In 2014, 14 UK women were killed with their son named as primary suspect:
- 30 Jan 2014: Karen Wild, was found dead through stabbing. A 22-year-old man, said to be her son, Lian Wild, was charged with her murder.
- 12 Feb 2014: A woman who cannot be named for legal reasons was found dead in Bow, London. A 15 year old boy, thought to be her son, was charged with her murder.
- 21 April 2014: Malgorzata Dantes, 54, and her husband Leszek were stabbed to death. Their son Kamil Dantes was charged with their murders.
- 9 May 2014: Tamara Holboll, 67, was found dead with multiple stab wounds following a fire at her home. Her son, Peter Holboll, 44, was charged with her murder.
- 31 May 2014: Barbara Hobbis, 79, was strangled by her 58-year-old son, Geoffrey Hobbis.
- 3 June 2014: Yvonne Fox, 87, was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Her son, Paul Fox, was charged with her murder.
- 4 June 2014: Margaret Evans, 69, was beaten to death. Her son, Alun Evan, 32, was detained under the mental health act.
- 7 July 2014: Quoi Chang, 50, and her husband Pin Chang, 58, were both stabbed to death in their home. Their 23-year-old son, Carl Chang was charged with their murders.
- 19 September 2014: Dorothy Brown, 66, and her husband Paul Brown, 73 were stabbed to death. Their son Timothy Brown, 46, was charged with their murders.
- 30 September 2014: Catherine McDonald, 57, was found dead. She had been stabbed and asphyxiated. Her 27-year-old son, Alex McDonald, was charged with her murder.
- 11 Oct 2014: Maria Mayes, 67, was stabbed to death. Her son, Stuart Mayes, was charged with her murder.
- 12 December 2014: Carol Ruddy, 54, and her husband Eric, 64, were found with serious injuries at their home. Their son Martin Ruddy, 28, was charged with their
- 22 December 2014 was the last day that Carol-Anne Taggart was seen alive. Her body was discovered on 12 January 2015. Her son Ross Taggart, 30, was charged with her murder.
- 31 December 2014: Sandra Brotherton, 60, was found stabbed to death. Her 29 year-old son was arrested on suspicion of murder and detained under the mental health act
In addition, one woman was killed by her grandson, one by her step-grandson and a third woman’s stepson was charged with her murder:
- 11 Feb 2014: Clara Patterson, 82, and her son Ray, 61, were found dead. Their grandson/son was found guilty of manslaughter and detained indefinitely.
- 18 June 2014: Una Dorney, 87, was found dead in the care home in which she lived. Her step-grandson, Ryan Guest, 33, pleaded guilty to her murder.
- 1 November 2014: Ann Cluysenaar (Jackson), 78, was found dead. Her stepson, Timothy Jackson, has been charged with her murder.
Hooray! Feminists have managed to make inequality between the sexes so obviously ludicrous, so obviously discriminatory, so unpalatable, that even men want in on the act. Sadly though, I think this is more an ‘own goal’ than a cause for celebration. It’s not unusual any more for a man to say that he’s a feminist, and it’s even less unusual for women to say that men can and should be involved in feminism. But for this to have become possible, it has been necessary for a shift in the understanding of what feminism is. Feminism, women’s fight for liberation from male oppression, has become widely understood as the struggle for gender equality. That this shift has happened as men have clamoured to be involved, is not a coincidence. Invite the oppressor to the game and the goal shifts. But the shift renders feminism meaningless. Gender is a social construct, it is one of patriarchy’s best tools for maintaining inequality and the illusion that inequality between the sexes is natural and inevitable. Gender is a hierarchy, it is subordination and domination sugar coated in pink and blue. Gender equality is an oxymoron, gender is inequality. Feminism needs to fight for the eradication of gender, not for it to be enshrined and protected in legislation.
