Institut für Kriminologie

Femicides in Germany

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 statistic on police reports in 2019 (Polizeiliche Kriminalstatistik) 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.  

The goal of this study is a thorough review of all relevant studies on the different contexts and forms of femicides on both a national and an international level. This review of the currently available research on femicides will serve as the basis for a major empirical research project on femicides in Germany. On the one hand such a major research project will provide an empirically-based definition of the phenomenon of femicides and on the other hand it will take stock of the quantitative extent of femicides. Additionally, the project will analyze how both the police and the courts deal with femicides. The study is a collaborative research project between the Institute of Criminology at the University of Tuebingen and the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony (KFN).