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Femicides in Austria: Another woman was murdered

Another woman was killed. On Wednesday at 8:40 a.m., a 43-year-old - the alleged perpetrator - entered a police station in Graz and confessed that he had just killed his wife. Her body was found shortly afterwards. It was in the family's apartment in the Gries district. The couple's four children are said to have already been in school at the time of the crime. The alleged murder weapon: a knife with a wooden handle. So there is the police on record.

According to initial surveys, the victim was a 38-year-old woman of Afghan origin. The suspect, her husband, is five years older and is also Afghan. Not much more is known yet. The children are now being looked after by a crisis intervention team. The police couldn't say anything about the man's motive. Further investigations are necessary for this. It is the presumption of innocence.

Austria has a problem

The fact is: This is the seventh woman murder discovered in Austria since the beginning of the year. Or to put it another way: around the seventh femicide. The term is intended to express that behind such murders there are often no individual, but rather societal problems - such as patriarchal role models. Because violence by men against women occurs in all social classes, nations and families.

Every fifth woman in Austria is exposed to physical or sexual violence from the age of 15 - or both. This was the result of a survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. The Association of Autonomous Women's Shelters (AÖF) counts that three women are murdered every month in Austria on average over many years. There is a recognizable pattern: the perpetrators are often in a relationship or family relationship with the victim.

Woman succumbed to her burns

So it was - according to all that is known so far - when, on March 5, a 35-year-old tobacconist in her shop in Vienna-Alsergrund was doused with flammable liquid, set on fire and then locked up. The alleged perpetrator was apparently her ex-boyfriend.

The woman was freed from the tobacco shop by neighbors and passers-by who had noticed the smoke and smashed the entrance door with a shopping cart. Paramedics who happened to be around extinguished the flaming victim with blankets.

The woman was able to describe what happened to the police before she was taken to the hospital with severe burns. A month later, on April 5, she died from her injuries. Her 47-year-old ex-boyfriend is in custody. The Austrian confesses the act, but denies the intention to kill.

A third more feminicides

Statistically speaking, the year 2021 is the continuation of a sad series: 31 femicides were reported in the previous year. A still quite small number - by Austrian standards. Femicides have recently increased steadily: 19 were recorded in 2014, 41 were recorded in 2018 - the number rose by a third. In only one of those years, the number of women killed was smaller than the number of men killed. In other words, with every murder that happens in Austria, the probability that the victim is a woman is greater than that of a man who was killed.

Nevertheless: to label feminicide as acts of relationship does not do justice to the matter. In the case of murders within partnerships, in particular, it is often not clear what exactly is behind it. Would a victim still be alive if they weren't a woman? There are no surveys on this in Austria.

In 2018, when the headlines about more and more femicides literally rolled over within just a few weeks, the then Interior Minister Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) took action. He set up a task force to examine the individual cases. The result: In 92 percent of the cases, the victim and the perpetrator knew each other, 54 percent were related or known, 38 percent were in a relationship or separated. In addition, there was a package of laws protecting against violence, which provided for tightening the criminal law.

Protection instead of higher penalties

For Rosa Logar from the Vienna Intervention Center against Violence in the Family, this is the wrong approach. Before the penalties are increased, protection should be stepped up, she says. Case conferences in which institutions and authorities get together and discuss difficult individual cases would help.

In the past, says Logar, 80 cases a year were discussed. In the past two years, her intervention agency has only been at one such case conference. Logar calls for a permanent commission in which several institutions deal permanently with potential victims and perpetrators. "We have cases where we hope every day that nothing happens," she says.

Greater risk from pandemic

The pandemic exacerbates the situation in two ways: On the one hand, the police are required to monitor the regulations on the street - Logar is concerned that this could lead to losing sight of violence in the family. On the other hand, lockdowns can also give rise to dangerous situations in the first place.

Staying at home all the time, worries, fears, being locked up, possibly with the potential perpetrator - all of this intensifies the problem of violence against women: cases in which the police were called and an entry ban increased rapidly in the first lockdown. The curve has slowly flattened out again since mid-April. In cities, cases of domestic violence rose even more drastically than in rural areas: by a quarter if you compare the entry bans before the lockdown with those afterwards.

An analysis by the OGM Institute on behalf of the Ministry of the Interior shows: Four percent of 811 interviewed people from all walks of life said that they were aware of a specific case of violence in the family during the lockdown. In three quarters of these cases, the incidents of violence are due to the increased time spent at home. And: The police were called in only half of the cases. (Katharina Mittelstaedt, Gabriele Scherndl, 7.4.2021)