized training for frontline professionals on the use of risk assessment tools is also essential.

As stated in the project, the use of protection orders should be increased and their effectiveness improved, ensuring that monitoring mechanisms are developed and put in place to provide effective safety and protection to women and their children. Violations of protection orders must be punished appropriately so as to act as a deterrent.

It is also emphasized that cooperation and coordination between the various agencies should be strengthened and interprofessional and cross-sectoral cooperation should be supported, with the participation of all relevant agencies, including women's organizations and NGOs and within the framework of the Women's House that operates as a crisis management and support center for victims of violence against women.

It is pointed out that barriers to access to comprehensive protection and support for all women and girls must be removed, especially for women who are disadvantaged and face multiple discrimination, including women of migrant background.

At the same time, it is emphasized that the reservation of the Republic of Cyprus to Article 59 of the 7th Istanbul Convention in relation to autonomous residence permits for immigrant women who suffer violence should be lifted.

FEM-UnitED also states that girls who are murdered should be counted as victims of femicide. Children who live under the regime of domestic violence must be automatically recognized as victims and treated effectively.

Source: KYPE