Nowhere To Turn: The Undeclared War on Women in Greece

This was not the first, nor would it be the last femicide to occur in Greece this year, a country with the highest rate of men killing women in Europe.

On June 9, the body of an 11-year old girl was found outside a small Greek town in the Peloponnese. She had been brutally killed with a screwdriver, resisting rape by her 37-year old uncle. In 2017 this same man was convicted for the rape of another minor girl and sentenced to prison but never served, due to a stunningly slow and inept court system that released him on appeal until 2025.

This was not the first, nor would it be the last femicide to occur in Greece this year, a country with the highest rate of men killing women in Europe.

On April 2, Kyriaki Grivam was stabbed repeatedly outside the Athens police department where she had gone to request protection against an ex-boyfriend. A police statement followed, stating the victim visited the precinct to report her former boyfriend had been stalking her. This was not the first time she had made such a report, and this time she requested a patrol car and officer to drive her home. The officer reportedly told her that “police cars are not a taxi service.’ Tragically, while making the call, the ex-boyfriend approached her and stabbed her to death.

The young woman’s death—she was only 28 years old- triggered nationwide outrage, with many leading feminist groups and politicians demanding femicide, (intentional killing with a gender-related motive), be codified into Greek law. In their 2024 report titled “Trapped in Darkness,” the Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Reporting stated there is no official record for femicide in Greece and the government insists there is no reason to make femicide a crime. 

In the days following Kyriaki’s murder, women and their supporters took to the streets of Athens to protest, some carrying signs reading ‘a patrol car is not a taxi.” Kyriaki’s father claimed that police refused to meet with him, and that he was never officially informed of her murder by police, he learned about it from a journalist. Days later, the 39-year old man who was arrested for the murder was taken to a prison psychiatric ward as the investigation continues.

A person holding a sign

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A woman protests femicide, with a sign reading ‘ We are not all here, the nurdered are missing’ (Anna Pantelia for Al Jazeera)

In the case of the Pyrgos victim, the Greek Supreme Court is now investigating the three female judges and prosecutor who allowed her murderer to walk free seven years prior. On June 11, an angry crowd outside the courtroom, including members of the girl’s family attempted to pull the man from the police car, threatening to ’lynch’ him.

While femicide as a distinct criminal act has been incorporated into the law in many countries, in Greece the term has not yet been legally recognized. This kind of “epidemic” of murders of women by their current or former partners seems to have intensified since the Covid pandemic. An eerily similar case to last week’s tragedy occurred on the island of Zakynthos in 2022, when a married woman sought police protection against her husband after being brutally beaten. She returned home, was beaten and killed.

A comprehensive 2023 report conducted by European Data Journalism Network with the participation of newsrooms across Europe revealed that Greece had the highest increase in femicides in 2021 with an increase of a staggering 187.5% from 8 incidents in 2020 to 23 in 2021. But across the region, in Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Germany, femicides are on the rise, fueling the demand from women and lawmakers to recognize femicide as a crime in its own right. So far only three European states, Slovakia, Cyprus, and Malta have ventured to take this step, although Croatia has introduced legislation. But there is also an alarming lack of data. According to the report, no official data has been published at a European Union level for the period after 2018, and the findings of a survey started in 2020 by the European Institute for Gender Equity are still not published.

The term ‘femicide’ was first introduced by Diana Russell while testifying in 1976 before the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women. She defined femicide as ‘the murders of women by men motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure or a sense of ownership of women.’ The importance of the term femicide is linked to the political need to recognize this is happening and investigate the sociocultural reasons behind the killing of women. But since Russell’s definition, much debate has developed, urging lawmakers to go beyond gender-related motives to the broader patriarchal and violent structures of society, looking at a wider range of instances where femicide occurs, such as during war.

Anna Vouyioukas, a social scientist, gender equality expert and advocacy officer at Diotima, a center for research on gender rights and equality in Greece, told Al Jazeera’s Katy Fallon that it was “obvious that femicides may be the result of institutional violence as the state does not provide guarantees to women, and does not create conditions of safety in the community, at home, at work, in the public space and not even in the close vicinity of a police station”.

In Greece there is no specific law for the criminal prosecution of the act of femicide, and so the phenomenon is monitored in the country through the collection of data regarding the female victims of intentional homicide, while the relationship with the perpetrator is generated in combination with the law for the handling of domestic violence. For the EDJNet report, data in Greece was collected by the General Secretariat for Gender Equality, which in turn collected data from the Hellenic Police and the Ministry of Justice. But these reports typically do not match independent reports conducted by NGO’s and violence-monitoring groups, according to Professor Athena Pegglidou, who founded the European Observatory on Femicide. For 2020 and 2021, the non-official number of femicides recorded by the Greek section of the European Observatory on Femicide was higher in Greece than the official number by 2.1 times in 2020 (19 vs. 9 victims), 1.34 times in 2021 (31 vs. 23) and 1 in 2022 (25 vs. 24).

Interestingly, Greece also topped the list of European countries when it came to data on psychological gender-based violence, seeing an increase of 108.4% from 2021 to 2020, and 28% increase in 2022. Moreover, as revealed by the investigation, there is a remarkable Europe-wide increase in the appeal for help from victims of domestic violence or third parties to national support lines, such as the “SOS 15900 Line” in Greece. However, in 2023 in Greece, unlike other countries, a decrease (-21.62%) was observed (-21.62%), without knowing whether this is related to fewer incidents of violence or a tendency to avoid calling for help on the part of women.

Worldwide, it’s no surprise that any form of violence against women is under-reported and under-recorded. What laws do exist are oftentimes not enforced. Jane Louloudi, a journalist at the Mediterranean Institute for Investigative Reporting cites the Greek cases of murders of women who had already filed restraining orders against their partners. “It’s not just about creating new laws,” she emphasized, “it’s about enforcing the ones that already exist.”

There is some flickering light in the darkness. On February 6, a provisional agreement was finally reached between the European Parliament and Council on EU-wide rules to combat gender-based violence and protect its victims, especially women and victims of domestic violence. It includes criminalization of certain forms of GBV, tougher rules on cyber violence, better access to justice, protection and prevention, as well as establishing enhanced reporting and evidence gathering by authorities. In Greece a recent bill of the Ministry of Justice on combatting domestic violence against women was voted in parliament with rapid procedures, focusing on the tightening of penalties for domestic violence. According to the MIIR report though, there is also no provision in the new law for speeding up procedures and to prioritize trials for domestic violence incidents, although since November 2021, a critical paper circulated by the Supreme Court prosecutor, Vasilis Pliotas, called on prosecutors to intervene imminently, to further the process of arresting the accused perpetrators of such crimes and for the related criminal cases to be heard as a matter of priority in court, so as to avoid all delays in delivering justice. In fact, the paper explicitly mentioned the term “femicide” – the first time a senior prosecutor had made an argument for the legal adoption of the term in Greece – and also called for victims of domestic violence to be supported when reporting violent behavior against them.

While Greek and European women deal with the threat of a right-wing surge in Europe, these measures are essential in establishing protocols for progress, but they are far from enough. This concern about the changing political and social environment in Europe in relation to the increase in violence against women is also expressed by Cristina Fabre Rosell, EIGE’s Gender-based Violence Team Leader, who told MIIR that “Three years after the Covid pandemic we don’t know if it’s still because of it, or because extreme forms of violence against women have increased due to different causes that are also related to the increase of the far right movements and the anti-gender narrative.”

About the Author:

Amie Williams is an American Documentary filmmaker and journalist living in Athens, Greece.