Femicide and the Courts

Gavel ImageThe way nation states respond to femicide has become the focus of international attention, particularly in Latin America where more than half the countries with high femicide rates are located (Laurent et al., 2013; Nowak, 2012). As a result, the establishment of specialized investigation and prosecution units has been recommended by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women to address the perceived impunity for those who perpetrate femicide (United Nations, 2011).

In response to ongoing concerns, some countries have passed legislation pertaining to femicide or codified femicide as a crime (Laurent et al., 2013). These are positive steps because it is recognized that those who impose the law must recognize the seriousness of violence before society can effectively respond.

In Canada, inadequate state responses as well as historical and current impacts of colonization have been identified as contributors to the high femicide risk faced by Indigenous women and girls (NWAC, 2010). In addition, similar to other countries, some Canadian research has documented that cases involving perpetrators who kill female partners appear to result in shorter sentences than those who kill women with whom they shared more distant relationships (e.g. acquaintances or strangers; Dawson, 2016). It is also believed that there are variations in responses to femicide, depending on where the victim is killed – referred to as the ‘geography of justice’ – and particularly differences between urban and rural jurisdictions. However, there has been little effort to systematically document or explain these variations at the provincial/territorial or national levels.

These documented and hypothesized patterns underscore the need to understand how states are responding to femicide, regardless of world region. Additionally, we need to understand how current attitudes, beliefs and stereotypes may contribute to varying state responses to femicide generally, but also specifically when certain groups of women and girls are killed. The challenge in doing so is the dearth of reliable data documenting how states are actually responding on the ground.

To respond to the above gaps, one key research stream that will be undertaken by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability will be to address the above questions by systematically tracking court responses to femicide as they occur throughout the country.

In the coming months, international and national research examining the law’s response to femicide will be featured here as well as research activities of the CFOJA as they evolve.


Dawson, M (2016) Punishing femicide: Criminal justice responses to the killing of women over four decades. Current Sociology 64(7): 996-1016.

Laurent C, Platzer M and Idomir M (2013) Femicide: A Global Issue that Demands Action. Vienna: Academic Council on the United Nations (ACUNS) Vienna Liaison Office.

Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) (2010) What Their Stories Tell Us: Research Findings from the Sisters in Spirit Initiative. Ottawa: NWAC.

Nowak M (2012) Femicide: A Global Problem. Small Arms Survey. Vienna: Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS).

United Nations (2011) Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Rashida Manjoo. New York: United Nations