Most women who are victims of male violence don’t get killed. I’ve been writing – a fair bit – about the UK women who are killed through male violence; women who were killed by their partners, ex-partners, sons, grandsons, fathers, rapists, robbers, friends and more. But the women who are killed by men are only part of the story.
The government estimates that around 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and 85,000 women are raped every year. Most women live to tell the tale, except, according to the same report, around 28 per cent of women who are raped never tell anyone. That means almost 24,000 women in the UK were raped last year, and no-one, except them – and the man or men who raped them – knows. It means that you may know one, or more woman, who was raped in the last year and have no idea. Others might tell a friend, or an organisation like Rape Crisis, but only around 15% tell the police.
UK police receive an average of one phone call per minute about domestic violence, that’s around 1,300 calls a day, or 570,000 a year. Over eighty per cent of these calls are from women. Most, through certainly not all, are still alive. There are various estimates of what proportion of domestic violence that occurs is reported to the police, it is usually stated that something between 26-40 per cent is reported. This means that between 60 and 74 per cent of domestic violence is not reported to the police. Even if you assume that one phone call means one incident and take the higher estimate of reporting: 40% (and therefore the lower estimate of under reporting) and so assume that for every one incident reported, 1.5 are not, this would mean 855,000 domestic violence incidents happen – and are not reported – every year. Most, but not all, of the women who experience these violent assaults from them men they share their lives with, are still alive.
Between 11th and 15th June 2012, Women’s Aid members reported that approximately 11,380 women were supported in non-refuge/community-based services. In addition there were an estimated 2,095 calls to local and regional domestic violence helplines. Most, but not all, of the women who used these services and made those phone calls, are still alive.
Women’s Aid estimate that 19,510 women and 19,440 stayed in refuges last year. Around 69% of them had sought help from the police, around two thirds of them had been experiencing violence for at least two years before they contacted the police. Around a third of women living in refuges had never contacted the police. Most of them are still alive. More than half had spent more than five years living with an abusive man before leaving him, more than half had left him at least once before. Not dead. But you don’t live through domestic violence until you reach the point where – for your own safety and well-being, and/or that of your children – you choose to move in to a refuge, and remain unaffected.
Some of the women who have been raped in the last year, or who have experienced sexual assault, or who reported male violence to the police, or who stayed in refuges, or who phoned helplines, or visited outreach services, who took out injunctions, whose situation was discussed at a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference, who were visited by social services because of safeguarding concerns about their children, who told only a friend, or who told absolutely no-one at all, some of these women will be dead this time next year. Most will not be. Some of the women who will be dead this time next year, are living in fear of death now, as you read this. Some of them will have told a friend, a family member or a professional that they ‘know’ that ‘x’ is going to kill them , that it’s just a matter of time. Some of them don’t expect to die, because that sort of thing happens to someone else. Most of them will be right, but some will be badly and sadly wrong. Some of the women who have told someone that they are afraid that they are going to be killed will be wrong, too many of them will be right.
I want us to know about the women who are killed through male violence, I want us to commemorate them and to learn lessons from their deaths that might prevent other women being killed. That doesn’t mean I ever forget those that live every day with male violence, or its after-effects. Portia Smart wrote a painfully honest blogpice: Being is Bewildering on living with PTSD after multiple experiences of male violence and a woman left this comment on my petition asking the government to properly record and analyse all forms of fatal male violence. They say so much about living with male violence even after the violence itself has stopped:
“My father beat my mother even after she divorced him, he beat my mother when I was a child and that’s all I knew! My brothers thought it was ok so they beat me, it didn’t stop until we moved away, so I know all about male violence and what it does to children and women, it demoralizes them, makes them feel like they deserved it, that they started it, that they didn’t wear the proper dress or didn’t have their make up right or didn’t get the tea in time, or didn’t clean up after the kids…male dominance was a part of my life for a very long time and the police did nothing for a very long time, my mother is 70 odd years old now and still she gets afraid when people shout…..that’s my father’s legacy.”
Most male violence against and abuse of women doesn’t kill women, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It doesn’t mean that those affected are not profoundly affected
Yesterday afternoon, in Euston, central London, I walked past a small group of women with a banner urging us to “Respect Life”, to say no to abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. They belonged, as is clear from their banner, to the Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society. I rejected one of their leaflets (which I now regret) even so they were happy for me to take a photo of them.
