FEMICIDE LISTS are lists of women and girls murdered by men. Lists include dates and information about their deaths, how they were killed, and who was the perpetrator. More and more, in different locations, we see women and sometimes men gathering such important and painful information.
THIS FORUM is a place where news of femicide lists will be gathered. Femicide lists are already mentioned throughout ROSE. However, today, bringing them together seems like the right thing to do next. Feminists create such lists for many reasons including to remember the women and girls lost to us, to increase our understanding of this extreme act of women-hating, and to make visible the murder of girls and women. The horrific death toll must be acknowledged.
PLEASE EMAIL ROSE and let us know IF you are keeping a list or know of one not mentioned here. We would be grateful to hear from you.
In solidarity and love
2016, l’état d’urgence : FEMINICIDES conjugaux en France
Femmes qui avez succombé à la violence conjugale, en France cette année, Nous ne voues oublions pas...
[The Shoe Memorial keeps a list of women and girls who have been murdered. Please see their Home page for a view of the list. The text below is all from the home page. If you wish to help, you can contact them through their website.]
Tired of organizing and attending anti-violence events where the participants are already involved in anti-violence work a small grass-roots group of women survivors decided to “take it to them” in 2000. The objective: Remember by name all the women who had died by violence (not their murderers as is so often named by the media and remembered by the public); Provide information to anyone who was interested, Do it on one day, and as Cheaply as possible. In order to remain true to our focus of remembering women who had not survived, the Memorial is non-confrontational and non-blaming. The message is: women are dying and it needs to stop.
The 1st event proved such a success that it has grown to numerous cities and towns across Canada.
It works on many levels-
To remember those who have died by violence it was decided to print their names and the dates of their death on a memorial wall, which people could go to and read. Over the years we have found a number of individuals looking for family and friends names on our “Boards”; all of who have commented that this is a wonderful way to remember them. One woman, who’s mother was remembered was so moved that she started her own Dec. 6 Shoe Memorial in Kamloops, B.C.
Any date would do as long as it holds some significance to the purpose. We chose Dec. 6, which is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action for women who have died by violence and which usually generates media attention. Months earlier the word goes out asking for women’s shoes, new and used. We want the donor to think about the violence that goes on each time she looks into her closet or sees one of our posters. Donating shoes has proved an excellent way to do “something” against the violence.
The Vancouver Public Art Gallery Stairs were chosen as the place to bring the memorial to the public in good weather or bad (it only snowed once). The Art Gallery considers the memorial to be an excellent example of “a People’s Art Installation” and has supported the event. The location provides excellent foot traffic as commuters arrive and leave from work and the stairs an excellent stage for the shoes.
A brief “memorial service” service with speakers was arranged to give focus to the event. A candlelight vigil was held in the evening of the first year but due to rain and wind this was eliminated after that. Our audience wanted to leave immediately after work.
The media suggested that our Service be moved to the lunch hour. This proved to be an excellent suggestion. The event was meant for what we call the “unconverted” and those who wanted to remember, and not for those already stridently working in the field.
During our 1st Shoe Memorial, a dad was overheard explaining to his very young daughter what the memorial was about and how the violence had to end to make a better world for her, as he held her hand. It was a success beyond our greatest hopes. Each year we provide written information to over 1000 pedestrians who take it away to read. Last year we handed information or talked to over 800 men about what they could do to help end the violence. The Dec. 6 Shoe Memorial has spread to at least 2 other communities as an annual event and as one community organizer states; it works “why are not others doing the same?
It is simple, cheap, and easy to organize and it works so why aren’t you doing one.
"When we focus solely on the male assailant, the real victims are reduced to mere mentions – and doubly victimized for all time"
Women killed by their spouses are not casualties in someone else’s story
by Elizabeth Renzetti, The Globe and Mail, Jan. 06, 2017
Will we ever know any more about what Shanna Desmond was like as a person, or does her story stop with her violent death? So far, the details are few, but they point to someone who was lovely and dedicated to her job. She was “empathetic,” according to a colleague who worked with her at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Nova Scotia, where Ms. Desmond was a registered nurse. She would drive through bad weather to get to work. Her Facebook profile picture is a funny, playful shot of her at work sticking her tongue out alongside a patient.
Her sister, Shonda Borden, in a wrenching interview with CBC radio, described her as “a great mother” and “the rock of the family.” Ms. Desmond’s 10-year-old-daughter, Aaliyah, was “awesome.” Now both mother and daughter are dead, along with Ms. Desmond’s mother-in-law, Brenda Desmond. Even less has been written about Brenda.
Instead, the entire story of this horrible tragedy has focused on Lionel Desmond and his struggles with PTSD. Mr. Desmond, a veteran who had served in Afghanistan and was treated on-and-off for PTSD, is believed to have killed his wife, daughter and mother at their home in rural Nova Scotia before turning the gun on himself.
