The Attack in Manchester was an Attack on Women and Girls

Manchester 22

We now know the names of the 22 people confirmed dead in the attack in Manchester, and we know the 17 of them were women and girls.  Whilst not to deny or denigrate the lives of the 5 men that were also taken, it is essential that we view the attack as an attack on women.

Daesh have claimed responsibility and so the attack is rightly framed in the context of religious extremism.  The patriarchal oppression of women by men is at the heart of this ideology,  and in that respect Daesh is not alone.  Inequality between women and men and men’s violence against women go hand-in-hand the world over.  It is estimated that across the globe  66,000 women and girls are killed violently every year .  Generally those countries with the highest homicide rates are those with the highest rates of fatal violence against women and girls; but other factors are at play too,  countries with higher levels of sex  inequality also have high rates of men’s violence against women and girls. The UK is no exception, this year, even before the attack in Manchester, at least 37 UK women had been killed by men.  Links between men who perpetrate violence against women  and terrorism are now being identified; and mass killers, including school shooters, are almost always male.

Gender is a hierarchy, the ideals of masculinity and femininity are critical tools in maintaining the oppression of women by men,  in the creation of men’s violence against women and the conditions that support and enable it. We cannot afford to fail to identify and name patriarchy as an ideology underpinning violence and we cannot afford to fail to name male violence against women in the Manchester attack.   If we want to end men’s violence against women and girls we will have to dismantle the structures that support inequality between women and men, without this almost any intervention that we might make will have little impact.

The prevent agenda, one of the 4 strands of the UK governments counter-terrorism strategy,  has been condemned as toxic and anti-Muslim, as reinforcing rather than healing mistrust, but cultural relativism is not the solution.   If we want to tackle terrorism, we need to understand and acknowledge that structural inequalities that create the conditions for violent hatred – be they grounded in patriarchy– or imperialism or  capitalism  – are critical and that solutions, if they are to have any impact, need to be equally ambitious.  We also need to make sure our definition of terrorism includes acts of violence perpetrated by those claiming to be motivated by the aims of ideologies held, or perceived to be held, by populations who are mainly white. Religion is one of the tools of ideology. We need to push for a secular state, that doesn’t have to be about the absence of religion from the lives of those who choose it, but it does mean the separation of religion and the state.   Of course if we are to learn from the mistakes of imperialism, this means that the West cannot impose secularism on the Global South.  But we can redouble our efforts to fight for universal Human Rights for all, and human rights fully encompass women’s rights. The right to life, the right to freedom from torture, the right to freedom from slavery: men’s violence against women and more broadly the oppression of women is an international human rights crisis.

Yes, now is the time for unity – and in that unity we should seek our connections to those killed and harmed in the name of violent and oppressive ideologies across the world.  We must be unified in our fight to identify, name and end all forms of men’s violence against women and girls and also to end hierarchies between women and girls.  Whether international terrorism or domestic terrorism, men’s violence against women and girls is used to control, disempower and degrade women and girls.  The attack in Manchester was an attack on women and girls, on our liberty, our safety, our lives.   The response to terrorism must always include the rights of women.

In memory of

Angelica Klis, 40

Georgina Callendar, 18

Saffie Roussos, 8

Kelly Brewster , 32

Olivia Campbell, 15

Alison Howe,45

Lisa Lees, 47

Jane Tweddle-Taylor, 51

Megan Hurley, 15

Nell Jones, 14

Michelle Kiss, 45

Sorrell Leczkowski, 14

Chloe Rutherford, 17

Eilidh Macleod, 14

Wendy Fawell, 50

Courtney Boyle, 19

Elaine McIver,43

And also,

Martyn Hett, 29

Marcin Klis, 42

John Atkinson, 28

Liam Curry, 19

Philip Tron, 32

Why the hierarchy of dead women and girls?

Like anyone else, I was saddened to wake up to the news that a body has been found in the search for 14-year-old Alice Gross, and that her disappearance has now become a murder inquiry; similarly, I felt sickened to hear about the rape and  murder of 23-year old Hannah Witheridge, just two weeks ago.

But since Alice went missing – and in addition to Hannah – at least ten other UK women have been killed through suspected male violence.  Why don’t we all know the name of Leighann Duffy, 26, stabbed to death in Walthamstow? What about Glynis Bensley, 48, who witnesses said was pursued by two masked men on bikes before she was killed? Perhaps some people will recall the name of Pennie Davis, 47, found dead in a field, stabbed as she tended her horse.  What about Serena Hickey, Dorothy Brown, 66; Nicola Mckenzie, 37; Davinia Loynton, 59; or Lorna McCarthy, 50?

The murder of 82-year-old Palmira Silva who was beheaded in London was also front page news this month, but few were aware that she was the third woman to have been beheaded in London in less than six months, after  Tahira Ahmed, 38, in June and  Judith Nibbs, 60, in April. Was this simply because beheading is big news at the moment due to the murders of David Haines,  James Foley and Steven Sotloff?

The killer of 15-year-old Shereka Marsh, shot in Hackney earlier this year, was found guilty of manslaughter this week.  Did we all mourn the 15-year-old school-girl, described by teachers as one of their “shining stars”, on course to sit 10 GCSEs this summer?  Wasn’t being accidentally shot by your boyfriend also big news, also international news, this month?

Men’s violence against women and girls, systemic, connected, has killed at least 11 dead UK women this month.  At least 111 UK women have been killed through suspected male violence so far this year, 111 women in 272 days is one dead woman every 2.45 days.

Older, black, usually but not all, killed by men they had known and loved – their husbands, boyfriends, ex’s and sons (8 women have been killed by their sons this year, 13 last year, 16 the year before) – why don’t we care so much about these women? Young, white and blond, killed by a stranger, hold the front pages – but don’t bother to make the connections with other women killed by men; talk about anything, immigration, terrorism, tourism, guns and gangs – talk about anything except male violence against women and girls.

Innocent Victims? Isn’t that just another way of blaming women and girls for men’s violence?

The phrase “innocent victim” has re-emerged to describe Sabrina Moss – a 24-year old teacher who was shot dead in London as she celebrated her birthday in August 2013 – in British bastions of judgemental conservative journalism The Daily Mail and the Express.

It’s a phrase that came in to my consciousness when it was used to describe 16-year-old Jane MacDonald who was murdered on 26 June 1977 by being hit on the head with a hammer three times and stabbed in the chest and back around 20 times. When her face-down body was turned over by police, they found a broken bottle complete with screw-top embedded in her chest.  She was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe and was the fifth woman of thirteen that he is known to have killed.  Before her, there had been 28-year-old Wilma McCann, beaten with a hammer and stabbed to death in October 1975; 42-year-old Emily Jackson, beaten with a hammer and stabbed 52 times with a screw-driver in January 1975; Irene Richardson, 28, beaten with a hammer and stabbed and slashed with a Stanley knife in February 1977 and Patricia Atkinson, 32, beaten and clawed with a hammer and also stabbed, in April 1977.  Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson and Patricia Atkinson had not been described by the press as innocent victims.  Why? Because Jane MacDonald was the first woman known to have been murdered by Sutcliffe who was not in prostitution.  Sutcliffe himself shared this belief that prostituted women were less worthy than none prostituted women.  In his confession, referring to Jane MacDonald, he said

“The next one I did I still feel terrible about, it was the young girl Jayne MacDonald. I read recently about her father dying of a broken heart and it brought it all back to me. I realised what sort of a monster I had become. I believed at the time I did it that she was a prostitute.”

and

“When I saw in the papers that MacDonald was so young and not a prostitute, I felt like someone inhuman and I realised that it was a devil driving me against my will and that I was a beast.”

Leaving aside Sutcliffe’s failure to take responsibility for his actions –  blaming them on being driven by the devil, not his own violent misogyny –  the implication is clear, that beating and stabbing four prostituted women to death was something less than monstrous. He became a monster when he killed Jane, not when he had killed Wilma, Emily, Irene and Patricia.

This week, Oscar Pistorius was found not guilty of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he killed.  State prosecutor Gerrie Nel refered to Pistorius as causing “the death of an innocent woman” and again referred to him being “convicted of a serious crime of killing an innocent woman.”  Of course, Reeva Steenkamp, in comparison to Pistorius was innocent, but surely that is almost always the case when comparing murder victims to their killers.    If not innocent, what are they? Guilty? Or perhaps somehow complicit in their own death?

Despite attempts at law reform, some women’s complicity in their own murders is still implied indeed enshrined  in British law.  Academic Adrian Howe has looked at infidelity in the sentencing of men convicted of intimate partner homicide.  She points out that  “For over 300 years, criminal courts have regarded sexual infidelity as sufficiently grave provocation as to provide a warrant, indeed a ‘moral warrant’, for reducing murder to manslaughter.”  and that whilst “ ‘sexual infidelity’ was expressly excluded as a trigger for loss of control in the new loss of control defence laid down in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009”, “sexual infidelity still has mitigating prowess” in diminished responsibility pleas, as does men’s ‘distress’ if they kill a partner who is in the process of leaving them.  This ‘distress’ could just as easily be described men’s entitlement, or their rage that their partner has the audacity to reject them and move on.  A woman’s murder is somehow less heinous, deserving a reduced plea of manslaughter or a reduced sentence, if the court accepts that something that she did contributed to a man’s choice to kill her.

Dead women get no opportunity to defend their character; but even if they could, it should not make a difference.   Victims of violence should not be graded according to their worth, the balance would inevitably be tipped to discredit those not deemed to be ‘good’ women according to a scale reflecting class-biased and sexist values of what a woman should be.  We can see this when we look at the justice system and men’s sexual violence against women.  Women are not equal in the eyes of the law. The concept of ‘lady-like’ behaviour controls, judges and stratifies; acceptable/respectable standards of woman or girlhood align with middle-class standards of conduct and appearance.  Catharine MacKinnon argued  that the law divides women along indices of consent from ‘the virginal daughter’ to ‘whorelike wives and prostitutes’ with women who meet standards closer to the former, less likely to be found to have consented to unwanted intercourse, more likely to be believed regarding rape and sexual violence. Women who are socially or educationally disadvantaged are less likely to ‘perform well’ in the criminal justice system1 and women from working-class backgrounds are more likely to refuse to adhere to the status of victim, more likely to endure/cope and more likely to minimise injury2, as victims is it we who are on trial, we who are judged and the men who attack us who benefit from our perceived innocence.  In Rotherham, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and beyond, we’ve seen how labelling girls as slags and troublemakers allows the men who abuse to continue to do so.

Women victims of male violence should not have unequal status under the law.  Whether we have fucked one man or woman or five hundred; whether we pay our bills though prostitution, preaching, teaching or trust funds. Our laws, written by white middle-class men, favour white middle-class men and all women victims of male violence deserve justice, not just those of us who according to some scale of judgement are deemed ‘innocent’.

 

1 Temkin 2002b:6

2 Skeggs, 2005:971

 

Counting Dead Women: Reviewing 2012 – How 107 dead women became 126

When I talk about why I started counting dead women, I begin with my realisation that in the first three days of 2012, seven UK women had been killed though male violence.  More than two years later, I found out it wasn’t seven women in three days, but eight.

Betty Yates, a retired teacher who was 77 years-old, was found dead at home in her house in Bewdley, Worcestershire on 4th January.  She had been beaten with a walking stick and stabbed in the head four times, two days earlier.  The knife used to kill her was still embedded in her neck.  Stephen Farrow, 48, was charged with her murder through DNA evidence matched after he murdered vicar John Suddard on 13 February.

2012 then, in the first three days of the year, eight women were killed though male violence.  Three days: 8 dead women: 3 shot, 2 stabbed, 1 strangled, 1 smothered and one beaten to death through 15 blunt force trauma injuries.

By the end of the year, I’d counted and named 107 women killed though suspected male violence, but as cases of women’s killings went to court, that number grew.  By February 2013 it was 109 women, by  the end of July it became 114, then 118.  In October 2013, I added Carole Waugh and then later Louise Evans;  in March 2014, I added Sally Ann Harrison.  May 2014, and not only is there Betty Yates but Jenny Methven, Yong Li Qui, Patricia Seddon and Eleftheria Demetriou.

Jenny Methven was 80 years-old when she was found dead on 20th February, she died through blunt force injuries to her head and body. Her skull was fractured from one side to the other with bone splinters embedded in her brain. 46-year-old William Kean has been found guilty of her murder.

Yong Li Qui, 42,  was murdered by Gang Wang, 48.  In his trial, he denied he intended to kill her or cause her really serious harm. He had beaten her head with an object so severely that her skull was fractured and her brain tissue could be seen.  She died on 25th March, a week after being attacked.

Patricia Seddon, 65, and her husband Robert, 68, were shot dead by their son Stephen. Four months earlier, he had staged a road accident and attempted to kill them by driving into a canal with them strapped in the back seats of a car.

Eleftheria Demetriou, 79, was stabbed to death by Hakim Abdillah, 38, she was killed through multiple wounds to the heart and spleen by a man she had befriended and who used to call her ‘grandma’.

I’ve written before about how I initially started counting women killed by men who were partners, ex-partners or family members: domestic violence; I’ve also looked at how femicide is a more useful but still problematic term because, whilst using patriarchal society as a context  it focuses on women killed because they are women  and not enough on toxic masculinity.

Between the five women above, two, Betty Yates and Patricia Seddon were murdered by men who also murdered a man.  I don’t know how the sex of 80 year-old Jenny Methven, 79 year-old Eleftheria Demetriou, and 77 year-old Betty, was relevant when they were killed by William Kean, 46,  Hakim Abdillah, 38 and Stephen Farrow, 48.  The age gaps between killer and victim, the inevitable differences in their strength; and the brutality of their attacks mean masculinity and power over women and misogyny, the hatred of women cannot be ruled out.   But the differences between the numbers of men who kill women (or men) to the number of women who kill women or men; and the number of men who kill their mothers (or father) to the number of women who kill a parent mean that if we want to end male violence against women, we need to look at patriarchy, sex inequality and socially constructed toxic gender for the answers.

The names of all 126 UK women killed through male violence in 2012 can be found here.

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.

There are a lot of isolated incidents around

One of the reasons I started counting dead women was hearing a murder of a woman killed referred to as an ‘isolated incident’.  Seven women were killed in the first three days of 2012 and yet connections between these occurrences of men’s fatal violence against women were absent.   It’s little over two years and 275 dead women later, and police are still describing men’s killings of women as isolated incidents.

On Sunday 23rd February 2014, two women, one in her 60s and one in her 40s, as yet unnamed but believed to be mother and daughter, were shot dead.  82 year-old John Lowe has been arrested for their murders.  A Detective Chief Inspector speaking on behalf of Surrey police said:

“We are conducting a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding these two deaths. However, at this time, we believe this is an isolated incident and there is no further risk to the wider community.”

Which aspect of  their murders was an isolated incident? That they were killed by a man.  Surely not, as stated above 275 women have been killed by men in the last 26 months.  That they were shot?  No, not that either. At least 15 of the 275 women killed were shot .

Less than two weeks earlier, 20 year-old Hollie Gazzard was stabbed  to death. A Police Chief Inspector said

“I would like to reassure members of this community, both residents and local businesses, that this is an isolated incident. These offences don’t happen in Gloucester regularly. This incident was very tragic, however; both victim and suspect knew each other. They were in a previous relationship. That doesn’t lessen this horrific incident but it would be good for us to reassure the local community.”

Again, it’s difficult to see which aspect of Hollie’s murder was isolated.  That she was stabbed?  Definitely not, already in 2014, 6 women have been stabbed to death by men.  In 2013, at least 45 women were stabbed to death and there were 44 in 2012.  That’s 95 women stabbed in 26 months.  Was it that she was stabbed by someone that she had been in a relationship with? Certainly not that, approximately three-quarters of the UK women killed by men since January 2012 have been killed by a partner or former partner.  Perhaps then it’s that Hollie was killed in Gloucestershire.   Gloucestershire wouldn’t be described as a femicide hotspot, though  it’s only 6 months since the body of Jane Wiggett was found dead, her ex-husband has been charged with murder and remanded in custody.  Two women dead in 6 months?  Not so isolated then.

Earlier this year, on 24th January, 17 year-old Elizabeth Thomas was stabbed to death in Oxted, Surrey.  A 16-year-old male, said to be known to her, has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.  The Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector said:

“We believe this to be an isolated incident and that there is no risk to the further community.”

