The Femicide Census

sian norrisWords by Sian Norris

Regular Blogger for Bristol Woman

In the first three days of 2012, eight women were killed as a result of male violence. Their names were Susan McGoldrick, Tanya Turnbull, Alison Turnbull, Kirsty Treolar, Claire O’Connor, Betty Yates, Kathleen Milward and Marie McGrory. The youngest was 20 years old, the oldest was 87.

We know their names because that week, feminist activist and Chief Executive of NIA, Karen Ingala-Smith, wrote them down.  Shocked at how many women were killed by men in such a short space of time, Karen decided to keep counting. By the end of 2014 she had counted 417 women. Last year, a woman was killed by a man every 2.46 days.

Karen started counting because no one else was. No one else was keeping a record of how many women were killed as a result of male violence. Not only women killed by male partners or ex partners, but also the women killed by sons and fathers, relatives and strangers. She counted the three women murdered by beheading last year. She counted the number of women killed in fires – 17 in 2012 and 2013. Week after week she checks through the news headlines, counts the women and remembers their names. Week after week she makes sure it is impossible to forget what male violence does to women.

The Home Office – responsible for crime statistics and tallying murders – does not release information about the sex of a killer. As a result, it doesn’t connect the forms of male violence against women. Without this data, very little strategy can be put in place to ensure that women are protected from fatal male violence, and that fatal male violence is prevented. Because we don’t name the problem, we can do very little to stop it. After all, unless we call these killings what they are – male violence against women – then how can we take action to combat it?

With her list, Karen called these killings by their name. She held up a mirror to society and demanded we look at its ugly reflection. She demanded we remember women’s names and the sex of those who killed. She demanded we join the dots that links patriarchy’s celebration of male aggression and female submission. She demanded we stopped looking away from police failings that mean women asking for support are not believed. She demanded we notice how women die when refuges close.

There’s a lot of power in naming. We have all become familiar with the oft-repeated statistic that two women a week are killed by a current or ex male partner. We have repeated it so often that it no longer shocks us. But when you speak the names of the women killed by their partners, sons, fathers – then they become human again. They are not statistics. They are women and girls who had a future that was robbed from them. They are women and girls who had friends, talents, jokes, sadnesses, hobbies. They are Melissa Mathieson, killed in Bristol last year. They are Sarah O’Neill, killed in Bristol last year.

It’s been three years and 417 women have been killed by violent men.

Last month, in collaboration with Bristol based charity Women’s Aid, the femicide census was launched. It’s the first ever official census that records women who have been killed by men – making note of the women’s name, the perpetrator/s, the type of murder, the weapon, the police force, any information about children and any recorded motivation.

Based on Karen’s existing count, the census aims to provide a clearer picture of gender-based homicide in the UK in order to take action to prevent it.

We need this census. Why? Because whenever a woman is killed by a man, we refer to it as an ‘isolated incident’. But when 148 members of one group of people are killed by members of another group of people in a single year, these are not ‘isolated incidents’. These are part of a pattern of male violence. Karen’s count and now the femicide census give us the tools we need to name the problem of fatal male violence, to see the connections between the killings, to join the dots and share information and take action to ensure that one day soon, no more women are killed because they are women.

The femicide census tells us that we can no longer ignore that men are killing women. By recording the names, by speaking the crime, this terrible count can help us understand the causes of fatal male violence; help us connect these horrific crimes, so that we can end male violence against women once and for all.

In the first 35 days of 2015, ten women in the UK were killed by men. 

Follow Sian on Twitter @sianushka

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