As Andrea Dworkin identified, feminism requires that which patriarchy destroys in women, our ability to confront and resist male power. As women, too many of us are caught up in societal Stockholm syndrome. As an oppressed group too many of us have bonded with those who hold power and see society though their perspective. It is an understandable survival strategy, but it is also one of the ways our collusion is created. I understand how women love their male partners, their sons, fathers, male friends and relatives. I understand that some men, maybe even many or most men, are good men who respect women and purport to or even genuinely desire equality with women. As a sentient human being I understand that masculinity encompasses ways of being that some men reject or even feel imprisoned by. As a human being, I can sympathise with and support their desire for change. Yet cries that ‘patriarchy hurts men too’ leave the feminist in me unmoved. These positions are not mutually exclusive, but feminism needs to centre on women’s oppression, tinkering with gender equality will never produce the change for women that feminism demands. Whilst feminism must ensure that the additional structural oppressions faced by some women are not ignored and cannot be blind to the ways that class and race bring advantages for some women and disadvantages for others, the focus must be on women’s oppressions, not on men.
When we look at male violence against women, the difference between a liberal and a radical feminist analysis is the difference between looking for individual or class solutions. One of the biggest gains of feminism is getting male violence against women on to the policy agenda and almost seen as a mainstream issue. The biggest threat against this gain, is that those male dominated institutions of power, under the auspices of dealing with the problem, have shaken all but the barest hint of feminist analysis from discourse on the issue. To end male violence against women, we need to end male power, and dismantle all the institutions that uphold male supremacy. It is this power that creates and is reinforced by male violence against women. We will never end male violence by believing that we can change one man at a time, though sensitising education programmes. We will never end male violence against women by being gentle to men and sympathetic to the harms of masculinity to men, not without destroying the institutions that uphold and create male supremacy. We will never end male violence against women, against children, even against other men, if we fail to recognise and name men as the overwhelming primary perpetrators of almost all forms of violence.
A 2014 study of the worldwide cost of violence, found that domestic violence against women and children costs $8 trillion each year and is the biggest single form (and cost) of violence, yet that same study fails to name the issue ‘male violence’ against women and children. Male involvement in the field of male violence against women became ‘men can be victims too’, became the failure to name male violence and this allows male violence against women as a cause and consequence of inequality to continue. How many men genuinely choose not to see the massive imbalance that is violence between the sexes, male violence against women? How many men do not know that rape, assault and murder of women are wrong? Men who want to support women in our struggle to end male violence need to join us naming the problem, they should not need to demand access to our spaces to do so. Men need to see male violence against women as the problem, not create women’s violence against men as a false equivalent and not place this as secondary to them learning how not to be harmed by masculinity. When we look at homicide, there is no sex equivalence, women are overwhelmingly killed by men; men too, are overwhelmingly killed by men. When men kill their women partners and ex-partners, it is usually after subjecting them to years of abuse, the comparatively few women who kill male partners or exes, usually do so after they themselves have been subject to years of abuse. There is no equivalence, not in rate, not in precursor to killing. Men need to learn to listen to feminists, to learn from us, rather than fight to have their voices be the ones that feminists listen to.
Men, through their socialisation, their training to be the dominant class, dominate space. Mostly they can’t see this happening, and women, through our socialisation are equality taught not to see this. Last month I attended a conference on fatal domestic violence. According the delegate list, 91 out of 101 attendees were women. After the first session of speakers, questions were invited from the floor, the first two ‘questions’ were from men. Taking the composition of delegates to be 10% men and ignoring all other differences between the sexes, the statistical probability of this happening is one percent. One percent, but any feminist attending similar conferences will be able to tell you that this isn’t unusual. Why? Gender. Male entitlement and men and women’s socialisation in to our genders make this unnoticed and accepted.
Feminism needs to be radical, not liberal. Radicalism understands that oppression is group based harm, liberalism is individualist. Not only has feminism been reset as gender equality, the notion of ‘choice’ of the individual has become one of its central tenants. This is another false lead. Of course women must have the right to choose, but our choices need to be understood in their wider social context. Women ‘choose’ to wear restrictive and uncomfortable clothes and footwear, to maximise our assets, to flaunt our curves, to sell sex, to view something called beauty as desirable and saleable because society has been constructed to maintain inequality and the best way to maintain social power is to persuade an oppressed group to collude with their oppression. Men are raised to believe in their entitlement to women’s bodies; sexual objectification, pornography and even non-sexual objectification of women create this. Women have been socialised to view ourselves through the lens that is the male gaze because society is built upon those foundations. The objectification and commodification of women, like male violence against women, like gender, are means of maintaining male supremacy.