It’s difficult to fathom which aspect of Elizabeth’s murder was an isolated incident.  That she was killed by a man known to her? No. That she was stabbed?  No. That she was a teenager?  No, not that either.  Of the 275 women killed since January 2012, she’s the 16th teenager.  Maybe it’s that she lived in affluent Surrey, the county ranked fifth least deprived according to the multiple deprivation index?  Maybe that, after all it’s a long 14 months since 25 year-old Georgina Hackett was bludgeoned to death with a mallet by her boyfriend Daniel Baker.  Yet Elizabeth’s murder was followed only 5 weeks later by the fatal shooting of the two women mentioned earlier. Maybe now, Elizabeth’s murder seems a little less of an isolated incident.

Also earlier this year, 43 year-old Karen Wild was stabbed to death in Hanbury, Worcestershire.  A police  Superintendent said:

“Following this tragic incident, we continue our investigations in and around the house, including searches and forensic examinations.  I would like to reassure the local community that we believe this to be an isolated incident and no-one else is being sought in relation to our investigation.”

What was isolated about Karen Wild’s murder? We know it isn’t because she was killed by a man.  We know it isn’t because she was stabbed.  Worcestershire is another largely affluent area, Worcester district is ranked third least deprived according to the multiple deprivation index.  Maybe all that affluence shortens memories, after-all 3 women – Alethea Taylor, 63; Jacqueline Harrison, 47 and Louise Evans, 32 – were killed though male violence in Worcestershire in 2012.  Could it be that Karen’s son, Lian Wild was arrested and charged with her murder, that marks her killing as an isolated incident?  No, it isn’t that either; Karen Wild is one of at least 32 women who have been killed by their sons since January 2012.

This is not about local communities, affluent or not. It is about women and it is about men.  Are women not a community?  Is our risk through men’s violence unrecognised? It is self-evident that each women killed by a man is a unique individual, as is each man that makes the choice to kill her. The circumstances around each killing are never identical.   But that doesn’t make them isolated incidents.  By refusing to see a pattern we are refusing to see the myriad connections between incidents of men’s fatal violence against women; and by refusing to see the connections we are closing our eyes to the commonalities in the causes. What sort of a message would it send, if, when a man killed a woman, police didn’t refer to an isolated incident but to yet another example of femicide? Yet another example of men’s fatal violence against women. Maybe then, naming male violence,  misogyny, sex-inequality, dangerous rules of gender and patriarchy wouldn’t be restricted to feminists and would become part of a wider understanding.  Maybe then, there would be sufficient motivation to do something about ending men’s fatal violence against women.

Here’s a thing: women exist

Insult us from the playground to parliament: Bitch. Witch. Slapper. Cow. Dog. Mouse. Mousse. Tart. Whore. Slut. Slag. Slattern. Fish-wife. Bossy. Bag. Harridan. Hag. Man. Man-hater

Strengthen the cage: reinforce gender by making girlhood pinker, shinier, sparklier
Princess, pretty, doll, lady,
Sweeter Sweetie: sugar, honey, treacle

Abort us. Kill us, rape us, burn us, drown us
Constrict us: corset, girdle, spanx. Tie us in, tie us down
Restrict us. Write us out of history. Block our education
Pay us less. Prevent us from voting, driving, ski-jumping

Sell us lies
Fill us with botox, collagen, PIPs
Our lips, wrinkles, breasts, bottoms: bigger, puffier, perter
Our skin too shiny, too dull, too dark, too pale
Cut out our fat, labia, clitorises
Heels higher, towering, teetering, toppling
Hair longer, straighter, blonder
Strip it, pluck it, wax it, shave it

We promised to obey
Treat us as property
Legalise our commodification
Prostitute us. Objectify us
Hide us in modest clothing
Shame our bodies
Camel-toe, nipple-block, vagisil

This is society, not biology, not psychology
Man-made
Patriarchy

Infiltrate, assimilate, vilify
Turn the tables, accuse us of hate-speech
Deny us a platform
Segregate us
Try to ban us from meeting

I am woman, hear me roar
Phenomenal Woman
Keep trying. Try harder
Your hatred
Your need to subjugate, dominate and place your interests first will not silence me and my sisters
You will not erase us
Still I rise. We rise.

 

Mother Killers: 30 UK men killed – or allegedly killed – their mothers between 2012-2014

This piece is about men who killed their mothers in the UK since 2012.  I will also look at men who killed their grandmothers.1

Home Office data tells us that between 2001/2 and 2011/12, 108 women were killed by their adult son/daughter;  over the 11 year period, that’s an average of almost 10 a year.  This data does not tell us the sex of the killer.  When I started recording the UK women killed though male violence in January 2012, I did not expect to find the number of women killed by their sons that I did.  According to my records, 16 women were killed by their sons in 2012,  12 in 2013,  one man has been charged with stabbing his mother in 2014 and a second recently arrested for murder.  The figure may be higher for 2013 but several cases have not yet gone to court and the details of the relationship between victim and alleged killer have not been made public in some of these cases.  The numbers of women killed by their sons alone in 2012 and 2013 are higher than the average number of women killed by an adult son/daughter over the preceding 11 years. In 2012 one woman was killed by her grandson, in 2013 two women were killed by their grandsons and a third by her step-grandson.  The details of these murders, killings and alleged killings are given at the end of this piece.

