Holy Cow! Women killed by their partners or ex-partners are their own worst enemy says columnist

Yesterday, The Birmingham Mail published a hateful piece by Maureen Messent about the 77 women killed though domestic violence in the year April 2012-March 2013. Messent described the 77 women killed  as their own worst enemies : “holy cows, never to be held accountable for staying with brutal men”.  She shared her sympathy for West Midlands Police, imagining their “ frustration and disappointment, then, when the women they want to help fail to turn up as witnesses “because I love him really”.”

In the year in question, at least three of the 77 women killed by a partner or former partner lived in the area policed by the West Midlands force: Da In Lee, Natasha Trevis and Shaista Khatoon.

Da In Lee

Da In Lee was a 22-year-old student studying International Relations and Sociology at Aston University.  She met Daniel Jones in 2011 at a local church but had ended their relationship  on 24 March 2012 though spent the night with him on 8 April.  We only have Daniel Jones’ account of what happened the next day because Da In Lee is dead. According to Jones, during an argument, he ‘caused her to fall over’, (a phrase which neatly eradicates his responsibility), before climbing on top of her.  By his own admission, she  struggled and screamed so he put his left hand over her mouth before taking hold  of her throat.  He described how her face went purplish blue, he said he saw tears well up in her eyes and two tears rolling down her face.  Yet he claimed he had not intended to cause her any harm and  lost track of time and so didn’t know how long it was he was applying pressure to her throat.  Accident-prone forgetful  Daniel Jones had been cautioned for common assault on a previous girlfriend in 2010.

 

Natasha TrevisNatasha Trevis was 22.  She had three children aged three, two and one with 28 year old Junior Saleem Oakes.  Oakes was violent and controlling throughout their relationship. He had a history of domestic violence including a conviction at the age of 19, and was known to carry a knife.  Oakes and Natasha were recently separated, she had not told him that she had recently terminated a pregnancy because she was afraid of what he might do. On 7 August,  five days after a social worker let slip this information, Natasha had called a taxi to her mother’s home but Oakes had travelled with her to be dropped off elsewhere.  In his statement, the taxi driver said he heard Natasha say to Oakes that they ‘didn’t need to talk about their relationship because they didn’t have one’. Natasha tried to escape but Oakes stabbed her 26 times.  She had wounds to her head, face, neck, chest, back and legs, one stab wound to her brain was 10cm deep.

Shaista Khatoon, 33 and Shoukat Ali, 38  had been married 15 years and had five children. His behaviour had become controlling and violent, they had separated but his harassment and threats had continued.  Shaista wanted a divorce. On 19 November, two days after receiving a divorce letter, Shoukat Ali  broke in to the where Shaista lived with three of the children.  As Shaista called the police, Ali cut her throat.  The operator heard her screams.  When the police arrived, they found her body in a pool of blood.

In addition, on May 8th, Lynda Jackson, 56, was found strangled to death at her home in Erdington.  A 60-year-old man was found with injuries at the same address and taken to hospital where he was said to be in a critical condition.  Police confirmed that they were not looking for anyone else.  Lynda was a teaching assistant at Hodge Hill Sports and Enterprise College who was strangled to death. Marie McMahon, head teacher at Hodge Hill Sports and Enterprise College, said: “Lynda was a talented and well respected colleague. She was loved by staff and pupils alike and she will be sorely missed.”

Not all women killed by male violence are included in those killed by domestic violence. In addition to the women above, in the year in question a further five women in the West Midlands were killed though men’s violence against them.  Janice Smithen, 46, was killed though blunt force trauma and Pauline Gillen, 69, was stabbed, both killed by their sons;  Kaysley Smithen and Ian Woolley.  Carole Mudie, 68, died after being mugged by Marvin Blake. Georgina Stuparu, 23, was stabbed by her friend’s boyfriend, Phillipe Burger.  Christina Edkins,16,  was stabbed by Phillip Simelane and Hayley Pointon was shot.  Are they less responsible for their own deaths in Messent’s eyes because they hadn’t been in a relationship with their killer?

