I’ve been tracking men’s fatal violence against women and commemorating the UK women killed by men for 9 ½ years through my work on Counting Dead Women and for The Femicide Census, the team I work with have submitted Freedom of Information Requests to the police about men’s fatal violence against women in the UK going back to 2009. From the work of the Femicide Census, we know that over the last decade, on average a woman has been killed by a man in the UK every 3 days. So, using the average over the last 10 years, we might expect to see 7 women killed by men in 21 days, but 14 women and two children have been killed by men in the first three weeks of coronavirus lockdown in the UK.
We have to be cautious about talking about increases in men killing women. Reality is more complex than 11-year averages, there are always times when the numbers are higher or times when they are lower, there might be a week or longer where no man kills a woman. But we can say that the number of women killed by men in the three weeks between 23 March and 12 April is the highest it has been for at least 11 years and is double that of a hypothetical average 21 days over the last 10 years. We don’t know yet whether this inflated rate will continue, it is possible that we will see a lower rate over the next few weeks.
The table below shows the actual numbers of women killed by men in the three weeks between 23 March and 12 April since 2009, and the relationship between the perpetrator and the woman he killed. [i]
Women killed by men 2009-2019 and alleged killings of women by men in 2020
If the two children killed by Robert Needham were included, we’d see 3 females killed by their fathers in 2020 and a total of 16 women and girls dead at the hands of a man.[ii]
We can see that over the same three-week period, annually the numbers of women killed by men ranged from 2 women (in 2013, 2018 and 2019) and was as high as 11 women in 2009, averaging at 5 women in this three week period between 2009 and 2019; but that in 2020, at least 14 women and two children have been killed. The reality may even be higher,for example, a man has been questioned regarding the killing of Natasha Melendez in N. Ireland on 1st April but as far as I know, no-one’s been charged yet, so I haven’t included her in the figures.
Looking back over pre-lockdown 2020, 32 days passed as 14 women’s lives were taken. [iii] So it isn’t that 2020 in general has seen higher levels of men’s fatal violence against women.
Lazy reporting mixed with a lack of understanding of the dynamics of abuse have led to stories about increases in the domestic abuse, with headlines about men’s fatal violence reported as being due to a man being pushed to kill because of financial concerns. Another report said that a man claimed he bludgeoned ‘his wife’ to death because she asked him to move out because he had the virus. I don’t believe coronavirus creates violent men. What we’re seeing is a window into the levels of abuse that women live with all the time. Coronavirus may exacerbate triggers, though I might prefer to call them excuses, lockdown may restrict some women’s access to support or escape and it may even curtail measures some men take to keep their own violence under control. But coronavirus doesn’t make a killer out of a man who has never been controlling, abusive and/or violent to the woman he is in a relationship with. And we must surely extend our concerns to the women and children who will live through the coronavirus lockdown with an abuser and survive. I am counting dead women, but I would never say that it is only the dead women who count.
We need to ask why it seems that only or mainly men are pushed to kill because of frustrations or fears triggered by coronavirus or related restrictions. When we do, we come to the same answers that we’d arrive at by asking why men kill women at rates way above those at which women kill men: sex inequality as expressed through male control and dominance both in society as a whole and in individual relationships, men’s entitlement and their expectations to be served and serviced by women, masculine sex-stereotypes and gender norms, the objectification of women, and so on.
It’s also important to remember that men’s violence against women is not restricted to women that they are in a relationship with. Most people have no idea about the levels of child sex abuse that happens within families, we don’t know whether lockdown may be giving men increased or decreased opportunities to rape and sexually abuse the children in their household, but if it is the former, these children and society as a whole will be paying the price and seeing the impacts for decades.
Perhaps, despite the far greater numbers of people being killed by the virus including the failure to provide adequate protection to those exposed through efforts to treat the sick and dying, and the failure of the state to listen and act on the advice of experts, we will somehow see the extent of men’s violence against women and children more clearly. Perhaps also, we will say that this, men’s violence against women, girls and children, is not inevitable, it is not acceptable and the authorities, or someone – or we – can and should do more. Perhaps we will get angry that the state does not pay heed to the voices of experts and take the actions that feminists have been calling for, for decades.
If we’re alarmed at an apparent increase in men’s fatal violence against women, why aren’t we equally alarmed at the numbers of women being killed by men all the time? We surely cannot say that the average number of women killed by men is acceptable. If 14 women and two children dead in 21 days at the hands of a man who chose not to curb his violence and aggression is too much, would seven dead women be fine? No, no it wouldn’t. Let’s recognise the ways that women’s lives are limited, diminished and controlled by men’s dominance. Let’s demand better for women and children. Let’s aim to end men’s sex-based violence against women. Let’s hold the state to account. Let us recognise that together, taking responsibility, we could do more and we could make a difference.
[i]The data for 2009 – 2018 is from the Femicide Census, 2019 is from Counting Dead Women. We collect data differently on the two projects, I do Counting Dead Women from internet searches (and people contacting my twitter account for the project) but the Femicide Census data is collected via annual FOI requests to all the UK police services. We haven’t completed the FOIs for 2019 yet so it’s possible that there are more women in the equivalent period in 2019 that I didn’t find with my internet searches.
|Name||Age||Date of death (2020)|
|15||Daneilla Espirito Santo||23||08-Apr|
[iii] Counting Dead Women 2020 (15 Feb -19 March)