Picture above: cover of Femicide Census report of Femicides in the UK between 2009-2018. Source: femicidecensus.org
Karen Ingala Smith
This week the Femicide Census released a ground-breaking report analysing ten years of men’s fatal violence against women and girls in the UK.
The report entitled UK Femicides 2009-2018: The police said, “there is no risk to the wider community” offers an in-depth analysis of the deaths of 1,425 women and girls aged 14 years and over killed by men and boys between 2009 and 2018.
1,425 dead women over ten years is an average of 142 a year, though in fact the range was from 124 women in 2016 to 168 women in 2010; a woman dead at the hands of a man on average every 2.5 days. The majority, 888 women (62%)’ were killed by a current or former partner, meaning that for ten years, a woman was killed by a current or former partner every 4 days. The report also addresses the suspicious deaths of another 117 women, for which, owing to various reasons addressed in the report, a suspect could not be legally held responsible.
Femicide, the killing of women and girls because they are female, is not a specific offence in the UK.
The specific sexed contexts of these women’s deaths were erased. Instead they were homicides (murders and manslaughters) – or where the man killed himself before he was detected, charged or convicted – unlawful killings. But whether the law recognises it or not, there is much that is sex-specific about men’s fatal violence against women.
The subheading of the Femicide Census is, “If I’m Not In On Friday, I Might Be Dead”. These are the words of Judith Nibbs who said this to colleagues as she left work in April 2014. She did not go to work on the Friday in question. She was murdered by her husband.
It’s true that there were a far greater number of men killed over those same years: 3,796 males aged 16 and over. But women are disproportionately victimised, comprising approximately 36% of victims but only 8% of those convicted in the year ending March 2019. Between 2009 and 2018, annually between 4% and 8%of men were killed by a current or former partner compared to our finding of 62% of women who were killed by men. Men are also much more likely to be killed by a same sex partner. There are sex differences in histories of abuse between couples where intimate partner homicide ends the relationship, women killed by male partners or ex-exes have almost always suffered months of years of abuse from him prior to their death, while men killed by female partners are usually those who have been inflicting abuse. There are also differences in methods of killing, sexually motivated killings and use of sexual violence, and overkilling.
Men kill women because they can and because they decide to
Men’s violence against women is often framed as a loss of control. Indeed, this is available as a partial defence to murder. But men’s fatal violence against women is much more about control, than the loss of it, particularly, but not only, when we’re looking at intimate partner femicide. Of the 62% (no. 888) of women who were killed by a partner or former partner, at least 378 (43%) were known to have separated from or to have taken steps to separate from the man who killed her. The majority of them, 89% (338) were killed in the first-year post separation and 142 (38%) in the first month. This finding ties closely with Jane Moncton Smith’s 8-stage model of domestic homicide, where four of the eight stages: coercive control, trigger, change in thinking and planning, relate to men increasing their control not losing it.
It is not only women who are partners of abusive men who are controlled, and whose liberty is restricted by abusive men, – it is all women – in the routine choices we make, in the ways that we’re judged and whether we do or don’t comply.
Men’s violence against women is a critical tool of patriarchy.
Women are killed by husbands, partners, lovers, exes of all these, by men whose advances they reject, by their sons, so-called friends, neighbours, maintenance men, burglars and sexual predators as well as men who get off on women’s pain and humiliation, be they women they know or women they don’t.
Less than a month before we published the report, Peter Sutcliffe, who had killed at least 13 women and attacked at least 10 more in Yorkshire and Greater Manchester between 1975 and 1980, died in prison. His death is a timely reminder that femicide extends beyond men killing current and former partners, or other family members. Also, that the sexism and misogyny that are characteristic of systems and institutions that regulate our lives are not restricted to those that deal with the domestic. Joan Smith has argued that in the policing of West Yorkshire, men’s arrogance and misogyny meant that Sutcliffe was able to kill more women than could have been the case if survivor accounts had been taken seriously, that is, if women had been believed. Men charged with murder lie about their intent and actions even when the consequences of their crime, a woman’s dead body and the injuries that they inflicted, are plainly available as contradictory evidence.
Rape convictions have fallen to a record low, to the extent that feminist campaigners suggest that rape is as good as decriminalised. Yet stereotypes about women’s false allegations rather than men’s false protestations of innocence, and juries’ false ‘not guilty’ verdicts are those which dominate popular consciousness.
So-called ‘gender neutral’ responses to domestic and sexual violence, including prostitution, are anything but. Ignoring the sex-specific nature of women’s victimisation hides disproportionality. The Femicide Census team are very clear that statutory services and the criminal justice system could make a difference by doing their jobs properly and implementing existing laws and policies. At the same time an inquiry into institutional sexism and the state apparatus would surely reveal a system stacked against women.
However, without a clear and ambitious strategy that addresses the individual, relational, institutional, cultural and cross-cultural factors that create a conducive context for men’s violence against women, we fear that men’s violence against women, girls and children will not be eradicated. Approaches that see incidents of men’s fatal violence against women as isolated incidents and that do not recognise that some members of the community – women, by virtue of our sex – are at risk of victimisation by men that is disproportionate and different in nature to any violence we inflict, are doomed to reinforce the structural sex inequalities of patriarchal societies. The Femicide Census is a call to action and a commemoration of our sisters.
Karen Ingala Smith is a co-founder and Director of the UK Femicide Census. She set up the website Counting Dead Women (CDW) in 2012, now replicated across the world. She is Chief Executive of nia, an East London charity providing services for women, girls and children who have been subjected sexual and domestic violence, including prostitution. Karen is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Durham. Karen was awarded the Positive Role Model for Gender at the 2014 National Diversity Awards.
Her social media handles are @k_ingalasmith @femicidecensus @countdeadwomen
You can find the Femicide Census report here.