Femicides in Germany – An Empirical-Criminological Analysis of Killings of Females
Funded by the German Research Foundation.
Project duration: Early 2022 - Early 2025.
The term “femicide“ was first coined by the sociologist and feminist Diane E.H. Russell, who introduced the term to the scholarly community at the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in 1976. According to Russell, this term fittingly illustrates the fact that many killings of women – similarly to racially motivated killings – are hate crimes and “extreme manifestations of male dominance and sexism” (Russell 2011, p. 1). In Russell’s definition femicide is “the killing of females by males because they are females” (2009, p.27). Femicides can take two different forms: on the one hand there are “misogynist killings” where women are killed out of misogynist hate and contempt, and on the other hand women are killed because they do not conform to the patriarchal concept of the ‘ideal’ women and they resist male dominance and control. In her later work Russell rejects her original prerequisite of femicide only being committed by a male in favor of opening up the definition to include female perpetrators of femicide in its definition.
Up until now no empirical research has been conducted with respect to the social contexts and motivations behind femicides in Germany. In fact, only a handful of studies on femicides have already been conducted in the German context which exclusively focused on specific aspects of the phenomenon of femicides – namely killings by intimate partners and so-called honor killings. Killings of women by someone from within the immediate social circle – other than an intimate partner – or outside of this immediate social circle have rarely been the focus of academic research. This is especially interesting because even though according to the official German statistic on police reports in 2019 (Polizeiliche Kriminalstatistik, PKS) 36% of all women murdered were killed by total strangers or casual acquaintances, the empirical data is still scarce. Due to sex-/gender-related motives behind some killings of female prostitutes and female murders in the context of shootings one could also classify such events as instances of femicides. This is especially applicable to killings of women based on their sexual identity or out of misogynist hate. Such misogynist hate is common in men who are associated with the so-called “Incel-Scene”. There is a further need for research with regard to the question if and how patriarchic, anti-feminist and misogynistic motives of perpetrators of femicides play a role in the work of the police and the courts and their assessment of the respective case.
Aim of this Study
The goal of this study is a thorough analysis of femicides in Germany. In a first step, the so far vague theoretical concept of the femicide is to be operationalized. For that purpose, the expertise of members from victims and women’s associations as well as various actors from police, prosecutors’ offices and the judiciary who are in charge of the prosecution of killings of females will be included. Based on all this all court files of cases of female killings of a given year originating in one of four German Bundesländer will be analyzed in order to bring out different constellations, backgrounds or types of sex-/gender-related killings. On the one hand this will enable the research team to take stock of the quantitative extent of sex-/gender-related killings of women and on the other hand it will allow for an empirically rooted discussion of the concept of femicides in the context of its overall relevance in the criminal evaluation of different types of murders. Therefore, the analysis of court cases also seeks to answer questions as to how far sex-/gender-related motifs of perpetrators play a role in the processing and assessment of the criminal proceedings.
The project entails so-called “expert interviews” with persons who due to their work have different perspectives on and insights into (attempted) killings of females. For that purpose, interviews will be conducted with the police, with prosecutors, judges and with defense attorneys who are also actively practicing in ancillary suits. Additionally, interviews with members of various victims‘ and women’s associations as well as with psychosocial trial support staff will be conducted in order to include the perspective of victims.
A thorough analysis of court case files of (attempted) female killings will further serve as the empirical basis for this research project. Murder cases are well-known for being among the most thoroughly investigated criminal cases in which the criminal act is being reconstructed from various different perspectives and angles. Court files of murder cases therefore most often include a number of statements such as statements of accused persons, of witnesses, of (surviving) victims, of defense attorneys as well as reports from police officers, prosecutors, and expert witnesses. The majority of such case files also compile extensive information regarding the perpetration of the act, interactions between perpetrator and victim before the crime in question, e.g. chat protocols, and the relationship between perpetrator and victim – including reports of previous instances of violence directed at the victim. Within the project, the case files of all court cases of (attempted) female murders and cases of bodily harm with fatal consequences for female victims (German criminal code §§ 211, 212, 213, 227; §§ 22, 23 if applicable) from the four Bundesländer Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Lower Saxony, and Rhineland-Palatinate which have been recorded in the official German crime statistic (“PKS”) within one year will be included and analyzed. Basing the selection of cases to be analyzed on the PKS somehow limits the cases to be analyzed as only such cases in which the police registered the victim as female are included. Cases in which the victims are registered as male even though they might associate themselves as female (e.g. transsexual people) are therefore excluded. The selection of the above-mentioned four Bundesländer, roughly represents a third of the German population.
The case file analysis is employed to not only compile indicators for sex-/gender-related killings, to describe the social contexts and aspects leading up to the criminal acts, to bring out possible motifs for such murders but also to bring out the judicial evaluation of the act in question particularly in light of sex-/gender-related causes and backdrops of femicides. For that purpose, both a semi-standardized analysis matrix and a qualitative summary of the case in question will serve as the basis for a systematization of different constellations of sex-/gender-related killings of women. The research object “femicide“ will be deduced via the comparing and contrasting of cases as well as the empirical typification of respective “femicides”.