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Column: Governments must treat the femicide crisis separate from homicide

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A police car sits parked on the UNC campus on Mar. 22, 2024.

Content warning: This article discusses murder and violence against women.

On Jan. 9, Liliana Concha Perez was found dead in Durham alongside her former boyfriend, who was described by Perez's family as jealous, possessive and obsessive. On Jan. 24, an argument between María Teresa Meraz-Cruz and her boyfriend, Miguel Angel Ventura, ended in Ventura killing her in a murder-suicide. On Feb. 7, police arrested Tammy Lynn Hodges’s husband after she was found dead inside her home.

These women are just three recent examples of a tragic, yet growing, epidemic in North Carolina: femicide.

Femicide is the gender-related killing of women and girls. Although the terms ‘femicide’ and ‘homicide’ both describe the intentional killing of another person, they are not synonymous. Femicide is deeply rooted in centuries of unequal power relations between men and women and is often preceded by a history of abuse and violence in a relationship, while homicide is a far more general term which does not capture the gendered aspect of femicide. Currently, the United States penal code fails to distinguish between femicide and homicide — but if we are to begin to address the femicide crisis, this needs to change.

According to an investigation conducted by El Centro Hispano, 51 North Carolina women were victims of femicide in 2023. 2024 is already positioned to surpass that number, with 13 femicides occurring in North Carolina during January and February alone. If the rest of the year continues in this same manner, 78 North Carolina women will have been lost to femicide in 2024, an increase of over 50 percent from the previous year.

The lack of a legal differentiation between femicide and homicide makes it very difficult to gather accurate data about femicide. Femicide rates can be estimated using homicide data, but organizations often report vastly different rates from each other. Without a clear picture of the scope of the problem, policymakers and community-based organizations cannot effectively respond to the crisis.

As of now, neither the state nor federal government have taken any steps to address femicides. The burden of the crisis then falls on the shoulders of community-based organizations, many of whom say they are underfunded and stretched too thin to adequately address the issue. Legal recognition of femicide would encourage government funding toward programs designed to prevent femicide, which would ease the burden currently on community-based organizations and lead to a more effective response.

The Town of Carrboro recently declared March 8 as a day to raise awareness about and call for action to prevent femicide, the first of its kind in North Carolina. This is an important first step and should be applauded as such; but realistically, the proclamation’s impact is limited because it did not change the law to classify femicide as a distinct crime.

That being said, simply classifying femicide as its own crime is not a silver bullet. Doing so can facilitate the implementation of preventative measures and data collection, but to truly eradicate femicide, systemic social change is needed.

This type of systemic social change not only includes the dismantling of sexist power dynamics that leave women in danger of violence but also a restructuring of institutions that cause transgender, Black and Indigenous women to be both disproportionately affected by and unprotected from femicide. Examples of such institutions are the criminal justice system and the media, which both have long histories of not giving minority women adequate attention or resources. At the end of the day, classifying femicide as a crime does little good if those who are most at risk have difficulty accessing the legal protections a separate classification would provide.

This kind of systemic change will take time and considerable effort. While we all work together to help it come to pass, I urge you to sign this petition calling on the North Carolina legislature to classify femicide as a distinct crime. We cannot sit around idly while women keep dying from femicide.

If you or someone you know is in danger of intimate partner violence, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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