Counting dead women

In the first three days of 2012, seven women in the UK were murdered by men, three were shot, two were strangled, one was stabbed and one killed through fifteen “blunt force trauma” injuries. Maybe I would have noticed this anyway; unusually some of the murders received a fair bit of press coverage, perhaps because the three women who were shot were family members killed in a multiple shooting. But mainly I noticed them because the woman who was stabbed comes from Hackney and that’s where the domestic and sexual violence charity that I work for is based. I wanted everyone to know her name and who she was, but professional boundaries meant I couldn’t say much at all. What I could do was name her as one of the number of women killed in the first few days of 2012. The thing is, once I’d started doing that, I didn’t want to stop.

I started keeping a list of the names of women killed through domestic violence. Many people know the ‘two women in England and Wales a week are killed through domestic violence‘ statistic, but how many try to connect with that, to feel the impact of what it really means? For some reason, I thought naming the women killed made the horror of what is happening to women feel more real. I began tweeting the names of the women, eventually settling in to a pattern of doing it at the end of every month. By the 26th February, I’d counted 15 UK women killed through domestic violence.

Then, on 9th March, Ahmad Otak stabbed Samantha Sykes, 18 and Kimberley Frank, 17, to death. Otak, 21, was the ex-boyfriend of Kimberley’s sister Elisa, 19. After killing Kimberley and then Samantha in front of Elisa, he abducted her and drove to Dover in a failed attempt to get to France. The murders of Samantha and Kimberly do not directly fit the definition of domestic violence, (though if you see them as actions of control and coercion in the context of Otak’s relationship with Elisa Frank, then arguably they do), but they are absolutely embedded in gender, in male violence against women. There was no way I was going to overlook these two young women, so at the end of March, I listed the names of women killed through suspected gender related murder. Women killed by men because they are women.

This has had an impact on me that I didn’t really expect. I don’t know when I started understanding domestic and sexual violence as different but related expressions of male violence against women; I’ve certainly been aware of their overlap through my work for as long as I can remember. But, the longer times goes on, the less patience I have with them being treated as separate issues1.

In the course of the year, almost every month when I tweeted the complete and growing list, I’d receive one or two enquiries (some polite and genuine, some – almost always men – who refused to accept that this is a gendered issue or tried to find some other way to demean what I was doing) about what I meant by ‘suspected gender related murders’. So, at the end of the year, with what I though would be the final list of names, I wrote a small piece about what I meant, what and more importantly who I’d included and who I hadn’t. See below2. As well as thinking about issues around gender3, I was worried about legality, for example at least one case had already gone to trial and the male perpetrator had been found not guilty of murder but of manslaughter, also about whether I could be accused of libel, so I always referred to suspected murder and have only ever used information easily accessible in the public domain.

By 31st December 2012, I’d counted and named 107 women. 107 women UK women killed in 365 days, that’s one woman every 3.4 days.

What I hadn’t really expected was that even though the year had ended, the list would continue to grow. The organisation I work for joined One Billion Rising on 14th February 2013. We released a balloon for every UK woman killed in 2012. By the time we were planning the event, 107 women had become 109. I’d found a woman I’d missed and details emerging through the trial of the murderer of another, made it clear that there was a gender related element to her killing. Yet, even by the actual event, the list had grown longer. Andrew Flood was a taxi-driver who strangled and robbed two elderly women, Margaret Biddolph, 78 and Annie Leyland, 88. When I learned he’d also robbed a third woman who according to reports had not been killed because she had not resisted when he robbed her, it seemed to me that there was a clear gendered pattern to his actions. We read the list of names on Parliament Square, we were talking about 109 women, but we read out 111 names, confident that no-one would be counting. Since then, another woman, Corrin Barker, 31 has been added to the list. Corrin’s death was originally reported as a double suicide alongside that of her father, in response to the death of her mother. But following a Freedom of Information request, documents show that police believe that Corrin’s father shot her, that it wasn’t a double suicide, but a murder-suicide. So now it’s not 107, it’s not 109, it’s 112 women killed through suspected gender related murder in 2012; one woman every 3.2 days.

Though planning the One Billion Rising event, I was talking to colleagues4 that I respect a lot, about the list. Once of the challenges they put to me was asking why I was talking about gender related murder, why not simply male violence against women? I think at first I was resistant, the problem isn’t biology, it’s society. It’s the social construct of gender, it’s inequality, the oppression of women in patriarchal society that is the issue. That’s still true, but it is no less true that what I am looking at is men killing women because they are women. Name the problem? The problem is male violence. Even in the cases where a woman or women were killed by men that do not involve domestic or sexual violence, it is still a man or men killing a woman or women, because they are women. The 2013 list therefore is of women killed though male violence against women. I think I’m going to drop the ‘suspected’ bit too.4

Male violence against women cuts across barriers of age, race, class, religion and geography. Although my list is of UK women, fatal male violence against women happens across the world. The commonalities are greater than any cultural variations. The youngest woman on the list from 2012 is Megan-Leigh Peat, she was 15, and the oldest is Annie Leyland who was 88. The list of the 112 names gives hints of differences in ethnicity, class and culture. I was surprised by how many women were killed by their sons, 13 of the 112 women and also one by her grandson.

It’s almost a year and three months now, since the murders of Susan McGoldrick, 47; Tanya Turnbull, 27; and Alison Turnbull, 44; who were shot by Michael Atherton, 42. Atherton legally owned six weapons, including three shotguns, he’d been granted a gun licence despite a history of domestic violence. A year and three months since 87 year old Kathleen Milward was killed through 15 blunt force trauma injuries inflicted by her grandson, and since Kirsty Treloar, a 20 year old new mother was stabbed 29 times by the father of her three-week-old baby. She was dragged out of the house by Miles Williams, leaving the baby covered in blood and her brother and sister also injured as they tried to protect her. A year and three months since Kirsty was shoved into the back of a car and driven away, to be later found dead two miles away, dumped behind wheelie bins.

I’ve been counting dead women for a year and three months; but not only counting, naming and trying to commemorate the UK women killed through male violence against women. Why? Because men are killing us and I want it to stop.

Footnotes

1 I acknowledge that legally and in terms of the support requirements of victims of domestic and/or sexual violence, there are often differences.
2 What do I mean by gender related murder? (2012)

1. They’re murders committed by a man or men against a woman or women
2. They include most domestic violence murders – but not all, the list does not include
• Patricia Seddon – who was shot along with her husband, Bob in July – their son and two other people were arrested
• Marie McCracken and Wendy Thorpe – who were both killed by women
3. I haven’t included Chrissie Azzopardi, 22, as I haven’t been able to find out whether the murder was primarily motivated by transphobia or misogyny.
4. I haven’t included Mary Saunders, 84 whose husband, aged 94 was arrested, as the police are pursuing a ‘mercy crime’ as one line of enquiry and the laws around euthanasia are overdue review.
5. I have included Khanokporn Satjawat who was visiting the UK, attending a conference, she was not a UK resident, but the brutality of her murder suggests that if it hadn’t been her that was killed, it could have been another woman.
6. I haven’t included Maria Ziemba, 89 whose husband also died, as police suspect their deaths could have been accidental.
7. I’ve included stranger crimes that wouldn’t count as domestic violence where there has been a sexual element to the attack.
8. I’ve included some where a jury has found that the legal definition of murder doesn’t apply. For example, I’ve included a case where a man admitted stabbing his wife but was cleared of murder and charged with manslaughter.
9. For lack of information/clarity about whether there was a gender related element to the killing, I haven’t included:
• Yong LI Qui, 42
• Edith Fuller,45
• Helen Pickering,37
• Tia Sharpe, 12
• Michelle Johnson,
• Sally Lawrence
• Aileen Dunne
• Mica Atkinson
• Jenny Methven, 80

If anyone has any information on the deaths of these women, please let me know. I recognise that there is a significant amount of subjectivity in the decision of who to include and who not to. Please let me know if you disagree. I’d like to hear from you.

3 I’m using gender, not as a substitute for sex, but as a social construct.
4 Jodie and Julia, you know who you are.
5 Any advice from legal bods would be appreciated.

About these ads

8 thoughts on “Counting dead women

  1. Thanks so much for doing this – I know through my work and always having so much violence done to prostituted women and girls, many of whom just disappear daily – how this work is full of deep grief.
    I would love to have a record of all the prostituted women and girls that have murdered mainly by punters and male sex trade profiteers – but this is impossible for many reasons.
    Most deaths of the prostituted is nameless and made to be invisible.
    Many murders of the prostituted is in indoors prostitution – brothels, saunas, escorts and prostituted women brought on the net – this is made invisible and a non-crime. These murders are cleared up in-house, and keep hidden from the public gaze.
    Many murders of street-based prostitutes are not taken seriously, for the women or girls are painted that they deserved to die – it was the risk of the “job”.
    It is extremely rare that we know of the murders of the prostituted – often only if it can made sensational by the media – such as a serial killer or the prostitute is not a stereotype “whore”.. Often the interest is more in the murderer, than the names or lives of the women or girls who had been murdered.

  2. Hi Karen – great post, and thanks for doing this work. I just wanted to make one suggestion about the inclusion of Chrissie Azzopardi. I don’t know anything about her case other than what’s easily googlable, but I do know that the majority of trans* people who are murdered are transsexual women, like Chrissie, and trans women experience far more abuse and violence across the board than trans men. The particular type of hate that is expressed by men who abuse and kill transsexual women is very focussed on their femaleness, on their being failed women, fake women – women with bodies that are somehow intrinsically deserving of hate and violence because of what type of bodies they are. This is why hateful transphobic slurs like ‘tranny’ and ‘shemale’ are rarely used against trans men.

    What I’m trying to say is that in many cases it is difficult if not impossible to separate out transphobia from misogyny, which is why activists came up with the term transmisogyny.

    More widely, I think it’s important to remember that women who are targeted by more than one type of hatred shouldn’t have to choose between which hatred to fight – that we don’t have to separate them out when analysing men’s motivation, because they’re often all mixed together. For example, it’s not just women who are over-represented in trans murder stats; it’s more particularly non-white women who are prostituted who feature in high numbers. The men who murdered them decided to target women with all four of those characteristics; it would be oversimplifying to pick out one motivation.

    But I realise (and applaud) what you’re trying to do here with listing gender-based murder. Perhaps you could include all where misogyny was at least one of the motivations?

  3. Reading this article has saddened and touched me in a way I didn’t expect. We almost become immune to hearing bad/sad/violent stories but this brought home to me the pain and horror of the reality. It also made me realise that I was one of the people happier to close my eyes to it than accept what the reality was. I have enormous respect for the daily pain you must feel dealing with these horrific cases and thank God that there are people like you willing to speak for these people. It’s a horrific subject but thank you for bringing it to my attention and making me listen, you have my respect and admiration.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s