Daniel Jones, Junior Saleem Oakes and Shoukat Ali have all been found guilty of murdering the women who were trying to leave them: Da In Lee, Natasha Trevis and Shaista Khatoon.  We do not hold these women accountable for their own murders, not because they are ‘holy cows’ but because the ones who are responsible for male violence against women are the violent men themselves.  Men who kill women are responsible for their actions whether the woman they killed was in the process of taking court action, of leaving, had already left or was still in a relationship with them.

Messent describes West Midlands Police as taking “whatever steps necessary to help the vulnerable. Officers burn the midnight oil, never preach, are prepared to listen for hours at a time”.   Is this the same West Midlands police who had to apologise to 19-year-old Alex Faragher who, when she reported domestic violence was called a “fucking slag” and a “bitch” by  two officers who allegedly inadvertently recorded the message?

The killing does not stop.  Since April 2013, Salma Parveen, Yvonne Walsh, Lilima Aktar, Varkha Rami, Jacqueline Oakes, Kanwal Azam,  Jane McRae, Amandeep Kaur Hoti and Tracey Snook-Kite have been murdered though male violence or a man has been found responsible for or charged with causing their death. Nine more dead women.   Holy Cows?   Women who allowed “themselves to be used as punch bags” and “their own worst enemies”? No.  Women who are victims of male violence.  Women who were killed by men. Men who are solely and entirely responsible for their actions.

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Is it so shocking to believe that women should be able to get blind drunk without being raped?

Offensive? The poster warning against binge drinking

In December, I spoke to the Yorkshire Post about the above poster produced by Calderdale Council.  Anti sexual-violence posters are regularly produced by police forces to celebrate Christmas, a collection of which are reviewed in this piece by Ending Victimisation and Blame.  Campaign messages are not neutral.  They can either reinforce or challenge accepted narratives.  Calderdale’s poster, like too many others, reinforces the message that women should be held responsible for what happens to them.

Though the poster doesn’t explicitly mention rape,  the lines “when you drink too much you lose control and put yourself at risk” together with an image of a dishevelled young woman in a short dress, make clear that the risk is that of sexual violence. The article was picked up widely re-reported including in The Independent and Daily Mail and eventually discussed in a piece by Sarah Vine under the title “Sorry sisters, but girls who get blind drunk ARE risking rape” in which she stated her  refusal to join “the chorus of feminist disapproval” and argued that women need to take responsibility for their own safety, going on to mention “one or two nasty brushes” that made her realise how important it was to not willingly put herself in the path of danger and “stupidly” becoming a victim.

The concept of a victim of violence ‘willingly and stupidly putting themselves in the path of danger’ is judgemental victim blaming.  Whether though an act of choosing  or not choosing to do something, a victim of sexual violence is never responsible for what is done to them. Rapists and abusers are the only ones responsible for rape and abuse.

Rapists and abusers use excuses to justify their actions,  to discredit their victims and to shift responsibility for their choices away from themselves and on to their victims.  They use exactly the kind of excuses encapsulated in the Calderdale poster and Vine’s piece, in short: “She didn’t take care. “ or “She was asking for it.”

The government estimates that there are around 78,000 rapes in the UK every year, that’s 214 every day. On top of this, there are an estimated 476,000 other sexual offences. Women and girls make up the vast majority of victims and 95% of those who experience serious sexual assault identify the offender as male. Most – but not all –  victims of sexual violence and abuse are stone cold sober when they are abused.  Those who are drunk or intoxicated through drug use are no more deserving of abuse. Most (an estimated 91%) victims of rape and sexual violence know their attacker before they are abused.  45% of rape victim/survivors identifying a current partner   as the rapist, a further 11% identifying a date and yet a further 11% identifying a former partner.  It’s hard to see how Christmas and New Year sobriety would make any difference to these women.

