7 March 2015 - 10:47 AM
Recognizing Femicide in the UK
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It is all too easy to reduce violence against women to statistics. In the United Kingdom one in four women will suffer from domestic abuse. Two women are murdered every week. Forty-six percent of women killed by men were killed by a partner or ex-partner. The facts are shocking, but somehow the impact is muted by the mathematics.

Recognizing Femicide in the UK

One woman has made it her duty to look beyond the figures, and discover the names, faces and stories of every woman murdered by a man in Great Britain.

Karen Ingala Smith began a blog recording women's deaths at the hands of men in 2012: in the first three days of January, eight women were killed, and 126 would be murdered in that year alone. She began the morbid task of scouring newspapers and websites, local and national, as well as police reports to find the femicide cases often overlooked by the government, media and crime statistics. Last month, that painstaking list was published online as the Femicide Census: Profiles of Women Killed by Men, in conjunction with domestic violence charities Women's Aid and legal firm Freshfields. The document demands attention to the scale and social importance of such murders.

“Many people will now know the statistic for people killed by a partner or ex-partner; that two women a week in England and Wales die that way. But if you humanize that, and you can see that roll of names, then hopefully more people might think: well, there is a pattern going on here. If we continue as I think most of us are, to deny that this is something that’s happening, then we will never tackle it,” Ingala Smith told the Guardian ahead of the launch.

The deeper Ingala Smith got into the project, the more she saw that the deaths were linked. Many did not fit the paradigm of wife-beating husband. Included in the list were mothers killed by sons, elderly women murdered by muggers, and a teenager fatally stabbed by her friend's boyfriend. What tied them all was targeting vulnerable women in the ultimate act of sexism.

“I started to realize there was a pattern in other deaths of women at men’s hands. What shocked me was seeing the women killed by a male child. It’s still quite rare, but we certainly don’t see daughters killing their fathers the way we have mothers being killed,” Ingala Smith said to the Guardian. “I want us to stop seeing the killings of women by men as isolated incidents: to put them together and to see the connections and patterns; to highlight what a big issue it is; and to make it feel real for people.”

The Census makes captivating, if bleak, reading. Names and places look familiar and stir the memory.

“The fact is, this situation has been allowed because women – all women – are viewed as second-class citizens whose lives are expendable. This needs to change.”

Like young mother Beverly Farrow from Martlesham, Suffolk, who was strangled by a work colleague in 2011 during their lunch break because she would not have an affair with him.

Or 29-year-old Kerry Smith who was stabbed to death by “jealous” ex-partner David Palmer in the West Midlands in 2012.

Harjit Chaggar, 69, was left to die in a shop basement in Kent by three male attackers in 2014.

Between 2009 and 2013, 694 women were killed in this way, and for the first time have received the empathy and recognition they deserve.

“It’s really hard sometimes and I admit I’ve had a cry now and again. A photo captures a moment in time that trials don’t … What suffering (that woman) endured, and the suffering that continues for their family is so very hard to grasp,” Ingala Smith said.

Some of these same family members have come forward themselves and participated in an accompanying video. What is striking about the testimonies is how the women sought help, and were denied it, either by brothers with a “he won't touch you while I'm alive” mentality, or judges who who told the victims they were being “silly.”

Ingala Smith says that the solution is not just about improving police and judicial response, but about tackling prejudices in society and providing adequate services for women in danger. Her colleague, Women's Aid Chief Executive Polly Neate, agrees.

“The funding of both longer term specialist support and preventive work, and any help for the majority of survivors who do not involve the police, has been lost in the rapidly reducing pot of general local authority funding, fighting a losing battle against other local priorities, and eroded by ill-thought-through commissioning decisions at local level,” she wrote in The Huffington Post.

A Women's Aid survey found that over 74,000 women tried to get help in 2013-14. The same survey revealed that almost a third of shelters relying on local authority funding were subject to cuts.

Sisters Uncut is a group aimed at tackling this issue, by focusing on protecting violence services from governmental spending cuts.

“The fact is, this situation has been allowed because women – all women – are viewed as second-class citizens whose lives are expendable. This needs to change,” activist Suzy Blackwell said in a statement.

Specifically, Sisters Uncut demands that that domestic violence services be protected from cuts, that there be specialist domestic violence services for LGBTI women, non-white women and so on; that there is guaranteed access to legal aid for women experiencing domestic violence; access to safe and secure social housing for women fleeing domestic violence; the end of panic rooms being classified as a spare room under the bedroom tax, and for the safety of victims not to be subject to immigration status.

On Feb. 14 this year, the group organized a women-only Valentine's Day Revolt in central London, bringing busy Oxford Circus to a standstill. Peaceful protesters waved signs saying, “Cuts Kill: in 1 Day 112 women 84 children turned away,” and “Sisters in the struggle.” Why? For recognition that women's lives matter.

“We were horrified that domestic violence services were being decimated by austerity, and felt it was a result of the fact that women are generally treated as second-class citizens whose needs are relegated. So we decided the only thing to do was to organize ourselves and go out onto the streets and make ourselves heard,” the group's founder Frida said to the Guardian.

Making themselves heard seems to be the key to ending violence against women, still so deeply ingrained in society. And though no one listened when the women whose names ended up on the Femicide Census when they suffered so greatly, the Women's Aid list now gives them the platform that they were denied. No more will women be just empty statistics. 

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