A narrative has sprung up that almost entirely erases the three victims of his crime. Indeed, it makes Mr. Desmond as much of a victim as the women he killed.
Interviews with relatives and friends have painted him as a happy person who had mood swings, and who was tragically deprived of the help he needed to overcome his mental suffering. He may have been sent away from the very hospital where his wife worked. But to place the blame for his crime solely at the feet of PTSD does a disservice both to the veterans who suffer mental anguish without resorting to violence and to the victims of domestic violence who are harmed or killed at the hands of partners.
In all the talk about PTSD – which is a pressing problem in this country, especially for women and men who have served in the military – another set of letters has been almost completely forgotten: VAW. That stands for violence against women, and it is also a huge problem – and one that is largely under-reported, except at the beginning of December each year, when the country gathers to remember the 14 women murdered at the École Polytechnique in 1989. We light candles, shake our heads, and move on.
We move on despite the fact that one woman in Canada is slain every six days by her intimate partner (67 women were killed by their partners in 2014, and 16 men by theirs.) According to a report from the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, in Ontario alone last year, 26 women were the victims of “femicide” – with the suspects charged in their deaths being boyfriends, husbands, relatives or acquaintances. The challenge, which is not adequately funded or addressed, involves protecting these vulnerable women before they are beyond help. Shelters are often overflowing, and affordable accommodation is almost impossible to find for a single woman accompanied by children.
We cannot know what happened in the privacy of the Desmonds’ house in the weeks and months before the killings, but some chilling details could have sounded an alarm: Mr. Desmond wrote on his Facebook page that he was sorry for his “jealousy toward my wife” and “being over-controlling.” They were living apart. Ms. Borden said in her CBC interview that she told her sister to stick with her suffering husband, and Shanna responded: “You’re not going to be saying ‘Shanna, Shanna’ any more when you find Shanna dead.”
If we make this tragedy solely about Lionel Desmond and PTSD, we lose sight of the underlying problems of family violence, which are even more deeply hidden by shame and fear. As Ardath Whynacht, a sociology professor at Mount Allison University, told CBC Radio: “There were four victims that day and we’re talking only about the services that could have helped him, and not, for example, services that might have helped his spouse be safer, in trying to leave that relationship and get space.”
In death, these women killed by their spouses lose their identities. They are reduced to mere casualties in someone else’s violent narrative, doubly victimized for all time. A petition circulating right now asks us all to reconsider the way we tell these stories. It was spurred by the death of Elana Fric in Toronto; her husband, neurosurgeon Mohammed Shamji, is charged with first-degree murder. The petition notes that news stories about Dr. Fric’s violent death dealt at length with the accomplishments of her husband, as if no one could believe a surgeon might commit such a crime, and ignored her own illustrious career. It asks for a more balanced approach in reporting: “Humanizing the (usually) male predators and murderers of women while the achievements and life stories of their victims are ignored only contributes to the epidemic of violence against women.”
Those lessons have not been learned yet. Shanna Desmond was 31, a nurse and a mother, wife and co-worker and friend. There should have been so much more to her story.
The Importance of Recognizing the Murder of Women as a Hate Crime
by Zoe Holman, Jan 11 2017
A leading cause of premature death for women around the world is men, but there is hesitation to acknowledge this fact. Meet the women fighting to get femicide victims the attention they deserve.
Samantha Sykes was 18 when she was lured to the West Yorkshire flat of her friend's ex-boyfriend, who stabbed both her and her friend's younger sister to death.
The incident, which occurred back in 2012, was the source of much media interest at the time—not least because the perpetrator was an Afghan asylum seeker. But the victims are just two among the almost 1,000 women killed by men in England and Wales since 2009, whose murders have gone largely unreported.
The inaugural Femicide Census, released last month, aims to document the details of every such death in the UK, filling an informational black-hole with a clear and striking picture of men's fatal violence against women.
Femicide cuts across geographic, economic, cultural and educational lines, as well as age groups.
According to the Small Arms Survey, femicides account for nearly 20 percent of global homicides, or about 66,000 women annually. By documenting the circumstances of each killing—including the perpetrator, his motive, and the weapon—this census aims to highlight femicide above all as a hate crime, to ensure threats of violence and the killing of women is taken seriously by authorities and the media.
Another key aspect of the project is remembering the victims as individuals, through stories from the victims' family members. "Often I think women and young girls who are murdered become a statistic," Julie Warren-Sykes, the mother of Samantha Sykes, noted in support of the project, which was published by the grassroots NGO Women's Aid. "But this database actually represents real people... they were failed by society."