The primary methods selected by the men who killed, or allegedly killed,  their mothers have been:

  • Battered with metal fireguard & slit throat             1 man
  • Multiple injuries and decapitation                             1 man
  • Shot                                                                                          2 men
  • Blunt force trauma                                                            2 men
  • Strangled                                                                               4 men
  • Stabbed                                                                                  8 men
  • Smothered/suffocated/asphyxiated                        4 men
  • Slapped and pushed,causing death  thro’ heart condition                      1 man
  • Head injuries                                                                      5 men
  • Beaten,  dismembered and beheaded                      1 man
  • Undisclosed                                                                       3 man (cases not yet gone to trial).

Three of the men killing their grandmothers stabbed them, one killed her though blunt force trauma injuries.

The average (mean) age of women killed by their sons was 64 years, the average age of their son, their killer, was 36 years.   The youngest mother killed was Leah Whittle who was 42, the oldest were Delores Smith and Olwen Dohoney who were both 86.   The youngest son killing his mother was Keiran Smith,17  who killed Leah Whittle,42;  the oldest was Stephen Dohoney, 55 who killed Olwen Dohoney.   The average age of women killed by their grandsons was 78 years, the average age of their killer was 21 years.  The youngest grandmother killed was Janis Dundas who was 63, the oldest was Kathleen Milward aged 87.  The youngest grandson son killing his grandmother mother was Nathaniel Flynn,17 who killed Louisa Denby, 84; the oldest was Garry Kane, 40 who killed Kathleen Milward.

Where it has been possible for me to ascertain the race of the men who killed their mothers (in 25 out of the 29 cases), the distribution is similar to the UK population as stated in the 2011 census.  86.2 % of the men who killed their mothers were white; according to the census, the UK population is 87.1 % white.  The small variation is can be explained as a result of the relatively small sample size.   All four men who killed their  grandmothers were UK born white.

Mental ill-heath has been cited in the cases of 13 men who killed or allegedly killed their mother.  Drug-use (including prescribed drugs, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, ecstasy) has been noted in eight cases, alcohol in two and a combination of alcohol and drugs in two.  Drug use has been noted in all cases of the men who killed their grandmothers.   At the time of writing,  8 cases have not yet been to court and it is not unusual for such information to be withheld pre-trial.  This is not to say that mental health problems and/or substance use cause violence against women or cause men to kill their mothers.  Many people with mental health problems and/or people who use drugs/alcohol are never violent.   The Mental Health Foundation estimated that one-in-four people experience  a mental health problem in a year, clearly the vast majority do not commit violence acts including murder. However research suggests a relationship between mental illness and violence, a risk factor,  with combined problematic substance use and personality disorders being identified as a significantly increased risk.   Just as in the population who do not use substances problematically, or who do not experience mental health problems, men are more likely to kill their mothers than women are to kill either their mothers or fathers.  It is critical that health professionals take seriously threats and histories of violence against women but this does not indicate a causal relationship.  We  must question the roles of stigma and the social exclusion  on the actions of people with mental health problems and problematic substance use.  We must also remain aware that misogyny and sexism have an impact across all sections of society and therefore not lose sight of the roots of violence against women – patriarchy – on occasions when mental ill-heath is expressed through violence against women.

So called ‘mercy killing’ was used in the defences of at least four men and implied in the case of one who killed himself after killing his mother.  I feel sceptical about the veracity of such a claim in some but not all of these cases, the level of brutality used by some men to kill their mothers belies any notion of mercy.  We need to allow people the right to choose to die. 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 a rigorous ethical legal framework and guidance are necessary; but with or without recourse to assisted suicide as a legal option, it will continue to occur.

When looking at men’s violence against women – whether their mothers, partners or otherwise –   mainstream analyses infrequently ask whether perpetrators are more sexist and misogynistic than men who are not violent to women.  Problematic substance use,  mental health problems, emotional problems,  employment and economic problems,  jealousy, ‘snapping’ and ‘rows’ are routinely considered,  reinforcing the dominant agenda on – the excuses for  – what is seen as significant.  This must be recast and the role of patriarchy expressed through inequality, sexism, objectification and misogyny needs to be placed at the centre of our analysis of all forms of men’s violence against women and our efforts to end it.

1 I have found no cases of women killing their fathers in the same period.  I have found two cases of women who killed their mothers in 2013.  Kauther Silvera was found guilty of killing her mother Vittoria Baker. Emma Parr was found guilty of killing her mother Carol Parr.  Both women were convicted for manslaughter.

Men who killed or have allegedly killed their mothers: UK 2012-2014

2014

On  12 February a 43-year-old woman was found with severe head injuries and a serious chest wound in the corridor outside her home in East London she  was pronounced dead at the scene.  Neighbours had called police after hearing shouting and screaming coming from the apartment.  A teenage boy, said to be her son was arrested for murder.

Lian Wild, believed to be the son of Karen Wild was charged with his mother’s murder.  Karen was found with serious stab wounds and pronounced dead on the scene on 30th January.

2013

Simon Forgie, 42 stabbed his mother Pernella Forgie, 79, to death on 7th February 2013.  She suffered more than 50 knife wounds to her head and neck, and another ten to her chest.  Forgie pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The prosecution accepted the plea after three psychiatrists agreed he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the attack.

Jeffrey Ash, 50 smothered his 83-year-old mother, Ellen Ash on March 21 2013.  Firefighters responding to a call entered the house and discovered Ellen Ash’s severely burned body on the living room floor. Experts said the fire had been started deliberately and bottles of turps and white spirit were found in the house.  A court heard that Jeffrey Ash could no longer cope with Ellen Ash’s hallucinations, her failure to recognise her son and the “onerous burden” of looking after her almost single-handedly.  Jeffrey Ash was been jailed for 40 months for culpable homicide.