Men, I do not want you in my feminism. I want something a bit more complex than that. I would like you to realise that feminism is not about you, it is not about what men need but it is about what your class does to women. I would like you to shut up and listen and learn. Then I would like you to take that learning and communicate with and change other men. You do need to want to change society. You do not need to call yourself feminists to do this. You do not need to be part of the women centered space that is feminism. You do not need to alter the goals of feminism so that you are included.
By the time the precious few men that ever realise that they are advantaged by patriarchy get round to realising it, they have already benefited from being socialised as men and their awareness does not prevent them from continuing to benefit from their socialisation and from how society treats women and men as a class. Every man benefits from male supremacy. Feminism cannot succeed if we allow the very goal of feminism to be hidden or extinguished. If our goal as feminists is not mass social change, the eradication of male power, but gradual blurring of the boundaries between what is deemed masculine and feminine, then sex inequality will never be erased. None of this means that men do not have a role in creating change, but that feminism has a particular role in creating how we understand the change that is needed. We can’t create equality from a system that is predicated upon inequality. We cannot afford for feminism to become the fight for gender equality rather than the end of male supremacy. This is why feminism cannot be for or about men. If our feminism does not make this obvious, which sex benefits from things staying as they are?
The bodies of Maria Jose Alvarado, 19, and her sister, Sofia Trinidad, 23, were found almost a week after they disappeared after being seen leaving a party near the city of Santa Barbara, in Honduras. Maria Alvaro was due to fly to London this week to compete in the Miss World competition as Miss Honduras. Plutarco Ruiz, Sofia’s boyfriend has confessed to killing both women, allegedly because he was angry and jealous after seeing her dance with another man.
Men’s violence against women is a cause and consequence of sex inequality between women and men. We need to make the connections between the objectification of women and violence against women. While women are seen and judged as decorative objects judged by sexist beauty standards and simultaneously as men’s possessions, women and men can never be equal; and as long as we have sex inequality, we will have male violence against women. The ‘Miss World’ competition is part of the problem.
And yet femicide – the systemic killing of women because they are women – rarely makes the news. If it does, it is usually because, as in the case of the murder of Maria Jose Alvaradom the woman herself is seen as newsworthy. Across the world, hundreds of women are violently killed every day. So far this year, in the UK, at least 131 women have been killed through suspected male violence. Ordinary women killed by ordinary men, violence so ordinary that it is rarely front-page news.
In April this year, John Butler, 62, went to the flat of his former partner, Pauline Butler, 61, and stabbed her. In his trial, Butler told the court that he couldn’t remember how the knife had ended up in his hand and that he had fallen after she had pushed him, causing him to accidentally injure her. The court heard that Pauline Butler had previously threatened him with a knife. Of course, being dead, she wasn’t able to challenge his version of events. Pauline had been found with a number of knife wounds to her neck, chest and back. As judge, Mr Justice Edis pointed out, had Butler not wanted Pauline to die, he would have called an ambulance, rather than remove and wash the knife, take her dog to his home, drink a beer and smoke a cigar. Butler was found guilty of manslaughter, not murder, due to loss of control, and sentenced to jail for seven years in jail.
Sybil Sibthorpe was 80 years-old in May, 2012, when she was found in her garden with “significant” head injuries after being beaten by her former tenant Lee Grainger, 41. Grainger pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was sentenced to 12 and-a-half years. According to the judge, Grainger was “a significant danger to the public”.