The bloody toll of this failure has been tracked over the past five years by Karen Ingala Smith, whose blog Counting Dead Women has provided the foundation for the census. As Karen explains, her efforts were prompted in 2012 by a spate of killings of women in her local borough of East London.
"When I started searching for details online," she says, "I came across a whole lot of incidents, and I thought my goodness, how many women have actually been killed?'"
Her research soon highlighted a significant gap in statistics that specifically address the gender-based murder of women by men—what the UN and other bodies define as femicide. The data illustrating the continuing patterns of femicide in the UK was hidden in plain sight inside official homicide reviews, police statistics, and local press articles.
"I had to ask myself why the data-set I wanted wasn't available," she says. "If we don't look at the full picture, [and] actually count it, then we have no idea what we are dealing with."
The statistics in Karen's census paint a concrete picture of femicide—a crime that has been largely unrecognized, despite being the leading cause of premature death for women around the world. It shows that, on average, two women are killed each week in the UK by a partner or ex-partner (in the latter case, most within a year of separating). It also shows that femicide cuts across geographic, economic, cultural and educational lines, as well as age groups.
The overwhelming risk factor, it seems, is proximity: Sixty-four percent of women were killed by a current or ex-partner and the remaining majority by a father, brother, son, colleague, employee, client or friend. Only a fraction of murders (less than 10 percent) were committed by male strangers.
But these clear correlations are typically air-brushed away in reports that obscure the gendered nature of the violence. "Too often, the police and media treat the killing of women as an isolated incident 'with no further threat to the public,' rather than as a pattern," explains Polly Neate, CEO of Women's Aid, which published the census.
"The dots have never been joined up, and nobody acknowledges it. But it is important to indicate the relationship between victims and the perpetrators, otherwise we are missing the fact that women are being killed with alarming frequency by people they should trust the most."
As Neate explains, the gender-specific nature of the crime is key to responding to it—for example, through shaping government policy and police handling of abuse cases. But violence against women remains a glaring omission from hate crime legislation in countries around the world, including the UK, US and Australia. Hate crime definitions instead seem to encompass every other category of bias-related violence, including race, religion, disability, and sexuality.
Hate crime definitions seem to encompass every other category of bias-related violence, including race, religion, disability, and sexuality.
In 2009, for example, President Obama expanded US hate crimes legislation to provide greater protection against violence on the grounds of sexual orientation as well as (perceived) gender identity. However, the new laws still fail to identify women as a specific, significant target of abuse—an exclusion that campaigners say reflects a broader reluctance to acknowledge the widespread nature of hatred of women.
"We [can't] be afraid to say that women are experiencing violence because they are women," says Neate, who supports the campaign to enshrine hate crimes against women in UK law. "Violence against women has its roots in misogyny, but we are reluctant to accept that fact."
Thankfully, some authorities are refusing to shy away from naming hate-crimes against women. The UK's Nottinghamshire Police Force recently spurned critics by expanding its categories of hate-crime to include misogynistic incidents.
The force now defines misogynistic hate crimes as incidents including "behaviour targeted towards a woman by men simply because they are a woman"—a classification it hopes will encourage women to report abuse or harassment that might not typically be considered a crime. Other police forces around England have since expressed interest in following suit.
Although she supports the push for greater acknowledgement and more severe punishment of hate crimes against women, Karen has reservations that focusing on official definitions alone might just isolate or legislate-away a more endemic social problem. "It's not institutions that are creating the problem," she says. "Institutions are made up of people who are subject to the same cultural norms as us, so they just reflect dominant ideas."
Indeed, the antagonism—or outright hatred—levelled at those campaigning around violence against women underscores the pervasiveness of misogynistic attitudes in the mainstream. The clock had hardly ticked past 8am on the morning of the Femicide Census release before social media began erupting with abuse, and a predictable array of responses along the lines of "women are just as bad as men."
"Sadly, it seems that those of us raising feminist issues—rather than changing minds of people—are just exposing ourselves to more sexism and misogyny," Karen says. Much of this resistance, as she sees it, comes from government and social pressure to make public policy and debates gender-neutral, obscuring the reality of female inequality.
"The most important thing is to look at equality and the stereotypes around masculinity and femininity that are the basis of the problem—be it in objectification by the media, prostitution, or, for example, the revival of pink toys and clothes for girls. At the same time as having more freedom for women, we are also creating a backlash, reinforcing gender much more viciously, and making women less valued."
24 May 2017 - Violence against women and girls is still so deeply embedded in cultures around the world that it is almost invisible. Yet this brutality is not inevitable. Once recognised for what it is - a construct of power and a means of maintaining the status-quo - it can be dismantled.
Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNODC Director, quoted this two-decade-old but valid statement of Dr. Charlotte Bunch, to kick-off the official launch of the Femicide Watch Platform prototype at the 26th Session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ).
