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What We Know About Black Femicide In The U.S.: The Unseen Crisis

Stop hurting us, stop killing us, and start respecting us.

Human Interest

In America, one woman is fatally shot by an intimate partner every 14 hours. A black woman is fatally shot every 10 hours. This means two black women are killed daily. Forgive me in advance because I know this is gruesome and a very hard pill to swallow. Sometimes, I don't have the stomach for it. I used to work in homicide for a local district attorney's office. I have heard, seen, read, and listened to things that the average woman isn't privy to. Femicide can take many shapes and forms. We often hear about the general rape or murder of Black women in abusive relationships, but femicide can also look like Black fathers harming their daughters, too.

This can happen when a mother decides to leave an abusive situation or is involved with an abusive partner. Take, for example, Alyse and Ava Williams, ages six and nine years old, whose father killed them and then killed himself. Before the incident, he was charged with domestic violence. Police reports stated a domestic dispute occurred between him and his wife before the killing, but this time he murdered their daughters. In another case, Larry Cosby killed his daughter Britney and her girlfriend Crystal because she was a lesbian. This murder is twofold – femicide and homophobia. Austin Stevens raped his 10-month-old daughter which is an example of sex-based violence because she was targeted, and she was a female child.

Femicide can also look like a woman being killed after a man gropes her or a man is rejected by a woman. Shadina Smith, 29, was killed after she told her fiancée she was groped by another man, and they were both shot by the assailant. Aieshia McFadden, 36, was killed in front of her daughter after she rejected the advances of a man who groped her butt. Tiarah Poyau, 22, was shot in the face after telling a man to stop "grinding" on her at a Caribbean parade.

All of these Black women were killed for different reasons, and these examples are all classified as domestic violence. If this is the first time you are hearing the word femicide, you're not alone.

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What Exactly Is Femicide?

When I learned what femicide was, my heart sank into my stomach. And I was saddened to learn that my home country of Trinidad tops this list with 6.6 deaths per 100,000 women. We were never valued. It is no surprise that femicide is a worldwide epidemic. Women are murdered across Latin America, South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean.

As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), femicide is the intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include killings of women or girls.

But let's take a step back to understand that violence against women is a major public health problem and a violation of human rights. According to WHO, violence is the leading cause of injury, disability, and risk factor for other physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive problems. And femicide is happening right here in the United States too. It just looks and sounds a little different than what you might see or read about in other countries.

So, what can we say about femicide in the United States? We can say a whole lot, but almost nothing at all. What I mean by this is that all violence against women is categorized as domestic violence. We don't have a special category for gender-based violence. It's typically ruled as a general homicide. BTW – gender-based violence is the term coined for violence against women and what femicide essentially is. This includes domestic violence and intimate partner violence.

For background and context, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994 to help end domestic violence. VAWA responds to victim needs by holding offenders accountable and allowing for data collection measures to learn more about domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking crimes. And as a result of the government shutdown in 2018, it expired. It was briefly renewed in early 2019 through legislation but expired again. It is currently a stalled bill in the U.S. Senate. However, VAWA is eligible for renewal every five years.

So, what's the holdup then? Domestic violence victims and survivors are just out here unprotected?

The Holdup

  • The Boyfriend Loophole: if a person is convicted of domestic violence, current federal law does not prohibit abused or current former dating partners from having firearms, even though more than half of all initiate partner homicide is committed by dating partners.
  • Stalker Loophole: if a person is convicted of felony stalking, current federal law only prohibits them from accessing guns, but people convicted of misdemeanor stalking can still legally obtain guns.

The question now is where do we go from here?

Thanks to women like Dawn Wilcox and Rosalind Page, we now have a place to start to understand the extent of the issue. Page has been a nurse for 31 years, she works with the community within the health advocacy space for those who cannot afford insurance or have little to no access to healthcare resources. She also works for the Veterans Affairs Department, lending her expertise to women veterans who have experienced high levels of abuse from within the community and as a serviceperson.

The two, nurses based out of Texas and Arkansas, respectively, have been collecting data and tracking cases of femicide in the United States for roughly five years to fill in the gap in data on femicide and bring awareness to this unseen crisis. Rosalind primarily focuses on femicide in African-American communities, while Dawn focuses on femicide in the U.S. as a whole through her organization Women Count USA to bring awareness, challenge media narratives and societal myths about femicide and domestic violence in the United States.

Rosalind is the founder of Black Femicide US. A Facebook group with more than 23,000 followers focuses on sharing the untold stories of crimes against Black women.

What We Do Know About Femicide In The United States 

There is no standard definition of femicide in the United States. Crimes against women, whether it meets the criteria or not, are categorized as domestic violence or defined as intimate partner violence. As defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), this includes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression. Although the World Health Organization recognizes the killing of women has steadily increased since 2014 in the U.S., it is not recognized as a problem like it is in other countries.

The U.S. doesn't recognize femicide as a special crime, so there is no legal definition of femicide in America because there are no laws for it.

For example, sex crimes are gender-neutral, but there are enhanced penalties if the victim is younger. There are enhanced penalties for domestic violence crimes, but they are hardly used because one can almost never prove the intent was based on gender in a court of law.

Femicide And Black Women 

According to the Violence Policy Center, 1,948 women were killed by men in 2017. In the same year, the CDC also reported that Black women experienced the highest rates of homicide than any other racial group in the U.S. The specific issue for Black women is that 4 in 10 Black women experience physical violence in their lifetimes. Twenty percent of Black women have experienced rape during their lifetimes which is higher than other women overall. According to data from the CDC, and the Institute for Women's Policy Research,

Black women face a higher risk of being killed by a man, 2.5 times higher than White women. 9 out of 10 Black women that were murdered knew their killers. The main risk factor is easy access by perpetrators to firearms, both legally and illegally.

From a cultural standpoint, Black women are expected to be strong and able to handle abuse due to the "strong Black women" stereotype.

Data collected and reviewed by Rosalind shows that Southern states appear to have an increase in violence against Black women. This was even before the pandemic and those numbers have seemed to increase. And according to independent data collection, Rosalind concludes on average three Black women or girls are murdered daily. As of today, 230 victims have been recorded.

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Femicide Awareness, Advocacy, And Solutions

From a micro and macro level, femicide is an epidemic. There is so much that needs to be done regarding gender-based violence against Black women and all women in the U.S. The most important thing we can do is to have these conversations often. We must be open and honest about this silent crisis in our communities. Men and women alike must acknowledge that this is a problem and urge local, state, and federal politicians to legislate for laws that protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

Rosalind Page also points out we can start by, "advocating for stricter sentencing guidelines, having a national Domestic Violence registry (much like the sex offender registry), making femicide a hate crime due to it being a targeted group. More groups dedicated to educating young men and women about what domestic violence looks like. How to recognize that someone may be a victim of it, and getting help. More financial assistance to organizations that help women and children get out of domestic violence situations."

These are only a few ways we can bring awareness to femicide against Black women and femicide in the United States. But it's a start.

Though I have heard stories about women being killed from my days at the district attorney's office or in the news, I personally don't know of anyone who was a victim or is a victim of gender-based violence. I can only hope that we use our voice to speak up. And that we are loud enough to be heard in this ongoing cry for help.

Stop hurting us, stop killing us, and start respecting us.

To learn more about femicide visit Black Femicide US on Facebook and Twitter or Women's Count USA.

Featured image by Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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