Sex with a person whose judgement is impaired – for example through alcohol or drugs – means they are legally unable to consent.  Non-consensual sex is rape.  If Calderdale Council want to run a useful campaign related to increased alcohol consumption around Christmas and New Year, they might consider  addressing this issue instead. It’s hard for me to imagine that their poster would prevent any woman from drinking.  Perhaps I’m naive to the powers of persuasion of a public awareness campaign. It isn’t so difficult to imagine a victim of rape who had been drunk, who had been partying, who had been wearing a short sequined dress seeing the poster and questioning her own responsibility.  Self-blame, shame, fearing that she will not be believed and questioning whether what happened was rape are  all reasons that contribute to an estimated 79-85% of rapes not being reported. If rapes are not reported, who benefits? Rapists whose behaviour goes unpunished and who are free to rape again.  That’s why I said the only ones who are helped by the Calderdale posters are rapists.  They’re provided with victim blaming excuses and are less likely to be held to account when victim/survivors are deterred from reporting

Calderdale’s poster will not reduce sexual violence, neither will it assist victims.  If Calderdale Council want to reduce sexual violence, then they need to focus on men and boys.  The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioners’ September 2013 Quarterly Performance Report details that reports of sexual offences increased by 51.1% in the 12 months to June 2013. The report identifies that this is the largest increase across all police forces and compares to a national average increase of 8.9%.  . Men, boys, women, girls, policy makers, support providers need to understand the concepts of consent and coercion.  Consent alone is not enough, but must always be understood in the context of coercion at both the individual and societal level.   Clearly there is much to be done.

If Calderdale Council want to better support victims of sexual violence, then they might want to consider funding local specialist women’s support services.  It is interesting that on the council’s web-page for information and support on rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse the services listed are in Manchester, Huddersfield and Wakefield – none of which are in Calderdale. Does the council  provide or fund any specialist services for victims of sexual violence?  Calderdale Council may also like to consider whether future campaigns support victims and ensure that they challenge not reinforce self-blame, shame and victim blaming.  At the same time as Calderdale Council ran their victim-blaming campaign, the police force responsible for Calderdale, West Yorkshire Police, were running an appeal to increase reporting of sexual violence.  I’d happily raise my glass to the Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee, who, taking quite a different approach to that of the council , is quoted as saying :

 “Sadly society at times has negative perceptions about sexual offending and these perceptions allow sexual crime to go unreported and offenders to go unpunished, we need to change those perceptions by providing people with information that enables them to understand better the nature of the problem and what it is that constitutes rape or other sexual violence.

“And that is why my commitment is to the victims of this dreadful crime that, if they come forward and tell us what has happened, we will not only do all we can to bring the offender to justice but also with our partners provide support and counsel to help them through what is a very difficult and distressing time.

Men’s violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men. Restricting women’s movement and choices and putting responsibility for men’s violence against women and girls on to women and girls will never reduce men’s violence.

Clare’s Law: the domestic violence disclosure scheme

The basic principle of allowing women to find out if a partner/prospective partner has a violent history is sound.  I’ve spoken to several women who have had violent relationships who have told me that they think it would have made a difference to them, to have what we might call ‘warning signs’ confirmed.

But I have a number of concerns:

  • Most domestic violence is not reported to the police, estimates vary but it is thought that only 24-40% of domestic violence is reported to the police, so the possibility of false negatives is high, “no history on record” is not the same as “no history” or “no risk”.  Women are psychologically undermined through domestic violence, they learn to question and doubt themselves, being told that a  man who is showing signs of coercive/aggressive/violent behaviour has no record, may make a woman more likely to doubt what is happening or to blame herself.
  • Will there be sufficient specialist help available if a woman finds out a man has a violent history? We know that specialist services are facing unprecedented cuts. Women’s Aid research has shown that in 2013 there are 21 fewer specialist refuge providers in 2013 than there were in 2010.
  • What if she has children? (By him or a previous partner)  Will there be pressure on her to leave from social services or face child safeguarding enquiries?
  • If she doesn’t leave and is killed, will agencies use the fact that she knew as a way of absolving themselves of any responsibility?
  • What happens to the man? Presumably, if the woman chooses to leave him, he will simply move on to another relationship. Are perpetrator programmes available?
  • Will a woman be pressured to report a crime if she wants to use the scheme? Not all women want to and pressurising a woman to take action before she is ready could put her at further risk.