James Dunleavy, 40 beheaded and dismembered his mother Philomena Dunleavy, 66 before burying her in a shallow grave in April/May 2013.  Medics could not tell how she died and injuries to her head, smashed ribs and damage to small bones in her neck – often linked to strangulation – could have been sustained after her death. She may still have been alive, but unconscious, when her son began to hack off her legs with a knife and saw.

Dunleavy’s legal team arranged for his transfer from prison to the State Hospital. Dunleavy had denied murder and attempting to cover up his crime but was found guilty.  He had a history of violence against women including against a former partner.

Roland Holman, 55 suffocated his mother Myrna Holman, 76 with a pillow on 3 June 2013.  He was jailed for 18 months, having earlier pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.  Myrna Holman was suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer and had been given 12 weeks to live, Roland Holman insisted she ‘asked him to end it’.

When police arrived at the house, they found Holman in tears, sitting beside his mother’s lifeless body clutching her ‘pale white hand’ under the covers.  He later said: ‘She told me she didn’t want to be here anymore. I did it. I did it. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke – I just killed my mum. She wanted to go to the toilet and I lifted her to the commode but it was too late. There was blood and mess all over the place. She looked at me and asked me to do it for her. I lifted her back onto the bed and put the pillow over her. She didn’t even struggle.’

Roland Holman received a sentence of 18 months.  Speaking after the hearing, his brother, David Holman, said: ‘It’s disgusting that someone can make a 999 call saying they have just killed their mother and get away with it. He is a good guy and did it only to help my mum but that judge has given him a pat on the back and let him go free. I never had the chance to sit with mum and hold her hand.’

John Jenkin, 23  has been charged with the murders of his mother Alice McMeekin, 58 and his sister after their bodies were found at home along with their slaughtered pet dog on 8th June 2013, the women  had suffered head injuries.

John Jenkin, who was arrested shortly after, is also accused of animal cruelty. A neighbour said: “I heard screaming, really high-pitched screams in the early hours. Then later I heard more screaming. It sounded like someone telling a dog to shut up.”

Paul Stones, 38, strangled his mother Marianne Stones, 58, on 9 June 2013.  He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.  He walked into a police station and asked to speak to a police officer.  He told the officer that he had just killed his mother by strangling her, and that her body could be found in the house.

Mark Howe, 21, admitted murdering his mother Katrina Wardle, 48 on 16th July 2013.  Police said she had been stabbed and that they followed a trail of blood from the premises to a post office cash machine and a petrol station.

Mark Howe repeatedly stabbed and slashed Katrina Wardle in the face, mouth, neck, chest and arms before leaving her to bleed to death on her bedroom floor.  She had curled up in a foetal position, trying to protect herself. Howe used a 12-inch knife, the tip of which was bent by the force used.  A judge said the assault was ‘akin to torture’.

Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said: “She didn’t die immediately. The totality of the wounds caused her to bleed to death. A passer-by heard her pleading with you to stop, but you didn’t and left her to die.”  ‘’You told Facebook friends you hated your mother, and became hateful towards her.”

Nigel Constable, 51 is due to stand trial charged with the murder of his mother Betty Constable, 79.  She died in hospital on September 24, 2013 where hospital and staff raised concerns about her conditions. Post-mortem tests have been carried out, but police have not yet released the results.  He has pleaded not guilty and has been remanded in custody.

Oludotun Kalejaiye, 21 was arrested on suspicion of murder after his mother 46-year-old Tolu Kalejaiye was found dead in their home on 26 September 2013.  Police discovered her lying on her back in her kitchen,  surrounded by blood and with a large laceration to the left side of her neck.

Mohammed Badvie, 42 has been charged with murdering his 69-year-old mother Badri Dabir on 5th October 2013.  After forcing entry to the house, police officers found  her body,  shortly afterwards she was pronounced dead. A post mortem gave the cause of death as head injuries.

Stephen Dohoney, 55, was found hanged and his mother 86-year-old Ethel Dohoney, was found dead in her bed on 12th November 2013. It has been stated that she had been stabbed in the chest and a knife and blood stains were discovered in their home.

Matthew Brierley, 45 was been charged with the murder of his mother Glennis Brierley on 14th December 2013.  Police received a call from a public telephone reporting that a woman had been killed.  A post mortem concluded Glennis Brierley died after being stabbed.

2012

On 4th March 2012, 24-year-old Joseph Cupori stabbed his 43-year-old mother, Anna Cuporiova, before beating her unconscious with a metal fireguard and then slitting her throat and dumping her in a wheelie bin.

Joseph Cupori  had been inhaling butane gas at the time and since has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was convicted of murder, despite a denial on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Daniel Corriat, 43 killed his 76-year-old mother Elizabeth Coriat on 24th March 2012.  She was found on her bed, fully clothed, decapitated and mutilated with various weapons embedded in her head and body, the injuries to the wrists and ankles, suggesting a ‘crucifixion-like’ pattern. She had suffered almost 50 separate injuries inflicted by weapons including carving knives, secateurs, a chef’s steel and a pruning saw.  Her head had been cut off completely off, rotated 180 degrees, and placed back on her body.

Daniel Corriat  had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 18 and had a history of violence.