Adrian Muir, 51, killed Pamela Jackson, 55, by beating or kicking her head with such force that she suffered fractures to her skull and bleeding to her brain. He then drove over 120 miles before digging a grave in moorland and burying her with a bunch of flowers in a Tesco carrier bag. Muir initially denied murder and claimed he had been framed. He posted fake entries from her Facebook page suggesting she was still alive. It took police more than two months before they found Pamela’s body in May 2013. Muir’s fingerprint was found on the carrier bag inside her grave, and a CCTV camera caught him cleaning the back of his car in a supermarket car park. He later claimed that she had attacked him, “like a bloody devil”. Muir was jailed for 18 years, not for murder, but manslaughter.
Felipe Lopes, 26, had a six-year police history of violent assaults on women before being jailed for 12 weeks in 2012 after tracking down and assaulting an ex-girlfriend whom he had previously stabbed. Within two weeks of his release, in January 2013, he had beaten 23-year-old Anastasia Voykina to death with a hockey stick. Before he killed her, neighbours had called the police to her flat on two occasions, because, they said, his attacks on her were so severe, the building was vibrating. Judge Richard Marks said to Lopes: “There is no doubt in my mind you intended to kill her. You are and will remain for an indefinite time a significantly dangerous man, particularly to women.” Lopes pleaded guilty to manslaughter, not murder, on the grounds of diminished responsibility because of his mental health problems. He was jailed for a minimum term of seven years and three months.
Like Filipe Lopes, Vincent Francis had a history of violence against women. In court it was alleged that he had assaulted his girlfriend, Holly Banwell, at least 27 times. Some of the assaults had been overhead by neighbours; it was also alleged that he had attacked a previous partner. On 4 September, 2009, Holly had been out with her 17-year-old friend Stacey Hyde, they had then gone back to the flat that Holly and Vince Francis shared. Stacey remembers waking up to hear Holly screaming but not what happened next. A 72-year-old neighbour told police that she saw Francis trying to swing Stacey around by her pony tail while her friend Holly looked on, screaming. Holly Banwell called the police, telling them “…my boyfriend is beating my friend… I need the police ASAP”. On the recorded call she is then heard saying “they are fighting”, before screaming “Stacey has a knife and has stabbed him”. Stacey was sobbing when the police arrived, she told them “he tried to kill me…I had to help Holly…he was going to kill her…I thought he would kill me…”.
In March 2010, at the age of 18, Stacey Hyde was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. While awaiting trial she had been given well-intentioned but misguided advice from other prisoners affecting her responses in court and possibly, consequently, how she was viewed by the jury. The law has been changed since then too, so that loss of control caused by fear of serious violence can now be taken into account, but this wasn’t an option at the time Stacey was convicted.
Stacey is due in court to appeal her conviction on Thursday and Friday this week, the 13th and 14th November, 2014. Since her conviction, new evidence has emerged about her mental health, for example that she had ADHD at the time of her offence, and in addition, other psychiatric diagnoses resulting from a difficult childhood. If Stacey’s appeal is accepted, her conviction for murder will be overturned for one of manslaughter. She has already served five years and it is possible that she will be released from custody.
Trials for murder and manslaughter are complex. Each with their own particular circumstances and it is right that those circumstances are taken into account. I’m sure there are many reasons why Stacey’s case can’t be directly compared to those of the men I’ve mentioned above, and yet: Unlike 62-year-old John Butler who claimed he’d been attacked by Pauline Butler before he stabbed her, or 51-year-old Adrian Muir, who claimed Pamela Jackson attacked him before he beat her head and fractured her skull, a 72-year-old neighbour had witnessed Francis attacking Stacey, and Holly Banwell called the police telling them that he was beating her. Also, unlike Muir, she didn’t lie her way through a two-month police investigation. Like 41-year-old Lee Granger, who killed 80-year-old Sybil Sibthorpe, at 17, she was half the age of the man she killed. But a 17-year-old young woman – in fear of her life and that of her friend – killing a 34 year-old-man, cannot really be compared to a 41-year-old man, described by a judge as a risk to the public, bearing a grudge against and beating to death his 80-year-old former landlord.
