Shanquella Robinson’s death is being investigated as a femicide. Here is what it means


The killing of Shanquella Robinson is being investigated as a femicide, an unfamiliar term to many in the United States, as this gender-based crime has not been defined by US law despite being a global problem.

Robinson, a 25-year-old student at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina died in October while staying at a luxury rental property in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur.

Prosecutors in Mexico are seeking to extradite one of Robinson’s friends as a suspect in the case. Daniel de la Rosa, the state attorney for Baja California Sur, told local media last week that an arrest warrant was issued for femicide, or killing a woman because of her gender, in connection with Robinson’s case.

No one has been charged in the case, and authorities have not released the names of Robinson’s friends.

Unlike Mexico and other Latin American countries, the United States does not have a law that recognizes femicide as a crime other than murder, which several experts say does not mean that killings of women are not happening in the United States at alarming rates.

“Femicides happen all the time in the United States, and many famous murder cases that we all have in our minds are actually femicides, but we don’t put that label on them,” said Dabney P. Evans, director of Emory University’s Center for Humanitarian Emergencies. who study violence against women.

As the investigation into Robinson’s death continues, here’s what you need to know about what’s considered femicide in Mexico, why gender-based violence is a major problem globally, and why researchers say writing femicide into U.S. law could help women.

Femicide is the most extreme form of gender-based violence (GBV) and is defined as “the intentional killing of women because they are women.”

Femicide falls into two categories: intimate and non-intimate femicide. The former refers to the killing of women by current or former partners, while the latter is the killing of women by people with whom they had no intimate relationship.

In most countries, femicide is not distinct from homicide in the criminal code, but Mexico is among at least 16 countries that have included femicide as a specific crime.

Under federal law in Mexico, people can face up to 60 years in prison if convicted. The difference between murder or unlawful killing and femicide varies from state to state in Mexico.

There could be a history of violence — sexual or not — and threats, or “if the victim was in the community, for example, and if she was killed and her body was in public,” said Beatriz García Nice, who directs the Wilson Center’s gender-based initiative violence.

A video that has circulated online in recent weeks appears to show a physical altercation inside a room between Robinson and another person. Her father, Bernard Robinson, told CNN that his daughter is seen in that video being thrown to the floor and hit in the head.

It is not clear when the video was taken or if it depicts the moment Robinson suffered the injury that led to her death.

While there is legislation against femicide in Mexico, “the main problem is the execution,” García Nice said. The number of gender-based violence cases is under-reported in national statistics and the law is “under-enforced” in the justice system, she said.

García Nice says that almost 95% of femicide cases in Mexico go unpunished. “If you’re committing femicide, there’s really not that much of a chance you’re going to be convicted of it. And that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing rates still very, very high.”

Alejandra Marquez, assistant professor of Spanish with a focus on gender and sexuality in Latin America and the Caribbean at Michigan State University, said the “feminicidos” crisis in Mexico started decades ago and only gained national attention in the 1990s, when hundreds of women were killed in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.

“There used to be this idea, especially in central Mexico, where it was like ‘women are being killed over there at the border,’ but because it’s expanded across the country, it’s kind of become this phenomenon that no longer can be ignored,” Marquez told CNN.

“When you’re in Mexico, it’s part of the daily conversation,” Marquez added.

The disproportionate killings of black women, the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous people and the 2021 fatal shootings of women at Atlanta-area spas are some examples of cases that could potentially be labeled femicide, experts say.

“As a society, we have to recognize that these are not one-off deaths. These are actually linked to patterns of masculine violence, and we need to think more about how to prevent that kind of violence,” said Evans, a researcher at Emory University.

An analysis of homicide data by the Violence Policy Center shows that 2,059 women in the United States were killed by men in 2020, and 89% knew their offenders.

For Evans, a femicide law in the US would not solve the problems of toxic masculinity, patriarchy and misogyny that lead to gender-based violence, but the terminology could “allow us to talk about this phenomenon” and prevent it from happening.

There are existing laws that address gender-based violence in the United States and mechanisms to track domestic violence, but they are lacking.

The federal hate crime statute covers violent or property crimes motivated at least in part by bias against race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity. At the state level, the definition of a hate crime varies, and several states do not cover bias based on gender.

Earlier this year, federal lawmakers reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation is aimed at protecting and supporting survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking – all documented precursors to femicide cases.

During a March ceremony celebrating the act’s passage, President Joe Biden said more needs to be done to address the problem.

“No one, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should experience abuse. Period. And if they do, they should have the service and support they need to get through it. And we will not rest.”

An estimated 81,100 women and girls around the world were killed intentionally last year, with around 56% killed by intimate partners or family members, a UN report published last week showed.

Describing the full extent of gender-based violence is difficult, the report says, because about 4 in 10 homicides reported by authorities have “no contextual information to allow them to be identified and counted as gender-related homicides.”

“These rates are alarmingly high, as we can see; but it is the tip of the iceberg,” Kalliopi Mingeirou, the head of the Ending Violence against Women section at UN Women, one of the entities that prepared the report.

Mingeirou said when a femicide is not classified legally for what it is, police cannot investigate properly. Other challenges to stopping and preventing femicide include the lack of resources and training for authorities expected to implement laws.

“What women and girls deserve around the world is to have a world that respects their choices, that respects their rights,” Mingeirou said. “We must have equal rights. We have a primal right to be free from violence, because if we are free from violence and harassment, we can achieve and we can thrive in this world.”


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