Femicide in Vermont is emblematic of a larger problem in the US

A protester held up a Stop Femicide sign at the Women's March in 2019. (Photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

By Saumya Rastogi
Boston University News Service

It was on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, when a man who admitted to killing his 22-year-old wife pleaded not guilty in a court in Vermont.

State police stated that Joseph Ferlazzo, 41, informed detectives he had murdered Emily Ferlazzo on Saturday, Oct. 16, in their car in Bolton, Vermont. But at his hearing on a first-degree murder charge in Vermont Superior Court the following Wednesday, his lawyer recorded a not guilty plea.

But as the case of Emily Ferlazzo’s death continues, it is hard not to pay attention to the number of alleged femicides committed in the U.S. over the past year.

Two terms, “femicide” and “feminicide,” are generally used concerning the idea of the gender-related killing of women and girls. The current understanding conveys that men commit hate crimes against women simply because of the gender roles ascribed to women.

FBI homicide data for 2020 alone shows that many women killed in the U.S. are murdered by current or ex-intimate partners. Homicide is the fourth preeminent cause of death for women 1 to 19 years old and the fifth preeminent cause of death for women from ages 20 to 44, according to the CDC.

This year alone, there have been 217 instances of alleged femicide, according to Women Count USA, an organization that works to keep track of femicides.

Earlier this summer, Gabby Petito’s death hit national headlines. Petito was reported missing by her family in September after she went on a cross-country trip with Brian Laundrie, her fiancé.

Laundrie returned to the couple’s North Port, Florida, home in early September without Petito, and did not talk with authorities, police said. He left his home two weeks later and disappeared, sparking a week-long search for him in a vast Florida nature reserve. 

Just days into the search for Laundrie, authorities on the other side of the country found Petito’s remains in an area of Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. A Wyoming coroner ruled Petito’s cause of death to be strangulation. It is unclear as to what happened but there are speculations her boyfriend had something to do with it. 

The case is still being investigated, and further complicated by Laundrie’s remains later being found in a Florida nature preserve.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, William Chisholm was sentenced to capital punishment in the murder of his former girlfriend, Dr. Shauna Witt. One month following her splitting up with him, Chisholm charged the Walmart eye clinic where Witt operated as an optometrist and shot her dead.

Over in Maryland, Gomezgeka Chisala was being held without bail in July after admitting to killing his ex-girlfriend Shaunya Green, a nurse and mother of two. Chisala had gone to Green’s home with a gun, started fighting with her, and shot her dead.

The cases draw immediate attention to a kind of widespread, gendered violence in the U.S. that has long remained hidden in plain sight.

According to a report by Violence Policy Center, American female intimate gendered killings happen at a tremendous rate of almost three women every day. Those conditions are very different for men, who are killed by other men in most cases, and in over a quarter of incidents by strangers.

In Turkey, where honor killings are more common, the rate of women murdered is lower than that of the U.S. 474 women were killed in 2019 in Turkey, opposed to 2,991 women in 2019 in the U.S. However, considering that the U.S. is four times greater in population than Turkey, the proportion of femicides in the U.S. remains more substantial.

On top of that, the suffering of women from marginalized groups in the United States is also more pronounced.

Indigenous women in the U.S. are killed six times more than white women, with 94% of cases connected to former or current partners, according to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.

But the cruelty of this mostly glides under the radar. The organization states that half of the Indigenous homicide records are missing from FBI data, suggesting many lives lost are neglected in much of the official counting.

When Indigenous women are recorded missing, figures imply less work is put into finding them. For example, white people are located in 81% of cases after a week of being reported missing, opposed to only 61% of Indigenous people in the identical timeframe.

Also apparent in FBI homicide data, Black women are being killed by male offenders three times more than white women.

Many countries have taken steps to prevent femicides from happening. Eighteen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have ratified laws that criminalize femicide as a crime in their national legal framework. The United States, on the other hand, has no law calling femicide a crime. Most people here have never heard of the term.

Educating men to get out of this mindset is also essential. Without doing this, we are left existing in a country that has quietly endured femicide as a byproduct of its composition, to the degree that it doesn’t even try defining it.

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