When a Man Kills a Woman

Across everything that divides societies, we share in common that men’s violence against women is normalised, tolerated, justified - and hidden in plain sight.

Karen Ingala Smith
27 November 2016

Credit: Counting Dead Women project

Since 25 November last year, at least 118 women and girls in the UK aged over 13 have been killed by men, or a man has been the primary suspect.

An average of one woman dead at the hands of a man every 3 days.

I’ve been recording women’s names and details of how they were killed since January 2012 when Counting Dead Women was launched.

Today we commemorate 653 women.

Men’s fatal violence against women in the UK crosses boundaries of class, race, nationality and age.  Over the last year, the oldest woman killed was 85, 18 were over 60, and 21 were aged 25 and under.  They included hairdressers, writers, shop assistants, prostituted women, a politician, lawyers, students and school girls; women born in Eritrea, Poland, China, Italy and other countries, and of course women born in the UK with a range of ethnic backgrounds.  Most, but not all, were killed by current or former partners, others were killed by burglars, rapists, neighbours, brothers, sons, men they saw as friends or men who paid for sex. 

Many think of intimate partner violence, or, more broadly, domestic violence, if they think about women killed by men at all.  This focus is reflected and reinforced by official statistics.  The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes an annual report on violent crime, including homicide.  For the year ending March 2015, the Home Office Homicide Index recorded 518 homicides.  There were 186 female victims, 331 male victims, and one victim whose sex is unknown/undeclared.

The proportion of female victims was the highest recorded for 20 years. 19 men and 81 women were killed in circumstances described as partner/ex-partner homicides. 31 were killed by other family members (domestic/family violence).

But what about the remaining 74 women?  Is it important to have a sex-specific analysis of their deaths?

51-year-old Majella Lynch died in hospital after the a removal of a 400ml shampoo bottle  from her abdominal cavity.  William Mousley QC, prosecuting, said  “The bottle could not have been self-inserted because of the extreme pain such an act would have caused.” Mousley said her attacker, Daniel McBride, 43, an habitual user of hardcore pornography “had an interest in violent sexual activity and was in the mood for sex that night having had an argument with his girlfriend and being rejected by another female.”  Yvette Hallsworth, 36, was selected by  Mateusz Kosecki  because she was “slightly built.” At 18 he was already a predator targeting women in prostitution.  He had attacked at least three women who sold sex before he killed Yvette Hallsworth, stabbing her 18 times.  Judge Michael Stokes QC described him has having a “fascination, if not an obsession” with prostituted women.  

How can a feminist perspective of men’s violence against women disregard some women when patriarchal misogyny, violent sexualisation and objectification are so clear in their murders?

The prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) is globally uneven. Corradi and Stockl, 2014, looked at the relationship between men’s fatal violence against women, feminist activism and government policy in European countries since the 1970s.  They found no clear link between rates of IPV and government policies, rather that feminist activism was a crucial catalyst of change - and was most effective when it was independent of government. 

“Since the late 1960s, organized women’s activism played a fundamental role in rallying the state to tackle VAW.” (Corradi & Stockl, 2014: 605).

It is estimated that across the world around 66,000 women and girls are violently killed every year. Comparing country-by-country data is challenging, partly because there isn’t a cross-national approach to collecting and disaggregating murder statistics by the sex of both victim and killer, but globally women are at greater risk than men of intimate-partner homicides and are overwhelmingly killed by males.  Across everything that divides societies, we share in common that men’s violence against women is normalised, tolerated, justified - and hidden in plain sight, and that there is a lack of truly proactive and deeply rooted state action to protect women’s right to life.

Of course it is essential to look at domestic and intimate partner violence, including homicide; but to focus only on this context not only obscures the full extent of men’s fatal violence against women, it also misses the sex differences within these crimes.  In the UK, women are more than 7 times more likely to be  killed by a man than men are by a women in the context of intimate partner homicide. Men are more likely than women to be killed by a same-sex partner, and histories of violence before the homicide are different - with men tending to have inflicted months or years of violence and abuse on the women they go on to kill, while women tend to have suffered months or years of violence and abuse from the man they go on to kill.

Responses to men’s violence against women which focus almost exclusively on  ‘healthy relationships’, supporting victim-survivors  and reforming the criminal justice system simply do not go far enough. Men’s violence against women is a cause and consequence of sex inequality between women and men.  The objectification of women, the sex trade, socially constructed gender, unequal pay, unequal distribution of caring responsibility are all  simultaneously symptomatic of structural inequality whilst maintaining a conducive context for men’s violence against women. Feminists know this and have been telling us for decades.

One of feminism’s important achievements is getting men’s violence against women into the mainstream and onto policy agendas.  One of the threats to these achievements is that those with power take the concepts, and under the auspices of dealing with the problem shake some of the most basic elements of feminist understanding right out of them.  State initiatives which are not nested within policies on equality between women and men will fail to reduce men’s violence against women.  Failing to even name the agent – men’s use of violence – is failure at the first hurdle.

Working in partnership, Counting Dead Women and Women’s Aid Federation England, supported by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Deloitte, have developed The Femicide Census, a  relativity database  that  allows  data  to  be  collated  and  disaggregated  for  analysis. It currently contains information regarding over 1000 women who were killed by men between 2009 and 2015. Our intention is to build a research resource than can be used as a tool to influence understanding and policy development.  We’ll soon be releasing our first report. In September, our work was cited as an example of good practice in a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

Feminists have started Counting Dead Women or femicide count projects in Australia,  Canada, New Zealand and Counting Dead Aboriginal Women.  There is feminist action against femicide on every continent, in countries including Argentina, Peru, Italy, Spain, India.

Women across the world are finding ways to protest the murders of our sisters.

By recording women’s names, and where possible their photographs, we want to create a reminder that women are not reducible to statistics.

653 women dead in the UK in 5 years at the hands of men cannot be 653 isolated incidents. Action is needed and action can be taken to reduce these killings.

Read more articles on openDemocracy in this year's 16 Days: Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. Commissioning Editor: Liz Kelly

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