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Graduate Research

Defining, Quantifying, and Prosecuting Sexual Femicide

Lead Researcher: Abigail Mitchell

Photo of Abigail Mitchell.

Project Description: The purpose of this project is to work towards creating a standard definition of sexual femicide to improve researchers’ data collection and analysis efforts, examine the frequency and case details of sexual femicide, and identify trends in the prosecution of sexual femicide perpetrators. Sexual femicide does not have a standard definition, and few studies have examined the frequency of this crime. Most of the literature on sexual killings uses the term sexual homicide, despite the clearly gendered nature of the crime (90% of victims are women/girls).

The most common definition of sexual homicide was developed by the FBI in the 1980s, but several weaknesses have been identified within this definition, such as the highly subjective concept of substitutive sexual activity and the lack of consideration given to consent when considering evidence of sexual contact. This project seeks to move away from the FBI definition of sexual homicide in order to create a new, improved, and gender-conscious definition of sexual femicide.

Sexual homicide is considered to be a relatively rare crime when considering all homicides, with only 4% of all homicides being sexual. However, this project has found that sexual femicide, specifically in Canada’s most populous province, is not rare: approximately 20% of all femicides in Ontario are sexual. Canada has legislation that allows killings committed during a sexual assault to be charged as first-degree murder regardless of premeditation. This project will examine whether sexual femicides are being charged as first-degree murder and identify factors that influence the criminal justice system outcomes of perpetrators of sexual femicide.

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