Clare’s Law needs to be resourced and that means investment in, not cuts to, specialist women’s services.

I’m concerned that the government is going for quick fixes and potential headlines.  The number of women killed though domestic has remained consistent for over 10 years. Yet that’s not the whole story.  It’s being reported today that 88 women were killed through domestic violence last year, but I’ve counted 120 women killed through men’s violence, including 16 women who were killed by their sons.  Clare’s Law would not have helped them. We’re not being told the whole story about men’s fatal violence against women.  A long term, wide reaching approach is needed.  Men’s violence against women and girls is a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men. Quick fixes are not the solution.  Clare’s Law, may make a difference to some women who request information, but it’s not enough.

Anybody would think that Florida State Attorney Angela Corey has a problem with young black men and women

Angela Corey is an American attorney currently serving as the State Attorney in Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit Court after being elected in 2008. She is the first woman to hold the position. Angela Corey is reputed to be a ‘tough on crime’ prosecutor. On average, Corey tries more male juveniles as adults than any other county court in Florida. However, Corey also tries a much greater percentage of black male juveniles as adults than the rest of Florida. In the five year period between 2006/7 and 2010/11, across the state of Florida, an average of 52 % of black male juveniles were tried as adults for crimes they had committed. Angela Corey tried an average of 70%. The same state over the same time period tried an average of 25% of white male juveniles as adults for crimes that they had committed, Angela Corey, on the other hand, tried an average of 18%. (Source)

florida juveniles tried as adults

In 2012, Julie Bindel interviewed Angela Corey. In a piece on the death penalty, Bindel quotes Corey talking about the death penalty:

“I had a young black woman tell me she was totally against the death penalty unless somebody killed someone in her family. Luckily justice is blind and we treat everyone’s loved ones the same.”

I do not support the death penalty. However, analysis of death penalty data tells us that Florida is far from unique with its racist application of ‘ justice’.  Since 1976, 35% of people executed in the USA were black, 56% were white.  Their victims were black in 15% of cases and white in 77% of cases. However, where the victim was white and the killer was black, there have been 261 executions (I prefer to see them as state sanctioned murders). Where the victim was black and the killer was white there have been only 20. What is particularly worrying is that America knows its justice is racist.   The United States General Accounting Office, Death Penalty Sentencing report from February 1990 states: “In 82% of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.”  Angela Corey is therefore just one of many, but if justice is -as she claims – blind, it is blind to racism not race.

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old young black man was chased, beaten and shot by George Zimmerman in Florida on 26th February 2012. Zimmerman claimed he feared for his life and was acting in self-defence.

Less than two years previously, Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old black American woman had been jailed under Corey.  On 1st August 2010, Marissa Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, hit her, attempted to strangle her, threatened that no one else could have her and told her, “Bitch, I will kill you,” as he ran towards her. She fired a warning shot from her gun which was angled away from him. She did not hit him and originally Rico Grey said that he did not believe she had intended to kill him.

George Zimmerman pleaded self-defence,  even though he ignored a 911 call-taker’s recommendation that he did not need to leave his car and chase Trayvon Martin, even though, despite this recommendation to the contrary, he hunted for Trayvon Martin, confronted him, attacked him and shot him dead. Marissa Alexander was trying to flee from Rico Grey. She was in her mother’s home. He had attacked her moments before and was threatening to kill her. He has a record of domestic violence against her and several other women.

Trayvon Martin is dead. His shooter, his assailant, his attacker, George Zimmerman, walked free after being found not guilty of murder.

Rico Grey is alive and well. His shooter, who was trying to escape from him and against whom he has a history of violence, was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Marissa Alexander was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

George Zimmerman has a criminal record which included domestic violence and “battery of law enforcement officer”. Marissa Alexander did not have a prior criminal record.