Drawing attention to the UNODC Global Study on Homicide (2013), he said that one of every two women victims of homicide is killed by her intimate partner or a family member. Given the magnitude of the problem, it was not surprising that 'eliminating all forms of violence against women and children' has become a target under the 2030 Development Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In presence of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dubravka Šimonović, member States and civil society organizations, Henrike Landre presented the online platform which intends to make the invisible visible. The prototype has been developed by the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) Vienna Femicide Team and the United Nations Studies Association, in consultation with many stakeholders, including UNODC and the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
The prototype contains key information on femicide such as definitions, official data and landmark documents, and best practices in various action areas, including data collection efforts, investigations, legislation, and prevention measures, from all over the world. Offering a global and integrated platform, it also provides information for policy and decision makers at all levels ranging from criminal justice system to civil society activists and academics, as well as practitioners.
The launch took place at the CCPCJ with a view to raising awareness and ensuring support necessary to turn the prototype into a global tool. Any country or organisation wishing to contribute can do so by contacting ACUNS or the UN Studies Association.
Group discloses names of 78 women and girls killed across Canada in last six months
Of the 78 victims counted, 12 of them are listed as Indigenous — a factor the report's authors said was important to highlight
The Canadian Press, July 10, 2018
OTTAWA — A research group is hoping to draw more attention to femicide — the killing of women and girls — by publicly disclosing the names of Canadian victims.
The Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability issued a listing this week of 78 victims identified through media reports across the country in the first half of 2018.
The list reads like a journalistic catalogue of violence against women and girls, mostly domestic in nature, identifying victims by age, location and name, where possible. In a number of cases, however, the names are missing.
“This is largely due to a growing trend in some jurisdictions not to release names of victims,” the observatory said in a report on its website.
“We feel it is still important to include an entry for this individual to remember her as a femicide victim.”
The majority of cases were reported in Ontario, followed by Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta.
This is largely due to a growing trend in some jurisdictions not to release names of victims. We feel it is still important to include an entry for this individual to remember her as a femicide victim
Of the 78 victims counted, 12 of them are listed as Indigenous — a factor the report’s authors said was important to highlight, “given the high risks faced by Indigenous women and girls and the ongoing national inquiry into this situation.”
But the authors note such cases are often under-counted because media reports, on which the numbers are based, don’t always include details such as ethnicity.
The observatory was established last year by the University of Guelph’s Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence with a goal of documenting femicide cases and the responses to those deaths by governments and other institutions.
There were several media reports from January through June of this year of “suspicious deaths” or disappearances of women and girls that have not been included in the report, along with deaths resulting from auto accidents or other clearly random acts, said the report’s authors.
However, the report said the number of victims could be revised upwards, depending on the outcomes of investigations into those deaths.
We won’t stop lone-actor attacks until we understand violence against women
March 19, 2018
Many lone-actor attacks, including the 2014 Sydney siege, are carried out by perpetrators with a history of violence against women. Dean Lewis/AAP
Professor of Criminology, Monash University
Professor, Centre for Women's Studies & Gender Research, Sociology, Monash University
Kate Fitz-Gibbon is a member of the Monash Gender and Family Violence Research Focus Program. Kate receives funding for family violence related research from the Australian Research Council, ANROWS, and Family Safety Victoria. Kate is a member of the Victorian Government Expert Committee on Perpetrator Interventions.
Sandra Walklate is Eleanor Rathbone Chair of Sociology at the University of Liverpool, U.K. conjoint Chair of Criminology, Monash University Australia. She is a member of the Monash Gender and Family Violence New Frameworks for Prevention Focus Program at Monash University.
The Victorian government recently announced a new A$31.6 million centre to prevent and combat terrorist and lone-actor attacks. The centre will include specialist police, forensic and mental health experts, and a senior analyst to respond to people who pose such a risk.
However, the new centre will not include experts on family violence and other forms of violence against women. Failure to understand the links between lone-actor and terrorist violence and violence against women will undermine the centre’s effectiveness.
Lone-actor attacks and violence against women
The links between terrorist attacks and violence against women, most commonly family violence, are now well established.
Research in the US shows more than 50% of mass shootings in that country between 2009 and 2014 were preceded by the perpetrator’s murder of an intimate (ex)partner, or a family member. In addition, 16% of the attackers, overwhelmingly men, had been charged with domestic violence.
Infamously, Man Haron Monis, the gunman in the 2014 Sydney Lindt Café siege, was on bail at the time of the siege for dozens of sex offences, and for being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.
This history of violence against women is evident in the biographies of other terrorists. These include one of the Tsarnaev brothers, responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings; Omar Mateen, who attacked a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people in 2016; Khalid Masood, who crashed his car into pedestrians and stabbed a police officer in London in 2017; and Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who killed 80 people in Nice, France, in 2016.