Stacey was 17, legally a child, a child with a history of mental health problems and experience of sexual violence, when she killed 34-year-old Vincent Francis, a man with a history of perpetrating violence. Her claims of being assaulted by the man she killed are not unverified. She is not a risk to the public. She did not lie and deny her actions though the investigation. She did not try to hide a body. Unlike John Butler, Lee Grainger, Adrian Muir, Filipe Lopes and many men who have killed women since she killed Vincent Francis, Stacey Hyde was found guilty of murder, not manslaughter. Stacey has never denied that she killed Vincent Francis, but she wasn’t a murderer, she was a child, a frightened child.
Like anyone else, I was saddened to wake up to the news that a body has been found in the search for 14-year-old Alice Gross, and that her disappearance has now become a murder inquiry; similarly, I felt sickened to hear about the rape and murder of 23-year old Hannah Witheridge, just two weeks ago.
But since Alice went missing – and in addition to Hannah – at least ten other UK women have been killed through suspected male violence. Why don’t we all know the name of Leighann Duffy, 26, stabbed to death in Walthamstow? What about Glynis Bensley, 48, who witnesses said was pursued by two masked men on bikes before she was killed? Perhaps some people will recall the name of Pennie Davis, 47, found dead in a field, stabbed as she tended her horse. What about Serena Hickey, Dorothy Brown, 66; Nicola Mckenzie, 37; Davinia Loynton, 59; or Lorna McCarthy, 50?
The murder of 82-year-old Palmira Silva who was beheaded in London was also front page news this month, but few were aware that she was the third woman to have been beheaded in London in less than six months, after Tahira Ahmed, 38, in June and Judith Nibbs, 60, in April. Was this simply because beheading is big news at the moment due to the murders of David Haines, James Foley and Steven Sotloff?
The killer of 15-year-old Shereka Marsh, shot in Hackney earlier this year, was found guilty of manslaughter this week. Did we all mourn the 15-year-old school-girl, described by teachers as one of their “shining stars”, on course to sit 10 GCSEs this summer? Wasn’t being accidentally shot by your boyfriend also big news, also international news, this month?
Men’s violence against women and girls, systemic, connected, has killed at least 11 dead UK women this month. At least 111 UK women have been killed through suspected male violence so far this year, 111 women in 272 days is one dead woman every 2.45 days.
Older, black, usually but not all, killed by men they had known and loved – their husbands, boyfriends, ex’s and sons (8 women have been killed by their sons this year, 13 last year, 16 the year before) – why don’t we care so much about these women? Young, white and blond, killed by a stranger, hold the front pages – but don’t bother to make the connections with other women killed by men; talk about anything, immigration, terrorism, tourism, guns and gangs – talk about anything except male violence against women and girls.
To everyone – woman and man – who says they’re a feminist because they believe in equality, I have to ask you, what does it look like, this equality that you speak of?
Gender. You probably want gender equality, don’t you? But gender is inequality. Gender is the convenient invention, the way we train women and men to be different, to be unequal. Gender equality is a smokescreen. Gender is a hierarchy. Feminine, masculine, they can never be equal, they are subordination and domination dressed up in frilly pink and crisp blue.
You mean wage equality, right? Are you going to achieve that by equal pay for equal work? Yes? Or no? ‘Cos that’ll never do it. Work has no inherent value and just somehow, we’ve ended up with women’s work undervalued, so unless we all do more of the same, or unless we increase the value of what we see as ‘women’s work’, we’re stuck. Wage equality without radical reform, is an impossible dream, never to be realised with the Equal Pay Act.
Child birth? Are you looking for a brave new world where that is equal? Or a world where bearing and rearing children does not render women unequal? Are men gonna wipe an equal number of bums? Babies bums? Sick folk’s bums? Old folk’s bums? Equality of sharing, caring, cleaning and weaning.
What about valuing women for how we look? You know, the patriarchal fuckability test? Are men going to be equally judged by what they look like, rather than what they do? Women can chose to walk in painful heels, to maximise their ‘assets’, to flaunt or enhance their curves. Some women enjoy that femininity shit, don’t they? You surely believe in a woman’s right to choose, don’t you? Of course you do. But what do we chose? Why do we? If we’re equal, would we? And those that choose not to, will they be equal too?
