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Killings in Context: an Analysis of the News Framing of Femicide


While attacks against members of the LGBT community are increasingly covered as hate crimes and are widely viewed as a form of repression, attacks on women are almost never covered as violations of human rights. We propose that until violence against women is recognized as a form of repression and a threat to the physical security of women, we cannot expect much to be done to prevent it. We posit that policies aimed at preventing violence against women are unlikely to come about unless this abstract concept is connected, through a connection frame, to concrete crimes against women. We conducted a framing analysis of news coverage of all confirmed femicides in Massachusetts in 2013 and find that while journalists have the potential to draw these connection frames, they seldom put these killings in the context of violations of women’s rights.

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  1. It was later revealed that drugs may also have played a role in Shepard’s killing (for more, see Jimenez 2013).

  2. Below and Whitten-Woodring (2008) introduced the term connection frames as the practice of connecting abstract concepts to concrete events.

  3. We selected Massachusetts because we needed a manageable sample so that we could take an in-depth look at all cases for a given year and assess the effects on state policy. We chose 2013 because we wanted a year that was recent, but distant enough to have played out in the news media (and following the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded hate crimes to include gender-based crimes), yet also a year for which crime statistics were readily available. 2013 was the most recent year for which comprehensive data were available.

  4. Radford and Russell (1992) introduced the concept of femicide, which was then adopted by Della Giustina (2010), Humphries (2009), and others.

  5. Many news articles were analyzed as part of this study. To conserve space, we include only the references to articles that are quoted directly in our reference section. References to all of the articles used in our analyses are included in the Online appendix at

  6. Recently, there has been some debate as to the motives behind Shepard’s killing. Jiminez (2013) proposed that it was drugs rather than sexual orientation that prompted the attack, but these claims have been widely criticized.

  7. We would have included unsolved cases involving sexual assault because such violence would indicate that sexual aggression was a motivating factor; however, there was no indication that sexual assault was involved in the any of the 2013 unsolved killings. We do concede that we are probably underestimating the number of femicides.

  8. A more detailed description of these frames is available in the online appendix

  9. A more detailed analysis of the coverage of these non-intimate femicides is available in the Online appendix.

  10. This is in keeping with the findings of Pollock et al. (2018) that hate crimes are associated with increased perception of government responsibility regarding violence against women.


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Correspondence to Jenifer Whitten-Woodring.

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Names are listed in alphabetical order; authorship is equal.

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Bouzerdan, C., Whitten-Woodring, J. Killings in Context: an Analysis of the News Framing of Femicide. Hum Rights Rev 19, 211–228 (2018).

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  • Frame Connections
  • News Coverage
  • Hate Crimes
  • Concrete Crime
  • Intimate Femicide