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.

ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war