Robert Whiston, 5sep03
Domestic violence seems to crash, uninvited, into
our lives on an almost
daily basis. The range and form that domestic violence can now take has
expanded greatly in the last 10 years. It is now possible for a partner to
be 'domestically violent' towards a woman by withholding money or not giving
her enough housekeeping money.
There were, a few years ago, about 17 different definitions of domestic
violence, and each year we witness the launch of yet another new
initiative to combat the menace.
In recently years, to avoid any hint of tedium or complacency, new twists
have been added by associating it with other social malaises that on
occasion have proven too irresistible for the media to ignore.
Last year was the turn of children; how they were in danger when seeing their
own fathers, and how we should therefore seek to protect all 2 million of
them from an epidemic of recklessly murderous fathers.
Since Jan 2003, the emphasis has shifted to how many women are murdered by
their partner or ex- partner. Unfortunately, this broad category includes
both married and unmarried couples and paints a misleading picture of
domestic life by jumbling up permanent relationships of committed couples
with those of more pleasure seeking transient ones.
The overall impression projected is one of escalating violence within
society and in the domestic variety in particular. Yet official government
figures, drawn from police reports and the annual British Crime Survey, show
that domestic violence has been continuously declining in Britain for the
last seven years.
Women are far safer, in terms of murder and abuse, when they are properly
married than when they cohabit (live in sin) or are enjoying merely a casual
boyfriend girlfriend relationship.
The figures now in circulation and forming part of the governmentís new
consultation paper "Safety and Justice" indicate that around 120
only 30 men, are murdered each year by their partner, ie present or past
spouse or cohabitee
However this is only part of the picture. Tucked away from public scrutiny
are other Home Office homicide figures. Figures from the coronerís court tell
us that in the year 2000, 114 men were "unlawfully killed" but only
Of those deaths that were "officially" deemed suicide, 2,772 were
only 854 were female.
In addition, the Home Office figures for homicide cannot show how many men
were murdered by the new boyfriend of an ex-partner. All we can glean is
that the men's murderer was either a family member, or someone categorised
as a "general acquaintance", or someone unknown to him.
Focusing on how many women are murdered by partners tends to make us
overlook two key points. Firstly, women are also murdered by their sons and
daughters. In 1995, 21 women were murdered in this way. Secondly, and of
perhaps greater significance, are the estimated 90 - 150 child homicides per
year perpetrated by adults - mostly mothers. It can only be an estimated
figure because of the subterfuges used, and diverse ways children meet their
end, e.g. deaths attributed to 'accidents', SIDS, deaths in house fires
while unsupervised by an adult, drowning, poisoning by over-salting food.
We have historically never associated the various forms of domestic violence
and child neglect with murder, but after the Victoria Climbie affair it is
†about time we did.
Murder resides at one extreme of the abuse continuum, but about which we
rarely speak. "Fathers who kill" fits our collective tunnel vision
comforting bigotry. Society cannot afford, for all sorts of reasons, to face
up to the fact that the hand that rocks the cradles also kills the child. Nowhere
is this more evident than when judges have to decide child custody
issues - they cannot afford to be well informed.
In Britain we only have to recall a few of the infamous cases of child
deaths to see that most child deaths are linked (though we are rarely told
to fatherless families in some way; to lone mothers, or divorcees, or to
their new-found boyfriends. This has been the pattern since the distant days
of Marie Cowell (1974) and Rikky Neave (1995) to the Climbie enquiry of the
The problem is that most women, and probably to an equal extent all
fair-minded men, subconsciously subscribe to the iconography of "mother
nurturer". This makes the reality of "mother as murderer"
counter-intuitive and very difficult to accept.
However, accept it we must, for any reluctance to acknowledge the reality can
only leave our children even more vulnerable. Unless and until we
realise that we are all "in denial" about women's ability to murder,
continue to allow more children to meet their deaths. If we suppress the
true situation, children will remain vulnerable. It will constitute an
open invitation, courtesy of our blind complicity, to continued the killing.