In May, Deborra “Tashawn” McClendon was killed by crossfire while walking through her North Philadelphia apartment complex. In September, 23-year-old Crystal Roman-Benitez was killed in front of her home by flying bullets minutes after putting her toddler to bed. Last month, 16-year-old Ceani Smalls was slain by a man firing random shots as she stepped off a SEPTA bus.
And the city was rocked by the October death of 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera, who was hit by bullets fired into her house by a man allegedly intent on killing someone else.
The gruesome list of last year’s female murder victims may lead some to wonder whether Philadelphia is becoming more lethal for women and girls. Indeed, 2019 brought the highest tally of females killed in Philadelphia in more than a dozen years, and the total number of homicides in the city reached 356, the highest since 2007.
As Philadelphia’s deadliest year in a decade came to an end, a reader contacted Curious Philly, our forum that invites readers to send their questions to our reporters, to ask how many women were killed in Philadelphia last year.
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The answer: 49 females, all but 15 killed in shootings. Nearly 80% of those killed in shootings were black females; the majority of people killed in the city were black, according to year-end statistics from the Philadelphia Police Department.
On average, 37 females have been killed each year in the city for the last decade. More than a quarter of all homicides of Philadelphia women in the last decade were caused by domestic violence, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV).
Women are more likely than men to be shot by intimate partners. Nationally, about 40% of female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner, according to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
“Women in violent situations are definitely at a higher risk" of being killed, said Julie Bancroft, spokesperson for the state organization. “Someone in an abusive situation is at that high level of risk.”
Statewide, 84 women and 37 men were killed in domestic-violence cases in 2018, according to the PCADV. Fifteen of the victims were in Philadelphia; one of them was male.
“The percentage of total homicides [of both men and women] that are domestic violence is at the highest it’s been since 2010,” said Jeannine Lisitski, executive director of the Philadelphia organization Women Against Abuse.
Fatal violence is also more likely to affect transgender women, particularly of color, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In May, Michelle “Tamika” Washington, a transgender woman and Philadelphia LGBT advocate, was found fatally shot in North Philadelphia, one of at least 25 trans women to be killed nationwide last year.
The share of city homicides committed by firearm reached 80% in 2019, a slight drop from recent years.
Still, more women were shot in Philadelphia in 2019 than in any other year since 2011. About nine percent of the city’s 1,459 shooting victims, or 137, were female. Of those, 34 died.
That’s the highest yearly total for shootings since 2010.
And 2020 didn’t start out with much hope. By the end of its second day, eight people, including one woman, had been shot across the city. Three died.