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Understanding 'Passion Killings' in Botswana: An Investigation of Media Framing

Article excerpt

Abstract

In Botswana, local news media outlets have documented the prevalence of so-called 'passion killings'; however, no published studies have been conducted that examine these intimate partner homicides. Using ethnographic content analysis informed by a theory of framing, this study investigated the characteristics of these crimes, and societal attitudes, myths and stereotypes regarding intimate partner homicides and passion killings. Articles from four Batswana newspapers were analyzed. The information derived from this analysis is used to develop future directions for the study of intimate partner violence and homicides in Botswana.

Keywords: intimate partner homicide; passion killings; Botswana; media flaming

Introduction

Despite increasing attention from the international community, violence against women (VAW) remains a global public health and human rights issue, and continues to impact the physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health of women (Green, 1999; World Health Organization, 2005). According to the World Health Organization (2005), one of the most common forms of VAW is that committed by a male husband or partner. This intimate partner violence (IPV) is not limited to violent acts or threats--intimate partner homicide (IPH) comprises a subset of this violence. In Botswana, a country in sub-Saharan Africa, these homicides are locally referred to as 'passion killings,' and are increasingly prevalent (Alao, 2006). Despite their brutal nature, little attention has been paid to the so-called passion killings in the research literature; however, media reports provide information about, and insight into, these crimes. This study endeavored to investigate the portrayal of IPH and passion killings in Batswana (3) news media, in order to expand understanding of IPV in Botswana.

Intimate Partner Violence in Botswana

Though limited, the published research literature provides some discourse around IPV in Botswana (Becker, 2003; Macdonald, 1996; Maundeni, 2002; McCall & Resick, 2003; Wilson & Daly, 1993). According to this literature, IPV is widespread, and in part stems from the patriarchal gender role system of traditional Tswana culture, (4) where this violence was considered acceptable and commonplace (Macdonald, 1996; Maundeni, 2002). Phaladze and Tlou (2006) identify the important role of past Batswana cultural norms in understanding the current situation of women in Botswana. For example, under Batswana customary law, (5) women were traditionally considered a minor and under their husband's sole guardianship. Though this law no longer stands, it has consequently continued to "entrench women's subordination to men" (Phaldze & Tlou, 2006, p. 27), and must be considered when investigating the prevalence of IPV. Maundeni (2002) continues this discourse in his study of wife abuse in Botswana. In his discussion of the social stigma attached to women experiencing domestic violence, he postulates that among other things, cultural factors not only play a key role in ongoing IPV, but are also primary reasons why women stay in abusive relationships; that is, women are socialized to accept their inferior status in society and their subordination to men. Several authors emphasize the importance of recognizing the impact of conservative gender norms on cultural acceptability of partner abuse in patriarchal societies; in Botswana, as in other sub-Saharan African countries, women's violation of these norms is seen as justification for the perpetration of IPV (Maundeni, 2002; Rani, Bonu, & Diop-Sidibe, 2004).

Only one published study was found to discuss the trend of passion killings in Botswana. According to Alao (2006), passion killings are "viewed as a sign of patriarchal crisis" (p. 341), and are "directed at females, where either a husband or boyfriend decides to kill the female partner" (p. 341). Again, the role of patriarchy is emphasized. …