Counting Dead Women

13/03/2014 18:13 | Updated 13 May 2014

In the first three days of 2012, seven women in the UK were killed through men's violence. Three days: seven dead women: three shot, one stabbed, one strangled, one smothered and one beaten to death through 15 blunt force trauma injuries. Since then, I've been keeping a record of the women in the UK who have been killed through men's violence.

Shortly after I'd started counting, Ahmad Otak stabbed and killed Samantha Sykes, 18 and Kimberley Frank, 17. He wasn't the boyfriend of either of them, but Kimberley's sister, Elisa. They wouldn't be included in the well-known statistic that two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a partner or former partner. Only days before, the headless and limbless body of Gemma McKluskie had been found in a London canal, she'd been murdered by her brother, Gemma was another dead woman whose murder wouldn't count in that statistic. Since January 2012, at least 32 women in the UK have been killed by their sons, five by their grandsons, they wouldn't count either. So I started counting women killed through men's violence, not just those killed by a partner or former partner. According to my records, almost a quarter of UK women killed though men's violence are not killed by a partner or former partner.

Looking at men's fatal violence against women means I count women like Delia Hughes who was 85 when she was murdered by 25 year-old burglar Jamie Boult and Jean Farrar, who was 77, when she was murdered by Daniel Barnett, 20, another burglar.

When Boult was sentenced, Delia's daughter, Beryl said:

"I've never seen a dead body before. Seeing my mum her head battered, covered in blood, black and blue with bruises, sitting in a pool of blood, blood splattered on the walls, this is a sight that will stay with me for the rest of my life."

Jean Farrar's son Jamie, was absolutely right when he said:

"Daniel Barnett did not need to enter my mother's house that night. He chose to. Upon finding my mum at home, he easily could have left. Instead he chose to beat her and throw her against the wall. And when she screamed in pain, he chose to kick her, stamp on her, and jump on her head until she was unable to scream anymore."

The murders of Gemma, Samantha, Kimberley, Delia and Jean were brutal. The men who killed them made choices to use horrific ugly extreme violence. Can we say that patriarchy - sexism, misogyny and socially constructed gender - did not influence the deaths of those women? I don't think so.

Media reports of women killed by violence men frequently reduce women to their relationship to men or family members: wife, girlfriend, mother, daughter, grandmother; women from black and minority ethnic groups often receive less media coverage and if murdered women have been involved in prostitution or pornography, this can be more prominent in the headline than the fact that a woman was murdered.

One of the things that prompted me to start counting dead women, back in 2012, was hearing news reports about police describing one of those seven murders in the first three days 2012 as an isolated incident. Already in 2014, 26 UK women have been killed though alleged male violence, at least five of these killings have been described as 'isolated incidents'.

When 20-year-old Hollie Gazzard was stabbed to death in Gloucester in February the police said:

"This is an isolated incident ..... whereby the victim and suspect did know each other, they were in a previous relationship and I need to assure the communities within Gloucester that it is a safe place to be."

This isn't about whether Gloucester is safe, it's about women. Women are a community and our community is not safe. Our community is being killed by men - and whether we're killed by our partners or ex-partners, our sons, our muggers, our rapists; whether we're 22 or 82, whatever our race or religion or lack of religion, whether we're prostituted women, brain surgeons or shop assistants, none of us should count more than any other.

Since I've been counting dead women, I've counted 286 UK women killed though men's violence. 286 women in 787 days is one woman killed every 2.7 days. These are not 286 isolated incidents. Fatal male violence against women is systemic, a cause and consequence of inequality, misogyny, objectification: of patriarchy. When we're talking about men's violence against women, there is no such thing as an isolated incident.

This blog is an edited version of a speech Karen Ingala Smith gave at the Million Women Rise march on Saturday 8 March