Counting dead women

In the first three days of 2012, seven women in the UK were murdered by men, three were shot, two were strangled, one was stabbed and one killed through fifteen “blunt force trauma” injuries. Maybe I would have noticed this anyway; unusually some of the murders received a fair bit of press coverage, perhaps because the three women who were shot were family members killed in a multiple shooting. But mainly I noticed them because the woman who was stabbed comes from Hackney and that’s where the domestic and sexual violence charity that I work for is based. I wanted everyone to know her name and who she was, but professional boundaries meant I couldn’t say much at all. What I could do was name her as one of the number of women killed in the first few days of 2012. The thing is, once I’d started doing that, I didn’t want to stop.

I started keeping a list of the names of women killed through domestic violence. Many people know the ‘two women in England and Wales a week are killed through domestic violence‘ statistic, but how many try to connect with that, to feel the impact of what it really means? For some reason, I thought naming the women killed made the horror of what is happening to women feel more real. I began tweeting the names of the women, eventually settling in to a pattern of doing it at the end of every month. By the 26th February, I’d counted 15 UK women killed through domestic violence.

Then, on 9th March, Ahmad Otak stabbed Samantha Sykes, 18 and Kimberley Frank, 17, to death. Otak, 21, was the ex-boyfriend of Kimberley’s sister Elisa, 19. After killing Kimberley and then Samantha in front of Elisa, he abducted her and drove to Dover in a failed attempt to get to France. The murders of Samantha and Kimberly do not directly fit the definition of domestic violence, (though if you see them as actions of control and coercion in the context of Otak’s relationship with Elisa Frank, then arguably they do), but they are absolutely embedded in gender, in male violence against women. There was no way I was going to overlook these two young women, so at the end of March, I listed the names of women killed through suspected gender related murder. Women killed by men because they are women.

This has had an impact on me that I didn’t really expect. I don’t know when I started understanding domestic and sexual violence as different but related expressions of male violence against women; I’ve certainly been aware of their overlap through my work for as long as I can remember. But, the longer times goes on, the less patience I have with them being treated as separate issues1.

In the course of the year, almost every month when I tweeted the complete and growing list, I’d receive one or two enquiries (some polite and genuine, some – almost always men – who refused to accept that this is a gendered issue or tried to find some other way to demean what I was doing) about what I meant by ‘suspected gender related murders’. So, at the end of the year, with what I though would be the final list of names, I wrote a small piece about what I meant, what and more importantly who I’d included and who I hadn’t. See below2. As well as thinking about issues around gender3, I was worried about legality, for example at least one case had already gone to trial and the male perpetrator had been found not guilty of murder but of manslaughter, also about whether I could be accused of libel, so I always referred to suspected murder and have only ever used information easily accessible in the public domain.

By 31st December 2012, I’d counted and named 107 women. 107 women UK women killed in 365 days, that’s one woman every 3.4 days.

What I hadn’t really expected was that even though the year had ended, the list would continue to grow. The organisation I work for joined One Billion Rising on 14th February 2013. We released a balloon for every UK woman killed in 2012. By the time we were planning the event, 107 women had become 109. I’d found a woman I’d missed and details emerging through the trial of the murderer of another, made it clear that there was a gender related element to her killing. Yet, even by the actual event, the list had grown longer. Andrew Flood was a taxi-driver who strangled and robbed two elderly women, Margaret Biddolph, 78 and Annie Leyland, 88. When I learned he’d also robbed a third woman who according to reports had not been killed because she had not resisted when he robbed her, it seemed to me that there was a clear gendered pattern to his actions. We read the list of names on Parliament Square, we were talking about 109 women, but we read out 111 names, confident that no-one would be counting. Since then, another woman, Corrin Barker, 31 has been added to the list. Corrin’s death was originally reported as a double suicide alongside that of her father, in response to the death of her mother. But following a Freedom of Information request, documents show that police believe that Corrin’s father shot her, that it wasn’t a double suicide, but a murder-suicide. So now it’s not 107, it’s not 109, it’s 112 women killed through suspected gender related murder in 2012; one woman every 3.2 days.