Police on the streets of London in the aftermath of the 2017 attack near parliament. See Li/AAP
Most media profiles, reflecting the focus of security experts and many academics, treat these histories of violence against women as mere detail. Even scholars who acknowledge the growing evidence of a correlation between violence against women and terrorism and lone-actor attacks fail to understand its full significance.
The authors of The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism, for example, approach the violence against women that so often precedes more public attacks as merely a “precursor to crime”.
The lone wolves they examine – many of whom have histories of violence against women – are seen as “deeply troubled men” who turned violent, rather than violent men who went on to commit violence against the wider community.
Throughout this book, male violence against women is described in terms such as “marital discord” or “personal conflict with a woman”. A female partner, suffering physical and psychological violence at the hands of a man who would go on to commit an act of terrorism, is described as an “enabler” because she did not report his plans to authorities.
This characterisation highlights a misunderstanding of the nature, dynamics and seriousness of family violence.
Failure to see violence against women as “violence” was tragically apparent in the case of the 2014 Sydney siege. Despite Monis’ history of sex crimes and involvement in the murder of his ex-wife, the lead siege negotiator said he believed the sex crimes were “passive” and indicated the sex offences didn’t suggest to him a history of violence.
A psychiatrist providing advice to police managing the siege described these same crimes as “acts of seduction”. Such characterisations of violence against women as essentially non-violent influenced the tactical decisions made by police managing the siege, meaning the threat Monis posed was not fully appreciated.
Why the centre must take violence against women seriously
If, as announced, the new centre against lone-actor attacks is designed to “keep the community safe”, it needs to have a clear focus on understanding violence against women and family violence.
It is concerning that none of the experts listed to form the new centre appears to hold specific expertise in gendered violence.
The centre to prevent terrorist and lone-actor attacks does not appear to involve experts in family violence. James Ross/AAP
The Andrews government has made a massive investment in changing approaches to family violence and violence against women, in response to landmark recommendations by the Royal Commission into Family Violence. The state government is taking violence against women seriously.
Read more: Victoria leads the way on family violence, but Canberra needs to lift its game
However, the distinction that continues to be drawn between public violence such as terrorism and lone-actor attacks, and violence against women, belies this commitment, undermining the safety and security of all.
The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
#NotInvisible: Why are Native American women vanishing?
By SHARON COHEN, Sep. 06, 2018
VALIER, Mont. (AP) — The searchers rummage through the abandoned trailer, flipping over a battered couch, unfurling a stained sheet, looking for clues. It’s blistering hot and a grizzly bear lurking in the brush unleashes a menacing growl. But they can’t stop.
Not when a loved one is still missing.
The group moves outside into knee-deep weeds, checking out a rusted garbage can, an old washing machine — and a surprise: bones.
Ashley HeavyRunner Loring, a 20-year-old member of the Blackfeet Nation, was last heard from around June 8, 2017. Since then her older sister, Kimberly, has been looking for her.
She has logged about 40 searches, with family from afar sometimes using Google Earth to guide her around closed roads. She’s hiked in mountains, shouting her sister’s name. She’s trekked through fields, gingerly stepping around snakes. She’s trudged through snow, rain and mud, but she can’t cover the entire 1.5 million-acre reservation, an expanse larger than Delaware.
“I’m the older sister. I need to do this,” says 24-year-old Kimberly, swatting away bugs, her hair matted from the heat. “I don’t want to search until I’m 80. But if I have to, I will.”
Searchers pause against the scenery while looking for clues in the disappearance of Ashley HeavyRunner Loring.
Ashley’s disappearance is one small chapter in the unsettling story of missing and murdered Native American women and girls. No one knows precisely how many there are because some cases go unreported, others aren’t documented thoroughly and there isn’t a specific government database tracking these cases. But one U.S. senator with victims in her home state calls this an epidemic, a long-standing problem linked to inadequate resources, outright indifference and a confusing jurisdictional maze.
Now, in the era of #MeToo, this issue is gaining political traction as an expanding activist movement focuses on Native women — a population known to experience some of the nation’s highest rates of murder, sexual violence and domestic abuse.
“Just the fact we’re making policymakers acknowledge this is an issue that requires government response, that’s progress in itself,” says Annita Lucchesi, a cartographer and descendant of the Cheyenne who is building a database of missing and murdered indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada — a list of some 2,700 names so far.
As her endless hunt goes on, Ashley’s sister is joined on this day by a cousin, Lissa, and four others, including a family friend armed with a rifle and pistols. They scour the trailer where two “no trespassing” signs are posted and a broken telescope looks out the kitchen window. One of Ashley’s cousins lived here, and there are reports it’s among the last places she was seen.
