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What’s behind the UK’s soaring domestic murder rate?

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Domestic abuse

Boris Johnson pledges legislation to tackle growing problem as new figures show killings rose to 173 last year

In Depth Gabriel Power
Friday, September 13, 2019 - 1:38pm

The number of domestic violence-related homicides in the UK has reached a five-year high, according to newly published figures.

Data obtained by the BBC from 43 police forces across the country shows that 173 people died as a result of domestic violence last year - up from 141 in 2017, 139 in 2016, 160 in 2015 and 165 in 2014.

The Guardian notes that while both sexes are affected by the growing problem, the majority of victims are women - making up three-quarters of those killed in such incidents in England and Wales between April 2014 and March 2017.

The police figures were published a day after Boris Johnson tweeted that domestic abuse “shatters lives and tears families apart”, adding: “We are fully committed to tackling this horrific crime – which is why the Queen’s Speech will confirm we will be reintroducing domestic abuse legislation in the next session.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Women Victoria Atkins said: “These tragic cases are a stark reminder of the devastating impact of domestic abuse and we are determined to do more to protect victims and bring more perpetrators to justice.

But Sarah Walklate, a criminology professor at Liverpool University, told the BBC that successive governments have “placed too much emphasis on reforming the criminal justice system”.

“What might change behaviour is to ensure that police forces, health services, education, social services all speak from the same hymn sheet in relation to violence against women,” Walklate argues.

The increase in deaths in the UK appears to be part of a wider spike in domestic violence-related killings across Europe. 

The New York Times reports that following a slew of murders in France - where a woman is killed every three days, on average - President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly spoken out about “femicide”, usually defined as the murder of a female by a partner, ex-partner or family member.

France is far from the deadliest country for women in Europe, however. The two EU nations with the highest rates of murders committed by a partner per 100,000 people are Northern Ireland and Romania.

England and Wales are in eighth place, behind Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and France.

Irene Rosales of the Brussels-based European Women’s Lobby told the Voice of America new site that across the Continent, “one in three women over [age] 15 experiences physical or sexual violence in her life”.

“This is a European issue, and it has to be addressed at a European level,” she says.

Six countries in the EU have yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a key international treaty to combat violence against women.

Rosales warns: “They’re stuck in negotiations on ratifying it, which shows there’s no political will to implement and be serious about it.”

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