Of course I am one of the pro-choice majority when it comes to abortion. I oppose forced pregnancy, I oppose forced abortion. Women’s rights must include bodily autonomy and the freedom to choose what is best for them, albeit within the confines of patriarchal society. Being pro-choice does not mean the same as being pro-abortion. It does mean making sure that women are supported, that though promoting and increasing access to contraception we reduce unwanted pregnancies, that through education we ensure that everyone understands how to avoid getting pregnant, as well as how to get pregnant. Pro-choice means increasing ease of access to legal, early, safe abortion. Pro-choice means not judging women who have abortion (s). I’ve heard that some infertile women oppose abortion, criticising women who have an abortion as ‘selfish’ when some of us can or could not have a child. I can’t see how reducing another woman’s liberties can ease the difficulty of infertility. Women should never be reduced to baby-making machines, just as those of us who cannot have babies are no less women.
Pro-choice means believing that every child should be a wanted child, that seemed so clear to me until a few days ago, until I thought about sex-selective abortion as a result of a failure to prosecute two doctors who had carried out abortions on the basis of the sex of the foetus. I am not comfortable with the position that ‘a woman’s right to choose’ can be extended to femicide. Like so often is the case for a radical feminist, the answer lies in ending the inequality between women and men. The answer here is to change and challenge those beliefs that see a woman as ‘less than’ a man, a girl as ‘less than’ a boy. Until this happens, I remain uncomfortable with sex-selective abortions. I oppose femicide, but a foetus cannot be more important than a woman, wanting every child to be a wanted child cannot be extended to forced pregnancy. Being pro-choice is respecting life, it is respecting the lives of women and children.
Euthanasia, assisted suicide and/or the right to die should never become the duty to die for fear of being a burden on others, should never become elder abuse or neglect. The costs and difficulties of care cannot be permitted to become reasons to kill. It’s clear that strong laws, an ethical legal framework and guidance are necessary. But being pro-choice and pro-bodily autonomy mean respecting the right to choose to die. Respecting life means respecting the right to die.
The Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society is opposed to the death penalty. They do not think that the state has the right to murder murderers and violent, repeat sex offenders. And neither do I. Neither does the UK government, the death penalty was abolished for murder in 1965, (in 1973 in Northern Ireland). It was not finally abolished for high treason, piracy with violence, arson in the royal dockyards or espionage until 1998. According to Amnesty, across the world 21 countries carried out 682 executions (excluding China where figures are not released but are known to be very high) in 2012. The top five executing countries in the world are China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and USA, with Yemen closely behind. I hate violence but the death penalty is no solution. Though I understand the anger, the hatred for and the desire to punish those who abuse, rape and kill, the state should not be a killer. It’s illogical to argue that murder is wrong through murdering. Statistical evidence does not support that the death penalty deters crime. In the USA for example, murder rates in states that do not impose the death penalty have remained consistently lower than in states with the death penalty. It is also used disproportionately against those who face structural discrimination, people from black and minority ethnic groups. Respecting life means that the state should not be sanctioned to kill.
Worryingly, the Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society say that they provide counselling and moral education for children. Worryingly, I say, because I don’t believe abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty are the same, I don’t believe that saying “No!” to them all is respecting life. I don’t want those that conflate them to have any role whatsoever in educating children. Respecting life does mean respecting the lives of killers and rapists. Respecting life means respecting choice, respecting life means respecting bodily autonomy. Respecting life means respecting women. Respecting life means respecting the right to die.
Many people know the statistic: ‘two women in England and Wales a week are killed through domestic violence‘; but how many try to connect with that and to feel the impact of what it really means?
Through naming the women killed, I’m trying to made the horror and unacceptability of what is happening to women feel more real. I began, in January 2012, by recording the names of all women killed through domestic violence but as time went on, I wanted to make the connections between the different forms of fatal male violence against women. Since I started the list, I’ve counted 197 dead women. I’m not going to stop counting and naming the women until I think the government is doing the same, ‘counting dead women’ and doing all it can to make the connections, making good its commitment to end male violence against women. Please join me demanding action from the government by clicking here and signing my petition.
When I started keeping the list, I was shocked and angry about the lack of attention given to these murders, and what feels like a wilful refusal to look at the links between the forms and causes of violence against women. Male violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men, and until a government seriously approaches the issue from that perspective, women and girls will continue to be beaten, raped, assaulted, abused, controlled and killed by men.
The list below is the 78 UK women killed through suspected male violence so far in 2013. 78 women in 243 days, that’s one woman every 3.1 days.