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 colleagues 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 aat the point of writing this, I haven’t included:
• Yong LI Qui, 42
• Edith Fuller,45
• Helen Pickering,37
• Tia Sharpe, 12 (not included due to age)
• 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 Any advice from legal bods would be appreciated.

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Letter to the Attorney General regarding the unduly lenient sentencing of Paul Keene for the killing of Carmen Gabriela Miron-Buchacra

Dear Dominic Grieve, Attorney General

I am writing to complain about the sentencing of Paul Keene at Bristol Crown Court on 22nd March 2013, which I believe to be unduly lenient.

I understand that Mr Keene was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter,  with a reduced sentence reflecting admission of manslaughter and mitigating factors including loss of control and an alleged history of emotional abuse, for the killing of Carmen Gabriela Miron-Buchacra.

Firstly, I  would like to ask you to consider whether it was right that Mr Keene was found not guilty of murder.  Evidence in the form of an eight-minute voice-mail recording was heard by the court.  During the course of the recording, it has been accepted that Mr Keene killed Ms Miron-Buchacra, having been permitted entry into her flat after threatening to kick the door in. Mr Keene  can be heard threatening to kill Ms Miron-Buchacra, amidst sounds of choking, banging and screaming as he repeatedly punched her in the face and strangled her,  first with a dressing gown cord – and when that failed – an electrical cable.  I find it difficult to understand how this could be interpreted as anything other than a knowing intent to kill.

Accepting manslaughter as the offence, which for the reasons stated above, I do not; I question whether emotional abuse as a mitigating factor is appropriate.  Ms Miron-Buchacra was unable to present evidence to counter this because she was dead.  Similarly,  she was unable to present evidence that she had experienced emotional or any other form of abuse prior to her killing.  The court had, however, heard from Ms Miron-Buchacra’s aunt, who told the jury that her niece had confided to her that Mr Keene had been physically violent.

I wonder also whether aggravating factors were fully considered.  These include cruelty, threat to kill, use of a weapon (for surely exchanging a dressing gown cord for an electric cable makes that cable a weapon), the degree of harm caused and Mr Keene’s post-offence behaviour which  included sending texts from Ms Miron-Buchachra’s phone, pretending to be her.

For the reasons above, I urge you to refer this case to the Court of Appeal.

Yours sincerely,

Karen Ingala Smith

 

Received a disappointing response on 22nd April:

Dear Ms Ingala-Smith

Thank you for your email asking the Attorney General to review the sentence imposed on Paul Keene.

 The Law Officers (the Attorney General and Solicitor General) can apply to the Court of Appeal for certain sentences to be increased on the grounds that they are “unduly lenient”.  The Solicitor General has considered carefully whether the sentence was unduly lenient in this very sad case and has decided not to refer it to the Court of Appeal as he does not consider the Court would increase it.

 It is important to note that the jury acquitted Paul Keene of murder and convicted him of manslaughter, by reason of loss of control. The judge could not disregard the jury’s verdict and he could only sentence Mr Keene for the offence of manslaughter by reason of loss of control, not for murder. The Law Officers are only able to consider the sentence, as was the judge, based on the verdict of manslaughter which the jury returned.

 The sentence of 7 years and 4 months is in accordance with the relevant sentencing guidelines and, in the Solicitor General’s view, was within the range of sentences it was open to the judge to impose for the offence of manslaughter.

The BBC, the myth of false allegations and culpability

On 12 March 2013, The Crown Prosecution Service published a report by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, into so-called false allegations of rape and domestic violence. The report – showing that false allegations are rare, and probably rarer than most people think1 –   is part of work being undertaken by the CPS to improve its handling of cases involving violence against women and girls

Rapists and abusers are the ones who need to be held responsible for the crimes that they commit. Yet we all share a responsibility for creating a culture that either supports victims, or one that supports abusers. Doing nothing permits rapists and abusers to hold a sense of entitlement and impunity; ultimately, to carry on raping and abusing.

The BBC, in their coverage of the DDP’s report, on both Radio 4’s Today programme and Newsbeat, decided to focus on the ‘extent’ of false accusations and the trauma of being falsely accused. They chose to take this position despite Starmer’s stated aim of wanting to dispel damaging myths about false allegations. Damaging myths that, if held, make it less likely that victims of rape are going to be believed. Damaging myths, so often internalised by victims of rape and abuse, that make them fearful that they will not be believed and so less likely to report.

Like many others, I was angry and disappointed. I complained to the BBC. I asked the BBC to ask themselves whether their coverage of the report made it easier or harder for women and children to report abuse. I suggested that in peddling the myth of false accusations, they were demonstrating that they had learned nothing from what we have come to know about their role in the widespread abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile.