What about war? Do you want women to start an equal number of wars to men? To fight and die in equal numbers to men? To rape in equal numbers to men? For men to be raped in equal numbers to women? Which is it? How’s that going to work under your equality? What about no war? Maybe no war. But in this man made world of arbitrary boundaries and power struggles, how’re you going to achieve no war?
Democracy’s great, isn’t it? A cornerstone of equality, maybe, for sure? But only 24% of the UK cabinet are women. You’ll sort that out in the name of equality, won’t you? And where’s the equality when 6 percent of children go to independent schools but make up 45% of the cabinet? When 61% of the cabinet graduated from just two universities? 5% percent of the cabinet – two people – are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. What’s democracy again? Power of the people, ruling through freely elected representatives? It’s just that not everyone gets an equal chance of representing. Just not rule by representative representatives.
What about the sale and purchase of women? Are men going to be commodified just the same? Objectified? Pornified? Trafficked? Pimped? Ah, yes, but what about choice again? That old turkey. A woman’s right to choose to sell sex? Are men going to make the same choices? If not, why not? Where’s the market? And how come it’s poor women, black women, in some counties indigenous women, who disproportionately make that choice? What about their equality? What about mine? If some women are commodities and some men are buyers, how can any of us ever be equal? If my sisters are for sale, they cannot be, I cannot be, equal.
Equality under the law? Yeah, surely you want that too. But how are you going to get that, with laws written by rich white men to protect the interests of rich white men? When we have a legal system celebrated for innocent until proven guilty. When insufficient evidence is synonymous with lack of guilt, with innocence. Can’t you see how it’s stacked? When poor people, black people and women who have been abused are disproportionately found guilty, disproportionately disbelieved, where’s the equality?
When the Equality Act 2010 covers age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity but not class, not poverty, what is even the point of pretending it’s about equality?
Male violence against women? Bet you believe in equality there too, don’t you? Domestic violence is gender neutral, right? Rape? Those hidden male victims? If you refuse to see inequality, if you don’t even believe that most violence is perpetrated by men, how are you going to achieve equality? Which equality are you going for there? Increasing the number of male victims? Increasing the number of female perpetrators? Can’t be reducing male violence, can it? Male violence isn’t a thing, is it?
In all this and more, equality just doesn’t provide the answers. Equality is a condition of a just society, not a cure for an unjust one. So when I say feminism isn’t about equality, it’s about women’s liberation from men’s oppression, this is what I mean. Ending inequality is a big part of feminism, of course it is. But equality is impossible in the society that we have. That’s why feminists talk about smashing patriarchy because we need to think bigger. I don’t even know what a society free of patriarchy would look like. I don’t know how we’ll get there, but I know we’ll never get there down the road called ‘equality’.
Early this year, I heard Bea Campbell ask ‘What would a world without male violence look like?’ Shit. I can’t even imagine that.
The phrase “innocent victim” has re-emerged to describe Sabrina Moss – a 24-year old teacher who was shot dead in London as she celebrated her birthday in August 2013 – in British bastions of judgemental conservative journalism The Daily Mail and the Express.
It’s a phrase that came in to my consciousness when it was used to describe 16-year-old Jane MacDonald who was murdered on 26 June 1977 by being hit on the head with a hammer three times and stabbed in the chest and back around 20 times. When her face-down body was turned over by police, they found a broken bottle complete with screw-top embedded in her chest. She was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe and was the fifth woman of thirteen that he is known to have killed. Before her, there had been 28-year-old Wilma McCann, beaten with a hammer and stabbed to death in October 1975; 42-year-old Emily Jackson, beaten with a hammer and stabbed 52 times with a screw-driver in January 1975; Irene Richardson, 28, beaten with a hammer and stabbed and slashed with a Stanley knife in February 1977 and Patricia Atkinson, 32, beaten and clawed with a hammer and also stabbed, in April 1977. Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson and Patricia Atkinson had not been described by the press as innocent victims. Why? Because Jane MacDonald was the first woman known to have been murdered by Sutcliffe who was not in prostitution. Sutcliffe himself shared this belief that prostituted women were less worthy than none prostituted women. In his confession, referring to Jane MacDonald, he said
“The next one I did I still feel terrible about, it was the young girl Jayne MacDonald. I read recently about her father dying of a broken heart and it brought it all back to me. I realised what sort of a monster I had become. I believed at the time I did it that she was a prostitute.”
“When I saw in the papers that MacDonald was so young and not a prostitute, I felt like someone inhuman and I realised that it was a devil driving me against my will and that I was a beast.”
Leaving aside Sutcliffe’s failure to take responsibility for his actions – blaming them on being driven by the devil, not his own violent misogyny – the implication is clear, that beating and stabbing four prostituted women to death was something less than monstrous. He became a monster when he killed Jane, not when he had killed Wilma, Emily, Irene and Patricia.
This week, Oscar Pistorius was found not guilty of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he killed. State prosecutor Gerrie Nel refered to Pistorius as causing “the death of an innocent woman” and again referred to him being “convicted of a serious crime of killing an innocent woman.” Of course, Reeva Steenkamp, in comparison to Pistorius was innocent, but surely that is almost always the case when comparing murder victims to their killers. If not innocent, what are they? Guilty? Or perhaps somehow complicit in their own death?
Despite attempts at law reform, some women’s complicity in their own murders is still implied indeed enshrined in British law. Academic Adrian Howe has looked at infidelity in the sentencing of men convicted of intimate partner homicide. She points out that “For over 300 years, criminal courts have regarded sexual infidelity as sufficiently grave provocation as to provide a warrant, indeed a ‘moral warrant’, for reducing murder to manslaughter.” and that whilst “ ‘sexual infidelity’ was expressly excluded as a trigger for loss of control in the new loss of control defence laid down in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009”, “sexual infidelity still has mitigating prowess” in diminished responsibility pleas, as does men’s ‘distress’ if they kill a partner who is in the process of leaving them. This ‘distress’ could just as easily be described men’s entitlement, or their rage that their partner has the audacity to reject them and move on. A woman’s murder is somehow less heinous, deserving a reduced plea of manslaughter or a reduced sentence, if the court accepts that something that she did contributed to a man’s choice to kill her.
Dead women get no opportunity to defend their character; but even if they could, it should not make a difference. Victims of violence should not be graded according to their worth, the balance would inevitably be tipped to discredit those not deemed to be ‘good’ women according to a scale reflecting class-biased and sexist values of what a woman should be. We can see this when we look at the justice system and men’s sexual violence against women. Women are not equal in the eyes of the law. The concept of ‘lady-like’ behaviour controls, judges and stratifies; acceptable/respectable standards of woman or girlhood align with middle-class standards of conduct and appearance. Catharine MacKinnon argued that the law divides women along indices of consent from ‘the virginal daughter’ to ‘whorelike wives and prostitutes’ with women who meet standards closer to the former, less likely to be found to have consented to unwanted intercourse, more likely to be believed regarding rape and sexual violence. Women who are socially or educationally disadvantaged are less likely to ‘perform well’ in the criminal justice system1 and women from working-class backgrounds are more likely to refuse to adhere to the status of victim, more likely to endure/cope and more likely to minimise injury2, as victims is it we who are on trial, we who are judged and the men who attack us who benefit from our perceived innocence. In Rotherham, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and beyond, we’ve seen how labelling girls as slags and troublemakers allows the men who abuse to continue to do so.
Women victims of male violence should not have unequal status under the law. Whether we have fucked one man or woman or five hundred; whether we pay our bills though prostitution, preaching, teaching or trust funds. Our laws, written by white middle-class men, favour white middle-class men and all women victims of male violence deserve justice, not just those of us who according to some scale of judgement are deemed ‘innocent’.
1 Temkin 2002b:6
2 Skeggs, 2005:971