Though planning the One Billion Rising event, I was talking to colleagues that I respect a lot, about the list. Once of the challenges they put to me was asking why I was talking about gender related murder, why not simply male violence against women? I think at first I was resistant, the problem isn’t biology, it’s society. It’s the social construct of gender, it’s inequality, the oppression of women in patriarchal society that is the issue. That’s still true, but it is no less true that what I am looking at is men killing women because they are women. Name the problem? The problem is male violence. Even in the cases where a woman or women were killed by men that do not involve domestic or sexual violence, it is still a man or men killing a woman or women, because they are women. The 2013 list therefore is of women killed though male violence against women. I think I’m going to drop the ‘suspected’ bit too.4

Male violence against women cuts across barriers of age, race, class, religion and geography. Although my list is of UK women, fatal male violence against women happens across the world. The commonalities are greater than any cultural variations. The youngest woman on the list from 2012 is Megan-Leigh Peat, she was 15, and the oldest is Annie Leyland who was 88. The list of the 112 names gives hints of differences in ethnicity, class and culture. I was surprised by how many women were killed by their sons, 13 of the 112 women and also one by her grandson.

It’s almost a year and three months now, since the murders of Susan McGoldrick, 47; Tanya Turnbull, 27; and Alison Turnbull, 44; who were shot by Michael Atherton, 42. Atherton legally owned six weapons, including three shotguns, he’d been granted a gun licence despite a history of domestic violence. A year and three months since 87 year old Kathleen Milward was killed through 15 blunt force trauma injuries inflicted by her grandson, and since Kirsty Treloar, a 20 year old new mother was stabbed 29 times by the father of her three-week-old baby. She was dragged out of the house by Miles Williams, leaving the baby covered in blood and her brother and sister also injured as they tried to protect her. A year and three months since Kirsty was shoved into the back of a car and driven away, to be later found dead two miles away, dumped behind wheelie bins.

I’ve been counting dead women for a year and three months; but not only counting, naming and trying to commemorate the UK women killed through male violence against women. Why? Because men are killing us and I want it to stop.

Footnotes

1 I acknowledge that legally and in terms of the support requirements of victims of domestic and/or sexual violence, there are often differences.
2 What do I mean by gender related murder? (2012)

1. They’re murders committed by a man or men against a woman or women
2. They include most domestic violence murders – but not all, the list does not include
• Patricia Seddon – who was shot along with her husband, Bob in July – their son and two other people were arrested
• Marie McCracken and Wendy Thorpe – who were both killed by women
3. I haven’t included Chrissie Azzopardi, 22, as I haven’t been able to find out whether the murder was primarily motivated by transphobia or misogyny.
4. I haven’t included Mary Saunders, 84 whose husband, aged 94 was arrested, as the police are pursuing a ‘mercy crime’ as one line of enquiry and the laws around euthanasia are overdue review.
5. I have included Khanokporn Satjawat who was visiting the UK, attending a conference, she was not a UK resident, but the brutality of her murder suggests that if it hadn’t been her that was killed, it could have been another woman.
6. I haven’t included Maria Ziemba, 89 whose husband also died, as police suspect their deaths could have been accidental.
7. I’ve included stranger crimes that wouldn’t count as domestic violence where there has been a sexual element to the attack.
8. I’ve included some where a jury has found that the legal definition of murder doesn’t apply. For example, I’ve included a case where a man admitted stabbing his wife but was cleared of murder and charged with manslaughter.
9. For lack of information/clarity aat the point of writing this, I haven’t included:
• Yong LI Qui, 42
• Edith Fuller,45
• Helen Pickering,37
• Tia Sharpe, 12 (not included due to age)
• Michelle Johnson,
• Sally Lawrence
• Aileen Dunne
• Mica Atkinson
• Jenny Methven, 80

If anyone has any information on the deaths of these women, please let me know. I recognise that there is a significant amount of subjectivity in the decision of who to include and who not to. Please let me know if you disagree. I’d like to hear from you.

3 I’m using gender, not as a substitute for sex, but as a social construct.
4 Any advice from legal bods would be appreciated.

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