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 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 and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen.

Photo: Getty Images
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Meet the remarkable British woman imprisoned for fighting against Isis

The treatment of Silhan Özçelik shows how confused British policy towards the Middle East has become. 

Last week, a British court sentenced a woman to prison for attempting to join fighters in the Middle East. Silhan Özçelik, an 18-year-old from Highbury, London was sentenced to 21 months for her part in “preparing terrorist acts” under the Terrorism Act 2006. The judge called her a “stupid, feckless and deeply dishonest young woman”.  What all of this misses out is the most extraordinary fact: that Özçelik was not convicted for going to fight for the Islamic State, but for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – better known as the PKK, one of the only effective and consistent opponents of Isis since the war began.

Volunteering to fight in foreign wars – so long as they are long ago enough – is a celebrated tradition in Britain. In the late 1930s, while the Spanish Republic battled on against a fascist coup led by General Franco, tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the world went to fight for the International Brigades, including 2,500 from the UK. They included future celebrities such as writer George Orwell and actor James Robertson Justice, and commemorative plaques and memorials can now be seen all over the country

Like the International Brigade volunteers, Özçelik allegedly volunteered to fight for an embattled state facing military defeat at the hands of a far-right insurgency. The combat units she might have joined have been the subject of moving portraits in the Guardian and even praise on Fox News. The PKK is a secular socialist organisation, with a streak of libertarianism and its own feminist movements. But because of its military opposition to the often brutal Turkish treatment of the Kurds, the western powers list the PKK as a terrorist organisation; and would-be heroes like Silhan Özçelik are detained as criminals by the British state.

On one level, what Özçelik’s conviction represents is a change in how the state relates to ordinary citizens who fight. In 1936, the rise of fascism was something on our doorstep, which was opposed most fervently not by official western governments but by ordinary folk, dangerous far left subversives and free spirited writers who sailed to Spain – often in spite of their own governments. In today’s wars in the Middle East, the state is absolutely determined to maintain its monopoly on the right to sanction violence.

What Orwell and other volunteers understood was that while western governments might promote values like liberty and deplore the rise of tyranny, they were also duplicitous and unreliable when it came to prioritising the defeat of fascism over the narrow interests of nation and profit. Then as now, western governments were  deeply uneasy about the idea of ordinary people taking up arms and intervening in global affairs, or deciding – by force – who governs them. If the Terrorism Act 2006 had applied in 1936, Orwell would surely have been arrested at Dover and sent to prison.

More pressingly for the current situation, the persecution of the PKK should make you think twice about the motivations and outcomes for military intervention in Syria. Cameron is on a march to war, and, following the Paris attacks, much of the political establishment is now lining up to support him.

At the same time, our court system is imprisoning and persecuting young women who try to take up arms against Isis. It is doing so at the behest not of our own national security, which has never been threatened by the PKK, but that of Turkey. Turkey’s military is actively targeting Kurdish forces, and has recently stepped up these attacks. There is a wealth of evidence, not least its behaviour during the recent siege of Kobane, to suggest that Turkey – Britain’s only formal NATO ally in the region – is tacitly collaborating with Isis in an attempt to defeat both Assad and the Kurds.

As the government rushes to war in Syria, much of the media attention will focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s awkward task of holding his anti-war line while persuading his party and Shadow Cabinet not to split over the issue. Others will focus, rightly, on the complexity of the situation in the region and the question of who western air-strikes are really there to support: is it Assad, the murderous dictator whose regime has itself been linked to the rise of Isis; Turkey, which is seemingly focussed entirely on defeating Assad and the Kurds; or the soup of organisations – including the Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria – which constitute the anti-regime rebels?

But Özçelik’s conviction should also raise a more fundamental concern: that the contradictions and complications that we are so used to associating with the Middle East lie at the heart of British and western policy as well. If the British state persecutes, rather than supports, the few secular and progressive organisations in the region who are fighting Isis, whose interests is it really serving? And if we don’t trust those interests, how much trust can we really place in it to act on our behalf in Syria?

You can sign a petition calling for Silhan Özçelik’s release here, and a petition calling for the decriminalisation of the PKK here.