“We’re following every rumor there is, even if it sounds ridiculous,” Lissa Loring says.
This search is motivated, in part, by the family’s disappointment with the reservation police force — a common sentiment for many relatives of missing Native Americans.
Outside, the group stumbles upon something intriguing: the bones, one small and straight, the other larger and shaped like a saddle. It’s enough to alert police, who respond in five squad cars, rumbling across the ragged field, kicking up clouds of dust. After studying the bones, one officer breaks the news: They’re much too large for a human; they could belong to a deer.
There will be no breakthrough today. Tomorrow the searchers head to the mountains.
For many in Native American communities across the nation, the problem of missing and murdered women is deeply personal.
“I can’t think of a single person that I know ... who doesn’t have some sort of experience,” says Ivan MacDonald, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and a filmmaker. “These women aren’t just statistics. These are grandma, these are mom. This is an aunt, this is a daughter. This is someone who was loved ... and didn’t get the justice that they so desperately needed.”
MacDonald and his sister, Ivy, recently produced a documentary on Native American women in Montana who vanished or were killed. One story hits particularly close to home. Their 7-year-old cousin, Monica, disappeared from a reservation school in 1979. Her body was found frozen on a mountain 20 miles away, and no one has ever been arrested.
Roxanne White, whose aunt was murdered in 1996, sings and drums a women’s warrior and honor song created for missing and murdered indigenous women.
There are many similar mysteries that follow a pattern: A woman or girl goes missing, there’s a community outcry, a search is launched, a reward may be offered. There may be a quick resolution. But often, there’s frustration with tribal police and federal authorities, and a feeling many cases aren’t handled urgently or thoroughly.
So why does this happen? MacDonald offers his own harsh assessment.
“It boils down to racism,” he argues. “You could sort of tie it into poverty or drug use or some of those factors ... (but) the federal government doesn’t really give a crap at the end of the day.”
Tribal police and investigators from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs serve as law enforcement on reservations, which are sovereign nations. But the FBI investigates certain offenses and, if there’s ample evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes major felonies such as murder, kidnapping and rape if they happen on tribal lands.
Lissa Loring points Blackfeet law enforcement officers to a trailer in Valier, Mont., where she believes clues have been found during a search for her cousin.
Former North Dakota federal prosecutor Tim Purdon calls it a “jurisdictional thicket” of overlapping authority and different laws depending on the crime, where it occurred (on a reservation or not) and whether a tribal member is the victim or perpetrator. Missing person cases on reservations can be especially tricky. Some people run away, but if a crime is suspected, it’s difficult to know how to get help.
“Where do I go to file a missing person’s report?” Purdon asks. “Do I go to the tribal police? ... In some places they’re underfunded and undertrained. The Bureau of Indian Affairs? The FBI? They might want to help, but a missing person case without more is not a crime, so they may not be able to open an investigation. ... Do I go to one of the county sheriffs? ... If that sounds like a horribly complicated mishmash of law enforcement jurisdictions that would tremendously complicate how I would try to find help, it’s because that’s what it is.”
Sarah Deer, a University of Kansas professor, author of a book on sexual violence in Indian Country and member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, offers another explanation for the missing and murdered: Native women, she says, have long been considered invisible and disposable in society, and those vulnerabilities attract predators.
“It’s made us more of a target, particularly for the women who have addiction issues, PTSD and other kinds of maladies,” she says. “You have a very marginalized group, and the legal system doesn’t seem to take proactive attempts to protect Native women in some cases.”
Those attitudes permeate reservations where tribal police are frequently stretched thin and lack training and families complain officers don’t take reports of missing women seriously, delaying searches in the first critical hours.
“They almost shame the people that are reporting, (and say), ’Well, she’s out drinking. Well, she probably took up with some man,’” says Carmen O’Leary, director of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains. “A lot of times families internalize that kind of shame, (thinking) that it’s her fault somehow.”
The result: Some families start their own investigations.
Matthew Lone Bear spent nine months looking for his older sister, Olivia — using drones and four-wheelers, fending off snakes and crisscrossing nearly a million acres, often on foot. The 32-year-old mother of five had last been seen driving a Chevy Silverado on Oct. 25, 2017, in downtown New Town, on the oil-rich terrain of North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation.
On July 31, volunteers using sonar found the truck with Olivia inside submerged in a lake less than a mile from her home. It’s a body of water that had been searched before, her brother says, but “obviously not as thoroughly, or they would have found it a long time ago.”
Lone Bear says authorities were slow in launching their search — it took days to get underway — and didn’t get boats in the water until December, despite his frequent pleas. He’s working to develop a protocol for missing person cases for North Dakota’s tribes “that gets the red tape and bureaucracy out of the way,” he says.
