Corpus Christi Catholic College pupils make their way home passing tributes to teacher Ann Maguire. Photo: Getty
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The stabbing of Ann Maguire was not an isolated incident – it’s part of a trend of fatal male violence against women

The murder of Leeds teacher should Ann Maguire should horrify and upset us, but no more or less than the killings of the other 49 women in the UK this year before her.

Update: Will Cornick was sentenced to life for the murder of Ann Maguire on 3 November 2014.

The stabbing of Ann Maguire was described as an isolated incident by West Yorkshire Police, the Association of Schools and College Leaders, Leeds City Council and governors of Corpus Christi College, Leeds, where she worked. It was not. We can choose to see Ann Maguire as the first British teacher to be stabbed at school since the murder of Philip Lawrence in 1995, however, in the context of fatal male violence against women, her killing was anything but isolated. Ann Maguire was at least the fiftieth woman to be killed through suspected male violence in the UK this year. She was at least the twenty-third to have been stabbed. Seven further women have been killed through head injuries, three through multiple injuries, two strangled, three shot, one smothered, one killed by a fall from height, one from wounds to the neck and two women have been decapitated, through suspected male violence, in the UK in 2014. The causes of death of the remaining seven women have not been publicly released.

Women are most likely to be killed by men. More men than women are killed every year. Men are most likely to be killed by men. Fatal male violence against women is not restricted to domestic violence. Between April 2001 and March 2012, 296 men (an average of 27 per year) and 1,066 women (an average of 97 per year) were killed by a partner or ex-partner. The women represent 47 per cent of the total number of women killed, the men 5 per cent of all men killed. 31.8 per cent of homicide victims were women, 68.2 per cent were men. 6.1 per cent of people convicted of murder were women, 93.9 per cent were men.

Ann Maguire is the second UK woman in 2014 allegedly killed by a boy of 15. Gender is not a switch that is turned on when a person reaches adulthood. It is learned behaviour that is taught from birth. It is a social construct through which sex inequality is maintained and reinforced. Gender creates a conducive context for male violence against women. Ann Maguire was killed by a child and it is important that the law and wider society recognise this but that does not mean that the sex of her killer is irrelevant.

The last school-based mass-killing in the UK was at Dunblane Primary School in 1996. The killer, Thomas Hamilton, was a 43-year-old male. He shot dead one woman teacher, Gwen Mayor, 45, and 16 children aged between five and six; two other women were shot. In the USA, between January 2013 and 10 February 2014, there were 44 school or college shootings, resulting in 28 deaths.  The shooters were aged between five and 37 years old. In all cases, though this is rarely acknowledged, where the sex of the shooter is known (in 40 out of the 44 cases) he was male. The crucial difference between the impact of violence in schools and colleges in the UK and USA is the availability of firearms.

Schools are not utopian microcosms where sexism and male violence against women and girls are absent. An End Violence Against Women Poll conducted by YouGov found that 71 per cent of all 16-18-year-olds said they hear terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a daily basis or a few times a week, and 29 per cent of 16-18-year-old girls identified being subject to unwanted sexual touching at school. Boys are pressurised to exhibit their heterosexuality through misogyny, treating girls as sexual objects and using homophobic taunts against boys who are deemed not to conform to or who do not attain their assigned masculine behaviours. Sexual harassment is not restricted to girls but extended to female teachers with 39 per cent identifying sexist language from pupils directed towards colleagues and 8 per cent having experienced sexual harassment themselves within the last year. Gendered double standards of acceptable behaviours have been internalised, are policed and are used to admonish girls and boys who transgress. Girls and boys have learned that power and authority are linked to successful masculinity. What better way to demonstrate this than to attack the classroom’s key authority figure, the teacher, especially the female teacher?

We cannot fail to acknowledge the existence of gender expressed through enforced roles and behaviours in children and young people if we want to end male violence against women and girls. We cannot ignore routine sexual violence against and the harassment of, girls and women teachers in schools. The education system presents one of our biggest opportunities for sustainable generational change.

Each incident of fatal male violence against women has its own specificities, each dead woman was an individual. Most of them were loved. Almost all their deaths leave friends, families and others grieving. Looking at the commonalities across fatal male violence against women does not reduce women to statistics but it does allow us to recognise a pattern. The refusal to acknowledge that pattern is as much a political act as demanding that male violence against women needs to be named and eradicated. The stabbing of Ann Maguire should horrify and upset us, but no more or less than the killings of the other 49 women in the UK this year before her. These 50 dead women and their killers are linked.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She blogs at kareningalasmith.com and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen. Sign her petition asking for improvements in data collection of women killed though male violence here

 

 

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She blogs at kareningalasmith.com and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen.

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This is a refugee crisis, and it has always been a refugee crisis

If your country is in flames and your life is at risk, boarding a rickety, dangerous boat is a rational decision. We need to provide safer choices and better routes.

Even those of us all too familiar with the human cost of the present refugee crisis were stopped in our tracks by the profoundly disturbing images of the dead toddler washed up on a Turkish beach. Whatever our personal view about the ethics of displaying the photographs, one thing is clear: the refugee crisis on our doorstep can no longer be denied or ignored.

For far too long the political conversation in the UK has avoided facing up to the obvious conclusion that the UK must provide protection to more refugees in this country. Ministers have responded to calls to do more by talking about the aid we are providing to help refugees in the region, by blaming other European Governments who are hosting more refugees than we are, and also accusing refugees themselves by claiming the desperate people forced into boarding unsafe boats in the Mediterranean were chancers and adventurers, out for an easier life.

These latest images have blown all that away and revealed the shaming truth. This is a refugee crisis and has always been a refugee crisis. When the Refugee Council wrote to the prime minister in 2013 to call for the UK to lead on resettling Syrian refugees displaced by a war that was already two years old, it was a refugee crisis in the making.

Many people struggle to comprehend why refugees would pay smugglers large sums of money to be piled into a rickety boat in the hope of reaching the shores in Europe. The simple answer is that for these individuals, there is no other choice. If your country is in flames and your life is at risk, boarding that boat is a rational decision. There has been much vitriol aimed at smugglers who are trading in human misery, but European governments could put them out of business if they created alternative, legal routes for refugees to reach our shores.

There are clear steps that European governments, including our own, can take to help prevent people having to risk their lives. We need to offer more resettlement places so that people can be brought directly to countries of safety. We also need to make it easier for refugees to reunite with their relatives already living in safety in the UK. Under current rules, refugees are only allowed to bring their husband or wife and dependant children under the age of 18. Those that do qualify for family reunion often face long delays living apart, with usually the women and children surviving in desperate conditions while they wait for a decision on their application. Sometimes they are refused because they cannot provide the right documentation. If you had bombs raining down on your house, would you think to pick up your marriage certificate?

The time to act is well overdue, but the tide of public opinion seems to be turning – especially since the release of the photographs. We urgently need David Cameron to show political leadership and help us live up to the proud tradition of protecting refugees that he often refers to. That tradition is meaningless if people cannot reach us, if they are dying in the attempt. It is a shame that it had to take such a tragic image to shake people into calling for action, but for many it means that the crisis is no longer out of sight and out of mind.

Maurice Wren is the chief executive of the Refugee Council