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Dear media, stop cheering on killers of women

Let’s start by defining femicide. But before we go there, some sombre statistics: Did you know that nine in every 10 people have had at least one clear fantasy of killing someone?

Interpreted in the context of femicide, it means that nine in every 10 men have at least once in their lives vividly fantasised killing a woman.

It is not us here at Mediascape who said so – research did.

Now back to this sad, macabre business of femicide. The World Health Organisation defines femicide as “intentional murder of women because they are women.”

We are not talking about the number of women killed, but the number of people killed for being women; they would be alive today had they been born men.

Motive? Not numbers. The fact is, more men are murdered in Kenya than women. For example, crime statistics indicate that 2,367 men were murdered in 2021 compared 889 women.

Why? There were more male victims of all recorded crimes in Kenya in 2021, except sexual crimes-or what police refer to as ‘crime against morality’-whose victims were overwhelmingly female at 7,758 compared to 425 men

As such, it is not true to assume that more women than men are being murdered in Kenya. Instead, the truth is that there has been what scholars describe as “over-representation of violence and discrimination against women and girls in news content.”

Sadly, this over-representation ends up treating femicide as an individual problem, a relationship problem as opposed to a social problem; it ends up turning femicide stories into tragic love stories or family tragedies and not what they are: A symptom of a larger social problem that is gender-based violence.

Unnecessarily detailed and extensive news coverage of femicide encourages more, already violent men, already potential killers (“I will kill you” is a common phrase in incidences of gender-based violence) to kill women for being women.

Most of all, over-reporting femicide, including unnecessary, sordid details of the killings drawn straight from police files (her limbs were cut off using a hacksaw… her stomach was ripped open, her intestines spilling out etcetera) inflicts fear in women.

And fear can be debilitating. By making women feel defenceless, fear gives room to more cases of violence against women.

This is precisely what our current reportage of femicide has done. It has created fear.

Most tragic of all, the way our media is covering femicide might encourage more men to kill women. Our stories create what researchers call media contagion effect, fueling copy-cat killings.

If, indeed, nine in every ten people have fantasised killing someone, it follows that over-representation of femicide in our media makes these fantasies real.

As such, detailed media coverage of femicide can only lead to more femicide. As one researcher, Miguel Lorente, points out, “seeing a violent reality confirmed may encourage many perpetrators” and that men “seeing how another man had killed his wife in the media could reinforce his decision to commit the crime as he would be able to find aspects in common and identify with the feelings.”

It is more or less the same psychology that argues against detailed coverage of terror attacks-available research indicates that such coverage fans more terror attacks. “The detailed coverage of terrorist attacks may be giving people who are vulnerable or thinking along these lines ideas about what to do and how to do it,” Madelyn Gould, a professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at Columbia,  says in the New York Times.

And as cases of femicide dominate our national conversation, Kenya’s media should reflect on how it has reported femicide; whether it might have inspired the next case and, by over-reporting, we have deepened the perception that one way of making it to the headlines as a man is by killing a woman.

It is a valid question. For example, research on mass shootings in the US found that most shooters desired fame and wished to emulate a previous mass shooter.

The result is copy-cat femicide. One man kills a woman today, the media blows up the story, which inspires another man to kill a woman the next day.

We must revisit the Code of Conduct on reporting crime and death. We must acknowledge the tragic connection between how we report one case of femicide and the next case, and go easy on reporting some details. Hopefully, this shall set the correct agenda in our conversations about femicide, and, in a significant way, prevent more cases.

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