The FBI is investigating Olivia’s death. “She’s home,” her brother adds, “but how did she get there? We don’t have any of those answers.”
Other families have been waiting for decades.
Carolyn DeFord’s mother, Leona LeClair Kinsey, a member of the Puyallup Tribe, vanished nearly 20 years ago in La Grande, Oregon. “There was no search party. There was no, ’Let’s tear her house apart and find a clue,’” DeFord says. “I just felt hopeless and helpless.” She ended up creating her own missing person’s poster.
“There’s no way to process the kind of loss that doesn’t stop,” says DeFord, who lives outside Tacoma, Washington. “Somebody asked me awhile back, ’What would you do if you found her? What would that mean?’... It would mean she can come home. She’s a human being who deserves to be honored and have her children and her grandchildren get to remember her and celebrate her life.”
It’s another Native American woman whose name is attached to a federal bill aimed at addressing this issue. Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, 22, was murdered in 2017 while eight months pregnant. Her body was found in a river, wrapped in plastic and duct tape. A neighbor in Fargo, North Dakota, cut her baby girl from her womb. The child survived and lives with her father. The neighbor, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to life without parole; her boyfriend’s trial is set to start in September.
In a speech on the Senate floor last fall, North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp told the stories of four other Native American women from her state whose deaths were unsolved. Displaying a giant board featuring their photos, she decried disproportionate incidences of violence that go “unnoticed, unreported or underreported.”
Her bill, “Savanna’s Act,” aims to improve tribal access to federal crime information databases. It would also require the Department of Justice to develop a protocol to respond to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans and the federal government to provide an annual report on the numbers.
At the end of 2017, Native Americans and Alaska Natives made up 1.8 percent of ongoing missing cases in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, even though they represent 0.8 percent of the U.S. population. These cases include those lingering and open from year to year, but experts say the figure is low, given that many tribes don’t have access to the database. Native women accounted for more than 0.7 percent of the missing cases — 633 in all — though they represent about 0.4 percent of the U.S. population.
“Violence against Native American women has not been prosecuted,” Heitkamp said in an interview. “We have not really seen the urgency in closing cold cases. We haven’t seen the urgency when someone goes missing. ... We don’t have the clear lines of authority that need to be established to prevent these tragedies.”
In August, Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, asked the leaders of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to hold a hearing to address the problem.
Lawmakers in a handful of states also are responding. In Montana, a legislative tribal relations committee has proposals for five bills to deal with missing persons. In July 2017, 22 of 72 missing girls or women — or about 30 percent — were Native American, according to Montana’s Department of Justice. But Native females comprise only 3.3 percent of the state’s population.
It’s one of many statistics that reveal a grim reality.
On some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average and more than half of Alaska Native and Native women have experienced sexual violence at some point, according to the U.S. Justice Department. A 2016 study found more than 80 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetimes.
Randy Ortiz wears a shirt with the names of missing and murdered indigenous women as he searches for Ashley HeavyRunner Loring in the mountains of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Yet another federal report on violence against women included some startling anecdotes from tribal leaders. Sadie Young Bird, who heads victim services for the Three Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthold, described how in 1½ years, her program had dealt with five cases of murdered or missing women, resulting in 18 children losing their mothers; two cases were due to intimate partner violence.
“Our people go missing at an alarming rate, and we would not hear about many of these cases without Facebook,” she said in the report.
Canada has been wrestling with this issue for decades and recently extended a government inquiry that began in 2016 into missing and murdered indigenous women. A report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police concluded that from 1980 to 2012 there were 1,181 indigenous women murdered or whose missing person cases were unresolved. Lucchesi, the researcher, says she found an additional 400 to 500 cases in her database work.
Despite some high-profile cases in the U.S., many more get scant attention, Lucchesi adds.
“Ashley has been the face of this movement,” she says. “But this movement started before Ashley was born. For every Ashley, there are 200 more.”
Browning is the heart of the Blackfeet Nation, a distinctly Western town with calf-roping competitions, the occasional horseback rider ambling down the street — and a hardscrabble reality. Nearly 40 percent of the residents live in poverty. The down-and-out loiter on corners. Shuttered homes with “Meth Unit” scrawled on wooden boards convey the damage caused by drugs.
A couple walks through the main business district on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Mont.
With just about 1,000 residents, many folks are related and secrets have a way of spilling out.
“There’s always somebody talking,” says Ashley’s cousin, Lissa, “and it seems like to us since she disappeared, everybody got quiet. I don’t know if they’re scared, but so are we. That’s why we need people to speak up.”
Missing posters of Ashley are displayed in grocery stores and the occasional sandwich shop. They show a fresh-faced, grinning woman, flashing the peace sign. In one, she gazes into the camera, her long hair blowing in the wind.
