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Onlookers to Murdered Women
The Asian Crime Century briefing 22
This week two horrific cases in India and Hong Kong have highlighted violence against women and the lack of intervention by others.
India has been shocked by the murder of a 16 year old girl named Sakshi by a 20 year old man named Sahil in a Delhi street. A video recording of the murder has gone viral across the country as it shows the man repeatedly stabbing the girl, kicking her body, and then lifting a heavy piece of concrete above his head to repeatedly pound her. After briefly walking away from the body, he returned to smash her again with the concrete block. Whilst Sahil beat Sakshi to death in the street multiple men and women walked past or stood and stared without intervening to help the girl. Sakshi had 34 injuries on her skull. Indians are asking are they a nation of onlookers?
There is a long running, and growing, concern for the protection of women in India from violence by men. Violence against women in India includes not only public violence but also domestic violence such as marital rape, dowry deaths, mental torture, bride burning, and female infanticide. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have led to an increase in levels of violence, due to people confined to homes leading to mental health issues and more domestic violence. Reported crimes against women increased by 15.3% in 2021 compared to the prior year. In 2021, a total of 8,405 women (including female children) were murdered in India.
Hong Kong has also been shocked after two women aged 22 and 26 have been stabbed to death in a frenzied attack by a 39 year old male attacker. The victims and the attacker are not believed to know each other, and the attacker seems to have suffered from mental illness. Most disturbingly, the attacker randomly and suddenly stabbed the first woman who was walking through a shopping mall with her female friend. The first woman was stabbed more than 25 times in the frenzied attack. Her friend tried to push the attacker off, but he then repeatedly stabbed her also. Despite the sudden violence, the attacker had calmly walked into the shopping mall where the attack occurred and purchased the knife that he used. An off duty 64 year old chef was the only person who tried to stop the attacker, hitting him on the head with a stool which was effective in halting the attack but came too late as both women had suffered awful injuries.
There are low levels of violent crime in Hong Kong, and the issue of violence against women is nothing like that in India. However, in a random murder in a shopping mall why would women be a target of a male rather than another man? The issue of vulnerability of women and misogyny amongst many men is a possible answer. In 2022, the Centre for Countering Digital Health (CCDH) reported that an “epidemic of misogynist abuse sent via Instagram Direct Messages (DMs), 90% of which is ignored by the platform despite being reported to moderators.” It seems that social media apps have facilitated misogyny for men communicating with women, and possibly wider levels of misogyny in society.
Comparison of murders of women shows that Asia is not the leader and, according to the UNODC, reported femicide in Hong Kong is 0.27 per 100,000 of the population, in India it is 2.5 per, and in the USA it is 2.92. However, women’s rights campaigners have suggested that “femicide” is likely to be under counted in India. According to the United Nations, “femicide” is “an intentional killing with a gender-related motivation” and may be driven by stereotyped gender roles, discrimination towards women and girls, unequal power relations between women and men, or harmful social norms.
Sahil seems to have attacked and killed Sakshi because he was rejected by her in the presence of several of her friends, which is likely to have caused him to feel humiliated. Rejection by a woman is not a reason for men to be violent, but it seems in some cultures the loss of face leads to anger. That anger is usually easier for a man to vent on a woman because of the relative weakness. Although the murder in Hong Kong was in very different circumstances, we should ask if the attacker would have chosen a man as his victim or if some deep rooted instinct made it easier to attack a vulnerable woman (despite his clear mental disorder). It is notable that when another man confronted him and hit him with a stool, the attacker stopped and started crying.
Despite the complexity of trying to entangle the data for the number of women killed, it remains most shocking this week to see separate murders in different countries of young women in public places where there were more onlookers than rescuers. We should all recognise that being onlookers to such crimes against women is not acceptable in any country. As former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, “Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.” Clearly violence against women exists around the world, but in India it should be recognised as a social evil that has gone on for far too long and must be stopped. A good starting point for men would be to stop being onlookers.
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