I’ve now received a reply from BBC Complaints. They explained that they were fulfilling their role as impartial observer. The full response is reproduced below2 but these two paragraphs in particular warrant special attention:

I’m sorry if you objected to this approach, and for your concerns and misperception linking this fundamental approach to the Jimmy Savile case. Within a democratic society, however, the BBC would be failing in its duty if it didn’t take such an approach. This may include hearing opinions or observations which you personally disagree with, or counter-statistics you would dispute, but which individuals may be fully entitled to hold in the context of legitimate debate.

We understand there is always room for debate about particular news judgements, but the principles are pretty clear. To depart from them would open the BBC to justified complaint, and would eventually undermine the public’s trust in our reporting as a whole.

Linking their coverage of the CPS report to their role in the abuse by Jimmy Savile is “my misconception”? Savile is one of the country’s most prolific sexual abusers of women and children. The BBC need to ask themselves what they did, and what they did not do, to allow his role with them to give him almost unrestricted access to women and children. The BBC harboured and protected Savile from 1964 -2012. The extent of Savile’s abuse; the claims that his abuse was not only widely suspected but also known of, and the shambles around Newsnight’s decision to drop the probe into his predatory sexual abuse, illustrate systemic failings of the most profound nature. The BBC is worried about failing in its democratic duty. Have they considered their duty of care to women and children? Is that less important? When being a “devil’s advocate” and promoting legitimate debate makes it easier for rapists to carry on raping, whilst making it harder for victims to seek support and justice, where should their priority lie?

And what about undermining the public’s trust in the BBC‘s reporting? Police are now aware of alleged sexual abuse of hundreds of women, children and young people over five decades by Savile. What about the public’s trust in the institution through which much of this abuse was conducted? Again, surely it is this that merits their concern.

I’d suggested that the BBC were using the myth of false reporting to justify their own failings. Their response to my complaint suggests that they are now using the myth of (their) objective reporting to deny that they have any culpability in creating a culture in which women and children are disbelieved. It’s no coincidence that Rape Crisis helplines across the country saw a huge increase in the volume of calls as the extent of Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse became clear. People who were being abused, people who had been abused as children, suddenly had reason to think that someone might listen to them. Someone just might believe them. Someone was saying that it wasn’t their fault.

Savile was raping and sexually abusing women, girls and boys between 1955 and 2009, with the first recorded reports to police in 1964. The myth of false reporting and fear of not being believed denies victims of sexual violence access to support and justice and enables perpetrators to carry on abusing. The real story was that women and children need to be better protected by the criminal justice system. The BBC wants to patronise me for failing to understand the democratic process. After-all, I’m ‘just (one of) the women’. The BBC wants me to know that any link between their broadcasts emphasising false rape reporting, and through Savile their responsibility to protect either abusers or the abused, is my misconception. If they cannot see how wrong they are, any misconception is wholly theirs, not mine.

1During the 17 month reporting period covered by the report, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 35 for making false allegations of rape. It’s estimated that 21% of rapes are reported to the police. We know that 82% of reported rapes do not come to trial. So if there were 5,651 prosecutions, something like, 31,394 will have been reported and a further 118,101, a total of would not have been reported. In other words:

  • Of 5,651 prosecutions for rape, 35 or 0.6% resulted in a prosecution for false allegation
  • Of 31,395 rapes reported to the police, 35 or 0.1% resulted in a prosecution for false allegation
  • 35 expressed as a percentage of the 149,495 estimated rapes that took place, is 0.02%

2 Dear Ms Ingala Smith

Reference CAS-1975481-VXRQK9

Thanks for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s 0800 News Bulletin on 13 March.

I’m sorry to note you were unhappy with the BBC’s reporting on the extent of false allegations of rape reporting.

As you acknowledge yourself however, our coverage heard directly from the head of the CPS, Keir Starmer QC. It was prompted by the release of statistics, widely covered in our coverage and given to the BBC by the CPS, which showed two people a month were being prosecuted for making a false claim, and wasting police time.

That we may have heard opposing views or had presenters playing devil’s advocate with Mr Starmer, during an interview, is simply part of our role as an impartial observer. It would be remiss of us not to acknowledge if such figures are disputed and the arguments and information provided by other contributors, including those who might challenge the CPS view, can only improve the debate or awareness of an issue. Our role is to provide the range of views for listeners and viewers and to hear informed argument from different sides, providing more context on a subject for our audience and more information for them to make up their own minds.

I’m sorry if you objected to this approach, and for your concerns and misperception linking this fundamental approach to the Jimmy Savile case. Within a democratic society, however, the BBC would be failing in its duty if it didn’t take such an approach. This may include hearing opinions or observations which you personally disagree with, or counter-statistics you would dispute, but which individuals may be fully entitled to hold in the context of legitimate debate.

We understand there is always room for debate about particular news judgements, but the principles are pretty clear. To depart from them would open the BBC to justified complaint, and would eventually undermine the public’s trust in our reporting as a whole.

Nevertheless, I’d like to assure you that we’ve registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback we compile daily for news teams, programme makers and senior management within the BBC. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape future decisions and they ensure that your points, and all other comments we receive, are made available to BBC staff across the Corporation.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards