An “uncharted” crime: The rise of femicide in Greece

TW: femicide and sexual assault.

In Greece, 31 women were murdered in 2021. Three tragic cases between 2018 and 2022 in particular illustrate the problem with femicide in the Mediterranean nation, and how the unique gender-based motivations underlying the crime mean it should be treated separately to murder or manslaughter.

Beyond sexism, a rise of femicides across the period was also linked to two additional factors. Firstly, long periods of quarantine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the psychological effects of confinement upon couples, and secondly, as a “reaction” to the outbreak of the Greek #Me-too movement, where women in both acting and sports industry accused men of inappropriate conduct. 

Left-wing political opposition and feminist organisations are pressing for the introduction of femicide as a separate offence in the Greek criminal code. These groups also note the deeply sexist elements in how such cases are reported on in the Greek mainstream media and legal system.

A turning point in the Greek femicide debate that kicked off rising demands for its punishment was the case of the rape and femicide, in 2018, of a young girl from Rhodes, Eleni Topaloudi, by two young men. One of the perpetrators was a member of the island's elite, which meant the case drew extra attention from the Greek media.

In reporting on the case, the media repeatedly showed images of the victim in summer-wear, in hope of creating the perception to the average spectator that she was an “easy” girl. In the courts, the core arguments of the defence circulated around the victim being at first “open” with engaging with the perpetrators yet, by changing her mind, “brought her death upon herself” as a result of angering the defendants. When the case’s D.A., during the presentation of her arguments, critiqued the victim-blaming committed by the defence, she was faced with accusations of inappropriate conduct of duty by both political circles and prominent lawyers. 

Another major case, the femicide of Caroline Crouch in 2021, which, having occurred at the same time as the outbreak of the Greek #Me-too, brought femicide into the centre of social and political attention. The defence justified the defendant's actions - who was the victim's husband - by stating the victim’s intention to leave him along with their infant daughter, a statement that was continuously reproduced by the media. References to the victim’s nationality were also made, in an attempt to present her as “less faithful” in comparison to Greek women.

The significance of this case, beyond bringing femicide further into the public eye, must be noted also for bringing forth the victim’s wish to end her relationship with the perpetrator as the chief argument of the defendants in most cases of femicide. Indicatively, in one incident, committed in May 2022, the perpetrator, being the victim’s husband, claimed that problems in the relationship, and the beginning of the procedure for issuing a divorce by the victim, led him to commit the act. 

In another case, reported in June 2022, the couple had separated and the victim had filed for a divorce. In all the aforementioned cases, a similar mentality prevails: a rigid distinction between the “public” and “private” spheres, the former being man-centred while the latter consisting of household activities, women being perceived as part of the “private” spheres, and therefore a “possession” of man handed over to him by her father through marriage and, even if she engages in the “public” sphere (politics, education, workplace), it is considered “natural” that such roles she will have to balance with those of wife, mother and housekeeper, inherent to her existence. If, on the contrary, if a woman decides to step away from these roles, it is considered by the status quo as a “breach” in the norm and so arguments are devised to justify man’s reaction to such a wish, however extreme or illegal they might be.

These three cases indicate that femicide is still present and is, moreover, a critical issue that needs to be addressed and taken seriously as its own unique crime. Beyond Greece, according to data collected by UN Women, around 45,000 women and girls across the globe were killed either by their intimate partners or other family members in 2021.

It is a paradox that, in today’s society, where gender equality is declared in both constitutions and international human rights treaties and with the existence of criminal justice systems and judicial bodies that deal with human rights violations in an international level, a crime in which the most extreme discriminatory behaviour and the violence of patriarchy still exists, leading us to ask ourselves what had been going wrong.