I can still recall what it felt like when my ex raised his arm, fist clenched, hovering momentarily, threatening to punch me. His eyes were bulging and his face was sick with rage.
I felt terror, defeat but also defiance. Just enough to get out of the relationship – eventually.
Karen Ingala Smith, who works at the Hackney-based domestic violence charity Nia, reported earlier this month that more British women were killed through men’s violence last year than British troops killed in Afghanistan in the last three years. The figures read 136 lives to 99.
Most people have heard stories from friends about verbal threats or physical violence. One in four women will experience domestic abuse themselves. But we will never hear from the 136 women murdered by men since January last year.
One in four is high odds, but how many people realise that domestic violence so frequently ends in death? It lurks all around us; in Nigella Lawson’s gripped neck, in that man hurling insults down his mobile phone at the bus stop, in that friend who you’ve not seen since her new boyfriend came onto the scene. It may well be taking place next door… how many people suspected that 34-year-old Gaynor Bale would be brutally murdered by her partner on her kitchen floor in Homerton last November?
A life is a life, regardless of sex or circumstance, but how can it be that in a country where we have long fought for sexual liberation, equality in the workplace and in education, one hundred and thirty six women have had the life hit, kicked, and strangled out of them in just a single year. How is it that women inside their UK homes are at a greater risk of death than the British military men currently posted in one of the world’s most turbulent warzones?
Violence against women is not a case of violence alone. It is a patriarchal convention. Men that are murdered are largely murdered at the hands of other men. But over half of all violence experienced by women is domestic violence.
This is femicide: A war on women, where the trenches do not lie abroad, but behind walls which are just thick enough to muffle the sounds. It’s a painful battle that strikes women down in their bedrooms and kitchens and leaves survivors with no self-esteem and deep bruises hidden behind longs sleeves and dark shades. The only cenotaph commemorating its victims is the list compiled by Ingala Smith as part of her “Counting Dead Women” campaign. One hundred and thirty six names were added to her list last year, and at least four more this January already.
What turns a verbal threat into domestic violence could simply be that extra pint at the pub. All that is needed to turn domestic abuse into murder is that one extra thump that speeds up the internal bleeding. At least one hundred women are in their homes right now and will not be here next January.
Sign Ingala Smiths petition so that, at some point, we might be able to stop counting dead women.