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