Anyone would think that ‘tough on crime’ prosecutor Angela Corey is a little tougher on young black men than young white men. Anyone would think that ‘tough on crime’ prosecutor Angela Corey is a little less tough if the victim of crime is black. Anyone would think that ‘tough on crime’ prosecutor Angela Corey is a little tougher on crimes committed by black women with a history of being a victim of domestic violence.  Anyone would think that justice in America is racist.

Anyone wanting to support Marissa Alexander may want to sign this petition demanding that she is pardoned: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/503/600/056/dont-imprison-marissa-alexander-for-standing-her-ground/

Just a typical week in June – ignoring men’s abuse of women and children

135,000 tickets were sold for the Glastonbury Festival this year. How many of those attending will have complained that one of the main stages was named after a child abuser? How many even knew? What is the conspiracy of silence that allows a man who has been directly and publicly quoted as saying  “Girls used to queue up outside oral sex they were particularly keen on, I remember one of my regular customers, as it were, turned out to be 13, though she looked older.” And “All they wanted me to do was abuse them, sexually, which, of course, I was only too happy to do.” to continue to be so venerated? John Peel’s Festive Fifties may indeed hold treasured memories for many of the music industry’s agenda setters but given that he happily admitted shoving his dick in the mouth of a 13 year old girl, isn’t it time to shove him off his pedestal?

It’s not even a week since Linzi Ashton was found dead in Salford, Greater Manchester.  She died from strangulation and multiple injuries resulting from severe beating.  Her former boyfriend, Michael Cope is currently wanted by the police for her murder, before she died, he was wanted for raping her.  Yet the Police,  who confirmed that Cope has  a history of violent and aggressive behaviour and represents a risk to the community, have described their relationship as ‘acrimonious’ and this has been picked up and repeated – not challenged and not identified as victim blaming- in multiple press reports.  Acrimonious means “caustic, bitter, harsh”, it implies duality.  It does not describe a man with a history of physical and sexual violence.

The bodies of a family of three from Ireland, living in Spain were discovered after reportedly being dead several days. It is thought that Philip Wood  shot dead his wife Sheila and their daughter Sophie before shooting himself. Press reports have included details of the pressure that Philip Wood was under, of money problems, of Sheila Wood’s ill health and Sophie Wood being disabled, none have looked at the deaths within the context of male violence against women.

FBI files seen and reported by a British newspaper revealed that dead pop star Michael Jackson paid out over £23million to buy the silence of at least two dozen boys he abused over 15 years.  The FBI has allegedly held files – which included private investigators’ reports, phone transcripts and hours of audio tapes dating back to 1989 – since 2002.   Jackson was cleared of a charge of abusing a child before his death in 2005.  The files, despite being in possession of the state,  were not passed on to  the prosecutors.  The state knew and the state kept quiet.

The process of grooming in child sexual abuse has gained  wider awareness though the trials of groups of men with multiple victims, including cases in Oxford and Derbyshire.  Earlier this month,  Jeremy Forrest, a teacher aged 30 was found guilty of five charges of underage sex with a pupil, then 15 years old.  Now aged 16, she has spoken to a newspaper and claimed that it was she who groomed her teacher, not the other way round.  The interview has been widely reproduced and sensationalised  across the press.  Grooming is a process by which an abuser gains trust and establishes an emotional connection, making a potential victim feel special as a preparation for abuse,  the perpetrator progressively sexualises the relationship.   The girl is legally a child and her adult teacher had a duty of care for her.  Press reports of a child grooming an adult are collusion with the adult abuser.  The collusion suggests that grooming is something that the press can only identify if the perpetrators are groups of Asian men.

35% of women worldwide have experienced male violence

38% of all murders of women worldwide are committed by intimate partners

There are an estimated 78,000 rapes in the UK every year

Last year at least 114 UK women were killed through male violence

The number of people convicted of sex offences on children aged under 16 in England and Wales increased by nearly 60% between 2005 and 2010.

But rather than the increasing awareness of the true extent of male violence against and abuse of women and children leading to an increased condemnation of perpetrators and an increased commitment to end gender based violence, the rising voices of the naysayers,  the pointing fingers of the victim-blamers and the deafening silence of those that look the other way seem to me to be getting louder.