If two men were killed at the football every week, it would be a scandal – so why don’t wecare it’s happening to women?

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 18 December 2018

Every single week, at least two women are killed by men in this country. In most cases, the killer won’t be a stranger but someone the victim used to think she could trust – a husband, an ex-boyfriend, in some cases a work colleague or friend. The harsh truth is that many women are in much greater danger at home than they are in public places – and the figures from the latest Femicide Census, carried out Women’s Aid and the campaigner Karen Ingala Smith, are jaw-dropping.

Of the 139 women known to have been killed by men in 2017, just over three-quarters (105) knew their killer. Almost half (64) died at the hands of a current or former partner, while 24 were killed by a colleague, neighbour or friend. Ten of the victims were killed by their own sons, in a crime – matricide – that has been regarded with peculiar horror down the centuries,

It’s an outrage but, weirdly, one we’re not really all that outraged about. The former Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, pointed out four years ago that if two people died every week at football games, there would be a national outcry. She’s right – so where is it? Where are the government ministers promising to do more to protect women from male violence? Where is the public outrage over cuts to refuges that leave women with no choice but to stay with violent men?

Some murders, to be blunt, matter more than others. In London, where a spike in knife attacks caused huge headlines earlier this year, domestic abuse has led to almost as many homicides as gang-related violence (in September, the comparable figures were 21 and 22). The increase in knife crime has been discussed at summits and other high-level meetings, and no one doubts that the killing of teenage boys and men in their 20s is agonising for  friends and families.

The Femicide Census shows, however, that knives are as great a danger to women as they are to teenage boys. A sharp weapon was used to kill women in 66 cases, including one horrific attack in which a victim was stabbed 175 times. Yet the response seems to be little more than a weary shaking of heads, as though domestic violence is just something we have to live with, like the weather.  

According to the Office for National Statistics, 1.2m women suffer domestic abuse each year although only a fraction of that number report it. Even when they do, around half of domestic abuse crimes recorded by the police don’t lead to an arrest, again according to the ONS. Reluctance of victims to give evidence is often cited as a reason for the low number of convictions, but that could be addressed by offering more protection and support to women who are rightly terrified of their former partners.

The failures of the criminal justice system were exposed once again this week when a man was jailed for the double murders of his ex-girlfriend, a Syrian refugee who fled the Assad regime to seek safety in the UK, and her mother. Janbaz Tarin, 21, stalked 22-year-old Raneem Oudeh when she ended their relationship after discovering that he had a secret wife and family in Afghanistan.

Tarin repeatedly broke a non-molestation order obtained by Ms Oudeh, sleeping outside her mother’s home in Solihull on 12 consecutive nights. On the evening of the murders, he confronted Ms Oudeh and her mother, 47-year-old Khaola Saleem, in a restaurant, lay in wait for them when they arrived home and stabbed both women to death. Ms Oudeh was actually speaking to a 999 operator – her third emergency call of the day – when she was murdered.

Leaving a violent man is incredibly dangerous – and the evidence in the Femicide Census is incontrovertible. More than half of the women killed by an ex-partner last year were killed during the first month of separation, and 90 per cent within the first year. The evidence also challenges the idea that men kill in a ‘moment of madness’, demonstrating that ‘overkilling’ – using much greater force than required to kill the victim – was evident in 42 per cent of all the killings. One woman was hit 40 times by an axe.

We should be ashamed that this is happening in a society with legal and moral commitments to equality. The home is a dangerous place for far too many women, not to mention the children who are orphaned as a result. Chronic under-resourcing of the criminal justice system and services for victims is an obvious factor, but insufficient explanation in itself.

The awful reality is that neither our politicians not the public care anything like enough about what happens to women. If they did, tackling the intimidation, violence and abuse that goes on behind closed doors would be a top political priority. It isn’t – and that speaks volumes.

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 6 January 2019

In 2017, Jane Harper’s fine first novel, The Dry, focused attention on Australia’s drought-ravaged small towns. The Australian journalist Chris Hammer now uses a similar setting for his debut, a stunning novel set in a town struggling to survive after another inexplicable tragedy. Scrublands (Wildfire £16.99) has a journalist arriving in Riversend to write an article on the first anniversary of a mass shooting carried out by the local priest.

The parallels with The Dry are obvious, yet the books are very different. Martin Scarsden blunders into Riversend with the confidence of a journalist from the big city, opening up barely healed wounds in a town bitterly divided by the priest’s actions. Some locals insist he was a good man, yet the fact remains that he shot five people. When Scarsden uncovers a long-ago rape and the unsolved disappearance of two backpackers, the novel turns into an epic account of the psychological damage accumulated over many years in a dying agricultural town. Scrublands is that rare combination, a page-turner that stays long in the memory.
The American journalist Julia Dahl has created a riveting series featuring Rebekah Roberts, a reporter on a tabloid. In Run You Down (Faber £8.99), a woman from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclave in New York has been found dead in odd circumstances, but the police don’t seem interested. Her husband takes the unusual step of asking Rebekah to write about his wife’s death, but she is hampered by witnesses who don’t trust outsiders and her scant knowledge of the enclave. Her own mother ran away from a Hasidic community, but vanished soon after Rebekah’s birth, leaving her ignorant of the Jewish side of her family. The investigation gradually brings the women together, offering touching insights into Rebekah’s insecurities. The novel highlights the
threat from right-wing extremists and gives a chilling picture of the resurgence of
anti-semitism in America.
Lina Bengtsdotter has been hailed as the next Swedish crime sensation and her first novel is already a global bestseller. For the Missing, translated by Agnes Broomé (Orion £14.99), opens with the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl in Gullspang, a small town in southwest Sweden. Two detectives are sent from Stockholm to assist in the search, but one of them, Charlie Lager, is hiding the fact that she was brought up in Gullspang by an alcoholic mother. The febrile atmosphere is intensified by a series of melodramatic flashbacks, dropping hints about an unhealthy friendship between two local girls. While Charlie’s secret local knowledge is initially useful, her heavy drinking and enthusiasm for casual sex soon get her into trouble. Contemporary crime fiction seems to have an inexhaustible appetite for self-destructive female cops such as Charlie, reviving old stereotypes about women in a man’s world.
David Mark’s distinctive detective novels are set in his home town, Hull, where he used to be a crime reporter. Cold Bones (Mulholland £18.99), has a revenge plot reminiscent of Restoration drama but it is also a tribute to the town’s lost fishing industry. An elderly woman is found murdered in a bath of ice, a death that recalls the fate of three trawler men from Hull in the freezing waters off Iceland years earlier. The dead woman, a former social worker, was closely involved with the families of the lost men, allowing Mark to write vividly about their suffering. It is gory, startling and a complete one-off.