When is a murder not a murder?
The news reported today that police are looking for the suspected killer of a pregnant woman who was stabbed to death in Bradford.
The police released the following statement:
"While the murder investigation is at an early stage we are treating this as a domestic-related incident.”
A domestic incident.
In my book, a domestic incident is accidentally smashing a precious plate. It is not the fatal stabbing of a woman.
‘Domestic incident’ is police code – like ‘isolated incident’ – to reassure the public that a violent man is not going to cause harm to strangers they don’t know. It’s code for ‘this man is not dangerous to other men. This man is only interested in being violent towards women.’
We all know the statistics. Every week, two women are murdered by a current or former partner. In 2012, Karen Ingala Smith counted 126 women killed by men. In 2013, it was 144, and in 2014 it was 149. By 23rd May 2015, she had counted that 48 women had been killed by men.
Every week, members of one group of people choose to kill at least two members of another group of people – men and women.
If this was any other group of people, we would not refer to these killings as ‘domestic incidents’. We would not refer to them as ‘isolated incidents’. We would look at the pattern. We would join the dots. We would recognise that, far from being isolated, the killing of women by men is a regular occurrence. It is systematic. It is - as the UN has stated - an epidemic. And we would recognise that, far from being random, unconnected events, women are being killed by men because they are women living in an unequal, patriarchal society.
It’s not isolated when 1 in 3 women and girls experience male violence. It’s not isolated when in the UK alone, there are over one million reported incidents of domestic abuse every year – it’s not isolated when you know a woman endures on average 35 incidents before reporting. It’s not a ‘domestic incident’ when women curb the freedoms men take for granted in order to try and ‘avoid’ male violence. It’s not an isolated incident when we repeat the statistic that two women are killed every week until it no longer has the power to shock.
Again, if every week two members of one group were killed by two members of another group, we would not call it a domestic incident. We’d call it a hate crime. We’d call it terrorism. But because it’s women called by men, we call it ‘domestic’.
When the police and the papers reduce a murder like the one today in to a domestic incident, they are forgetting that all women live with the impact of male violence against women. It’s not domestic or isolated to us. We are forced to join up the dots of patriarchal violence. We can’t ignore the oppression that happens when one group of people systematically and structurally commit violence against another group of people. That’s not to say all men are violent and all women are victims – of course not. But it’s to say that when male violence against women is at epidemic levels across the world, then it has a very real and very negative impact on women’s rights to freedom and equality. Patriarchal inequality is brutally kept in place by patriarchal violence.
Since I tweeted about this fatal stabbing being referred to as a ‘domestic incident’ this morning, I’ve had numerous men ask me what I would prefer for the police to call it.
They’ve said seeing as it can’t be called a murder until further down the line, then calling it a domestic incident is hardly problematic.
Okay. This is what I would like the police to call it. I would like them to call it an act of fatal male violence against women. I would go further and demand they call it a gender-based hate crime (a category which, as yet, doesn’t exist). I would like the police, in short, to call this crime what it is.
Because referring it to a ‘domestic incident’ is to ignore that this fatal stabbing is an act of male violence against a woman. It is to ignore that this is a gendered crime committed in the main by men against women. It is to try and shove the death into the private sphere where, for too long, male violence against women has been ignored. It is to feed into the rhetoric that intimate partner violence is something to be kept hidden, to be kept private, to be kept between the couple. We’re supposed to have broken away from that position. We’re supposed to be past the days when a man beating his partner was dismissed as ‘just a domestic’.
The woman who was killed yesterday did not die in a ‘domestic incident’. She had hopes, dreams for a future. She had a family. She had friends. Her life was cruelly and violently ended by a man who chose to stab her. That is not a domestic incident. That is a fatal act of male violence.
When we know it will happen again this week, how can we call it domestic? How can we call it isolated?