34-year-old Ian Blakey told his mother Jean Blakey,55 he wanted to take her shopping but instead, on 29 April 2012, drove to a secluded woodland and shot her, killed his dog and then shot himself because – according to a note he left for his ex-partner – he ‘didn’t fancy doing life’ for her murder and claimed he could not watch his mother live with multiple sclerosis

Jean’s partner of 26 years, Harry Mawson, said Blakey would visit his mother once or twice a week but would often only stay for a short while. He also said it was unusual for him to take her out and the last time he had done so was for her 50th birthday, five years earlier.  Mawson told the coroner that Jean had been looking forward to the trip and she had no wish to die.  He said:  “She was not bad as he (Ian) made out. She was a happy woman who woke up every morning with a smile on her face. She never once complained about her illness. She always greeted her carers with a smile and enjoyed outings with them.”

A post-mortem showed that Blakey had had taken cocaine and an ecstasy-type drug.

Paul Sturt, 30 killed his mother Annette Sturt, 49, at her home in May 2012.  She had been struck with a blunt instrument before being strangled and was found in a shed.  Judge Adele Williams ruled that heavy cannabis user Sturt was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia when he killed Annette and  ordered that Sturt be detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act.  Sturt pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Mark Stones, 38, told Manchester Crown Court that he tucked her his mother Marian Stones, 58, in to bed and told her he was sorry after he strangled her on 10 June 2012. Stones told the jury: ‘I sat on the bed and talked to her for a while. I said how sorry I was and I didn’t know why I did it and how much I loved her.’

Stones denied murder but was convicted by a jury after a medical expert said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that the anti-depressant drug Sertraline prescribed to Stones would have driven him to kill.

He had a history of violence against women including against his ex-wife and another former partner.

Paul Heiss was wanted for questioning over the murder of his mother, Margaret Sheehy when he allegedly stabbed a woman to death in the street in Barcelona.  After his arrest Spanish detectives discovered that he was wanted for extradition to the UK on suspicion of strangling his mother to death in June 2012.

Kaysley Smithen, 21 has been given an indefinite hospital order after being found guilty of killing his mother Janice Smithen, 46 with a weights bar in the home they shared on 2 July, 2012.  A post mortem found Janice Smithen had died from blunt force head injuries.

Police said Smithen had “a severe mental health problem”  and had been ruled unfit to plead on a murder charge earlier in the trial.

Andrew Cane, 30 strangled his mother Linda Sheard, 63 on 11 July 2012.  She suffered black eyes, broken ribs and bruises all over her body, including where he held her down as he strangled her from behind.  Cane stole her wallet, texted a dealer and took a taxi to a cashpoint where he took out £200 which he spent on cocaine.

Cane pleaded guilty to manslaughter but not guilty to the more serious charge of murder when he appeared in court but the plea was not accepted and he was tried and found guilty of murder.

Kieren Smith, 17 stabbed his mother Leah Whittle, 42 on 21st July 2012.  Smith had  severed her spinal cord rendering her unconscious and immobilising her early on in the killing, so there were no defence injuries on her arms or hands.  Smith denied the killing,  claiming that men came down from Yorkshire to execute his mother because his brother had got into trouble over a drug debt.  He was found guilty of murder.

Robert Archbold, 49, said he ‘got into a row’ with his mother Jane Archbold, 77, and put his hand over her mouth “to shut her up” on 21 August 2012. He admitted unlawful killing on the grounds of diminished responsibility but denied murder.  A post-mortem examination showed that Jane Archbold had 15 abrasions to her head and face, which were consistent with being smothered and strangled.

Mark Tyler, 37 shot his mother Maureen Tyler, 79, before shooting himself on 3rd September 2012.  Maureen Tyler was shot face-on by her son as she sat in a living room sofa. Forensic evidence suggested four days passed before Mark Tyler killed himself.  Both died of single shots from a sawn-off shotgun.

MarkTyler had been for a psychiatric consultation in July, but “no diagnosis” was made. He had previously been identified as  “dangerous” by mental health experts and had a history of drug use.

Graeme Morris, 38 killed his mother, Ann Morris, 63 and battered his father on 5th October 2012. The couple were sitting in their conservatory when Morris began to shout abuse, grabbed his mother by her hair before punching his father to the floor, stripping him to his socks and kicking him. Ann Morris had a heart condition, which had been diagnosed in 1996 and was known to her family, meaning that strenuous physical activity or stressful situations had the potential to be life-threatening. His father spent seven days in hospital following the attack, receiving treatment for injuries including a fractured eye socket.  Morris admitted culpable homicide and assault. He will only be released with the approval of Scottish ministers.

Ian Woolley, 44  admitted killing his mother Pauline Gillen, 69, and Jason Duffield, the neighbour who went to investigate the sound of disturbance, by stabbing them with a screwdriver on 6th October 2012. Woolley, killed Pauline Gillen as she lay in bed before stabbing her and Jason Duffied to death and throwing him over a fifth floor balcony.  Woolley pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was sentenced to be detained in a secure mental facility indefinitely, he cannot be released without the authority of the secretary of state.

Kazik Pasierbek, 39, hit his mother, Margaret Krawcewicz, 72, over the head “six or seven” times on 12 October 2012 causing bleeding and swelling to her brain. He was found guilty of murder.  His trial heard that Pasierbek had a history of hitting Mrs Krawcewicz when she refused to give him money.

Jurors in the trial were played a recording of a call made from lifeline equipment in Margaret Krawcewicz’s flat which she activated in the early hours of that morning.  In it, she can be heard retching and saying: “Oh god, what did you do to my head Kazik, you beat me up so badly, don’t do it.  Oh god, I am so sick, release me from this earth. Release me god. My father in heaven, I can’t stand the pain. Let me die, let me die, release me from this earth.”