One of nine children, including half-siblings, Ashley had lived with her grandmother outside town. Kimberly remembers her sister as funny and feisty, the keeper of the family photo albums who always carried a camera. She learned to ride a horse before a bike and liked to whip up breakfasts of biscuits and gravy that could feed an army.
She was interested in environmental science and was completing her studies at Blackfeet Community College, with plans to attend the University of Montana.
Kimberly says Ashley contacted her asking for money. Days later, she was gone.
At first, her relatives say, tribal police suggested Ashley was old enough to take off on her own. The Bureau of Indian Affairs investigated, teaming up with reservation police, and interviewed 55 people and conducted 38 searches. There are persons of interest, spokeswoman Nedra Darling says, but she wouldn’t elaborate. A $10,000 reward is being offered.
The FBI took over the case in January after a lead steered investigators off the reservation and into another state. The agency declined comment.
Ashley’s disappearance is just the latest trauma for the Blackfeet Nation.
A missing poster for Ashley HeavyRunner Loring is posted to the entrance of a grocery store on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Theda New Breast, a founder of the Native Wellness Institute, has worked with Lucchesi to compile a list of missing and murdered women in the Blackfoot Confederacy — four tribes in the U.S. and Canada. Long-forgotten names are added as families break generations of silence. A few months ago, a woman revealed her grandmother had been killed in the 1950s by her husband and left in a shallow grave.
“Everybody knew about it, but nobody talked about it,” New Breast says, and others keep coming forward — perhaps, in part, because of the #MeToo movement. “Every time I bring out the list, more women tell their secret. I think that they find their voice.”
Though these crimes have shaken the community, “there is a tendency to be desensitized to violence,” says MacDonald, the filmmaker. “I wouldn’t call it avoidance. But if we would feel the full emotions, there would be people crying in the streets.”
His aunt, Mabel Wells, would be among them.
Nearly 40 years have passed since that December day when her daughter, Monica, vanished. Wells remembers every terrible moment: The police handing her Monica’s boot after it was found by a hunter and the silent scream in her head: “It’s hers! It’s hers!” Her brother describing the little girl’s coat flapping in the wind after her daughter’s body was found frozen on a mountain. The pastor’s large hands that held hers as he solemnly declared: “Monica’s with the Lord.”
Monica’s father, Kenny Still Smoking, recalls that a medicine man told him his daughter’s abductor was a man who favored Western-style clothes and lived in a red house in a nearby town, but there was no practical way to pursue that suggestion.
Kenny Still Smoking wipes his eye while talking about his 7-year-old daughter, Monica, who disappeared from school in 1979 and was found frozen on a mountain.
He recently visited Monica’s grave, kneeling next to a white cross peeking out from tall grass, studying his daughter’s smiling photo, cracked with age. He gently placed his palm on her name etched into a headstone. “I let her know that I’m still kicking,” he says.
Wells visits the gravesite, too — every June 2, Monica’s birthday. She still hopes to see the perpetrator caught. “I want to sit with them and say, ‘Why? Why did you choose my daughter?’”
Even now, she can’t help but think of Monica alone on that mountain. “I wonder if she was hollering for me, saying, ‘Mom, help!’”
Ash-lee! Ash-lee!! Ash-lee! Ash-lee!!
Some 20 miles northwest of Browning, the searchers have navigated a rugged road lined with barren trees scorched from an old forest fire. They have a panoramic view of majestic snowcapped mountains. A woman’s stained sweater was found here months ago, making the location worthy of another search. It’s not known whether the garment may be Ashley’s.
First Kimberly, then Lissa Loring, call Ashley’s name — in different directions. The repetition four times by each woman is a ritual designed to beckon someone’s spirit.
Lissa says Ashley’s disappearance constantly weighs on her. “All that plays in my head is where do we look? Who’s going to tell us the next lead?”
That weekend at the annual North American Indian Days in Browning, the family marched in a parade with a red banner honoring missing and murdered indigenous women. They wore T-shirts with an image of Ashley and the words: “We will never give up.”
Friends and family members of Ashley HeavyRunner Loring hold a traditional blanket dance before the crowd at the North American Indian Days celebration to raise awareness and funds for her search.
Then Ashley’s grandmother and others took to a small arena for what’s known as a blanket dance, to raise money for the search. As drums throbbed, they grasped the edges of a blue blanket. Friends stepped forward, dropping in cash, some tearfully embracing Ashley’s relatives.
The past few days reminded Kimberly of a promise she’d made to Ashley when their mother was wrestling with substance abuse problems and the girls were briefly in a foster home. Kimberly was 8 then; Ashley was just 5.
A woman performs a traditional Native American dance during the North American Indian Days celebration on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
“’We have to stick together,’” she’d told her little sister.
“I told her I would never leave her. And if she was going to go anywhere, I would find her.”