Til death do us part: ELL remembers the women killed by their partners

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Source: MET Police

On a cold winter morning on January 2, 2012, Kirsty Treloar, 20, from Haggerston, Hackney was killed by her abusive partner, after he broke into her house through the window and kicked his way into her bedroom. She suffered 29 stab wounds to the chest, dying in front of their one-month-old daughter. Just days prior, her partner had sent her a text message, making a New Years’ resolution to never hit her again.

Genina Kawnackiene, 50, a Lithuanian hotel cleaner, also received a text message from her partner just days before he killed her, but he didn’t promise to end the violence: “A woman has to be beaten up, that is the man’s position. Be careful that you don’t bring out the animal in me”. Kawnackiene, had tried to end the relationship after a violent assault that left her with a bleeding lip and a bruised arm. On the night of January 19, 2007, she was found dead with stab wounds to her lower stomach, chest and back, slumped against the stairwell in her own home in London Fields.

Maria Coelho, 37, from Stepney Green, Tower Hamlets, had been in an abusive relationship for six years but never made a formal complaint. Neighbours told police that shouting, swearing and door slamming coming from Coelho’s one-bedroom apartment was a regular occurrence. On March 5, 2010, she was found on the floor of her own bedroom, after an argument led her partner to beat her and suffocate her by stuffing a shirt into her mouth.

As shocking and brutal as all these murders are, the stories of these women are vital in understanding the scale of domestic violence across Britain. According to the Office for National Statistics, two women are killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales. 

What ties these three stories together, is that the women’s violent deaths occurred in the safety of their own homes. Women’s Aid, a national charity working to end domestic abuse, reported that 75%  of the 113 women who were killed by men in 2017, died in their own homes. While statistics are an important means of understanding the scope of a serious problem, they tend to be impersonal and cold. Locally, limited information also makes it difficult to predict exactly how many women have been killed in the Eastlondonlines areas.

It is because of this that Eastlondonlines launched an investigation to find out exactly how many have women died at the hands of their partner in our four east London boroughs. We hope that by detailing individual deaths locally, we will contribute to coverage in other areas so that the stories of these women are committed to paper for years to come. This investigation is even more pressing considering recent data that revealed that an estimated 1 in 50 women in the ELL boroughs are survivors of domestic abuse.

Infographic: Ellie Fry

So far, Eastlondonlines has located a total of 13 individual cases in which women were killed by their partners since 2007, with the majority occurring in Hackney. These stories were lost in old newspaper clippings, online articles and online databases, but they were not easy to find. 

The very nature of domestic violence also means it happens behind closed doors, with so many cases of abuse going unreported and are therefore not fully being represented in crime data or the media. Shocking estimates based on the Crime Survey for England and Wales reveal that around four in five survivors of domestic violence do not report incidents of abuse to the police.

Unreported cases frequently happen due to the many obstacles women face before making a formal complaint. Whether it be from fear of violent backlash from an abusive partner or fear of not being believed, reporting is not a simple process.

Another major obstacle for women is the distress over the likelihood of having their children taken away by social services.   Sixty two per cent of women bring children into a refuge with them, an alarming statistic when considering the negative impact living in unstable accommodation can have on children’s well-being. Out of the 13 women we found that were killed in our ELL boroughs,  six of them were mothers too. 

For women with specific needs, reporting cases is even more difficult. According to the newest Women’s Aid report, women with insecure immigration status, or with a language barrier, may be too afraid to report abuse to the police. The same report shows that BME survivors could fear social repercussions of reporting abuse, and women with disabilities might fear that abuse will be minimised because of their disability if they report it.

All of these reasons prove that women need to know that their complaints will be taken seriously – as in the case of 45-year-old Valerie Ford who was brutally murdered by her ex-partner alongside her 22-month old daughter in 2014. It was reported that Forde had already informed the police six weeks prior to her death that her ex-partner was threatening to burn the house down with the family inside it. However, police marked the case as a “threat to property” instead of “threat to life” and therefore, it went unnoticed.

These circumstances are even more alarming when considering the lack of availability of places for refuges in the local boroughs.  According to data acquired by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and ELL, all Eastlondonlines councils have cut the budget by over a fifth since 2010, with Hackney (24%)  and Tower Hamlets (37%) seeing the worst fall in funding out of all of them. Further funding cuts not only threaten services available to women but also the closure of hostels and refuges, as seen recently with Hopetown Hostel in Tower Hamlets.

These drastic reductions in local funding and alarming national statistics reveal the scope of domestic violence. ELL’s investigation makes it clear that better national and local oversight is needed to help women experiencing domestic violence. It is only through reporting on these cases, that we can make sure the tragic stories of women like Treloar, Kawnackiene and Coelho do not get lost in the numbers. 

Follow our Right To Refuge series this week to find out more about the domestic violence crisis in our boroughs. #RightToRefuge

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