Peter Dickson, 37 smothered his mother, Carol Cooper, 66 to death by holding a pillow over her head on 2 November 2012.  He was found guilty of murder and jailed for a minimum of 18 years. Passing sentence, Judge Charles Gratwicke said: ”This was a brutal and vicious attack on your own mother, a lady who had no cause to fear you and who was in poor health.  She doted on you and provided for your every whim, putting you on a pedestal and your response to that love, affection and care was to smother her to death.

William Smith, 49 killed his mother Delores Smith, 86, on 27th December 2012.  A post-mortem examination gave the cause of her death as head injuries. William Smith had beaten her with two frying pans before cutting her throat.  He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after psychiatrists agreed he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act.  When asked why he had killed her, Smith said: “Because she is my mother and I love her.”

Men who killed or have allegedly killed their grandmothers: UK 2012-2014

Gary Kane, 40 murdered his grandmother Kathleen Millward, 87  on 3rd January 2012, inflicting 31 separate injuries including 15 head and neck injuries caused by “blunt force trauma”.  He then left her dead or dying on the kitchen floor.  He had a history of violence including a four month jail term for assault in 1997.

Jack Huxley, 20,  sexually assaulted and murdered his step-grandmother 62-year-old Janis Dundas.  She was found by police officers’ face down in a pool of blood in her bedroom with three knives protruding from her back. She had been mutilated, stabbed and slashed 28 times and had suffered a sexual assault.  The court heard how Huxley accessed pornography showing sex between young men and mature women in the hours before and after the murder.

Lewis Dale, 17 has been charged with the murder of his grandmother Irene Dale, 78 on 27 April 2013.  His grandfather, Allan Dale, who was also stabbed in the attack described how his grandson “lunged” at him with a kitchen knife as he was lying in bed, stabbing him in the chest.  When Allan got up, Dale stabbed him again in the abdomen and then turned on Irene, his wife of more than 50 years, repeatedly stabbing her as she cowered under the duvet. She died at the scene.  Lewis Dale admits he stabbed his grandparents, but denies murder and attempted murder, claiming he was in a “drug-induced psychosis” brought on by using M-Cat.

Nathaniel Flynn murdered his grandmother, Louisa Denby, 84 by stabbing her 50 times as she lay in bed and then attempted to kill a nine-year-old boy on 1 July 2013.  At his trial, the judge heard that three psychiatrists found Flynn had no diagnosable mental illness but said he had been influenced by his heavy, “entrenched” use of cannabis and other drugs.  Flynn ordered an SAS survival guide, two knives, tarpaulin and rope from the internet in the days before he killed his grandmother.  Police believe one of the knives he ordered was used in the attacks, although the weapon has never been recovered.

Sorry, I can’t join your campaign to end male primogeniture, I’m washing my hair

Liza Campbell is campaigning to end male primogeniture – the practice of inheritance of estate and title by the eldest male child.  She explains why she believes it is a feminist issue here.  I’ve already written about becoming class conscious before sex-class conscious and self-identifying as a feminist here.  It didn’t take me long to work out how to reconcile class and sex oppression but I will never  forget that feeling of alienation, difference and being “less than”, when I first experienced ‘posh girls’  en masse (and yes, that’s exactly how I saw them and also exactly what I called them) at ‘A’ level college in Yorkshire in the mid-1980s.  So Campbell’s sentence: “ “Why the hell should we care about posh girls?” I hear you say.” gave me a good dose of ear steam.

Of course male primogeniture is wrong.  Of course.  Of course anything that privileges men over women is wrong.  But that doesn’t mean that ending the sex inequality is more important than ending the inequality.  Campbell ends her piece by saying that if we wish to sneer, then we must also sneer at Brahmin women and Senate Masupha too.  She’s right and I will.  I’d also ask her whether she is using cultural liberalism and the fear of appearing racist to bolster her argument in favour of maintaining inherited class privilege.  Indeed, she uses the practice of female genital mutilation, a form of abuse that for years many white liberals squirmed to condemn because of the fear of condemning a harmful practice in a culture subjugated in the UK, to illustrate the problem of female doorkeepers of patriarchy and the difficulty of dissent for a culture’s daughters.  Please don’t compare a girl’s right to survive with her genitals intact to another’s to be called Lady Blah-di-blah and inherit the family mansion.

Campbell describes the dilemma of being someone who “by accident of birth, finds herself the daughter of an earl.” She says that she doesn’t use her title and is deracinated from that life.  She says that refusal to help her struck her as the worst sort of inverted snobbery.  I might just probably be too busy to help her ‘cos I am too busy googling ‘deracinated’ because my life chances haven’t brought that word in to my vocabulary just yet. Though seriously, I am not going to help her because the answer to one form of inequality of accidental birth (male primogeniture and indeed maleness per se) is not to overlook and ignore other forms of inherited privilege.

I do agree with Campbell that everything is connected.  Though where she argues that “every struggle for women’s rights should be supported; every infringement resisted” I cannot agree. No-one should inherit titles. No-one should inherit wealth, privilege and status over others. No-one should inherit a free-pass to a privileged education that will set that person up for privilege for life. No-one should inherit poverty under the benefits-cap, insecure housing, being born in a war zone.  Food, shelter, safety, education  – and world equality in our right to access these – are surely our goals.  I wish I believed that I’ll see a world in which inequality between people has been erased before I die, but I don’t.  However this will not stop me trying to contribute to creating that world.  In my vision of an equal world, women will be liberated from patriarchal oppression,  male primogeniture will not exist, but I am not interested in ending it for the benefit of privileged women.

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.