Geraldine Newman was murdered alongside her two children Shannon (11) and Shane (6). Two days later the body of Paul Newman, father of Shannon and Shane, was found in North Wales. Police believe Paul committed suicide after killing his ex-wife and children. The police have also claimed this was a "domestic incident".
The murder of a Geraldine, Shannon and Shane are not 'domestic incidents'. Burning dinner is a 'domestic incident'. Making the choice to kill your ex-partner and children are criminal acts predicated on a patriarchal culture of male entitlement and male ownership of the bodies of women and children. Using the term 'domestic incident' minimises both Paul's personal responsibility for his choice to perpetrate domestic violence, which resulted in a 17-week custodial sentence in 2013, as well as his choice to kill. It is crucial to recognise that the man is the risk factor: not the relationship or the woman. Focusing on the victim implies that they are responsible for the actions of the perpetrator.
Obviously, the police want to allay fears in the wider community, however the correct statement is NOT: "We believe this was a domestic incident and we are searching for only man known to the family". It is "We believe these murders were perpetrated by a man known to the family and we do not believe he is a risk to the wider community at this moment".
It is also important to link the murders of Geraldine, Shannon and Shane into the wider pattern of family annihilators, who are generally men with a history of domestic violence and other controlling behaviours, who make choices to kill. They frequently are not known to the criminal justice system as domestic violence remains under-reported because of the risk of violence from men. These are also not men with a history of mental illnesses or men who are sad. They are men who they have the right of ownership of their partners and children and who kill when their control and public persona are challenged or to punish the mother of their children.
Inevitably, media coverage of family annihilators makes excuses for their choices and erases their agency. In the case of Paul Newman, the Mirror quotes friends who claim "he felt he had nothing left to live for", as though its completely normal for a man to kill when his partner tries to end the relationship. The Mirror also states that "she allowed him to move back into the family home" and that "their relationship broke down again last year and she threw him out in December". They fail to mention that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she tries to end the relationship - that this increases the risk of the perpetrator assaulting or killing his partner and, in many cases, his children. Implying that Geraldine "allowed" Paul to return to the family home suggests that she is responsible for his violent behaviour. It ignores the escalating patterns of abuse and threats that violent men use to return to the home - that violent men often treated to kill their children forcing the woman to continue the relationship. Equally, the relationship did not 'break down'. Paul's decisions to engage in domestic violence ended the relationship. Geraldine is not responsible for Paul's behaviour.
Nearly all media coverage of family annihilators and other perpetrators of domestic violence engage in victim blaming language and the minimisation of the perpetrator's choices as well as the consequences of his choices. The focus on the perpetrator as a 'good father' completely erases the impact of domestic violence on children as witnesses and as victims. It supports a family court system which supports a man's right to access to their children regardless of the health and safety of the child and the mother. The excuses tell other men that domestic violence isn't really a big deal and that they are entitled to control and punish their current or former partners.
Geraldine, Shannon, and Shane deserved a life without fear and without violence. As a society, we have failed them - just as we fail all women and children living with domestic violence by minimising and excusing the perpetrator.
We need more investment in specialist women's organisations that support women living with domestic violence and we need the criminal justice system to recognise that domestic violence is a serious criminal act - not a 'domestic incident'.