Seven in 10 women killed by partner told someone they were suffering domestic abuse, chilling report finds

‘She married her killer and 20 years later he took her life,’ say relatives of woman killed by husband

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Wednesday 25 November 2020 07:30 GMT
<p>Photos of women killed by men in 2018&nbsp;</p>

Photos of women killed by men in 2018 

Almost seven in 10 women killed by a current or former partner told someone they were experiencing domestic abuse before they died, a chilling new report has found.

The Femicide Census, which tracks the numbers of women killed by men each year to show the killings are not isolated incidents, has examined 1,425 cases of women killed by 1,419 men between 2009 and 2018.

Campaigners found the number of women killed by men has stayed “distressingly consistent” for the past decade – with between 124 and 168 women killed by men every year.

The study found the perpetrator had a history of violence in 46 per cent of all cases, with violence either committed against his victim or towards other people, and he had killed before in 29 cases examined.

Researchers found the third most common context for women being killed by men was “sexually motivated”. Cases include the rape and murder of a 19-year-old pregnant woman a fortnight before she expected to go into labour and a 50-year-old woman raped and killed by a man the first time they met.

Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of Nia, the charity behind the annual census, which delivers services for women and children who have experienced male violence, told The Independent she thinks the prevalence of “sexually motivated” femicides is likely to be higher in reality.

She added: “We think it will be much higher than this because it often isn’t reported. There have been studies showing police might not identify sexual violence when a man kills their female partner because the presence of sperm can be taken at face value as coming from consensual sex.”

Ms Ingala Smith, who set up the femicide census with Clarissa O’Callaghan, said the fact the number of femicides had remained steady for a decade showed “a lack of will to tackle root causes”.

She added: “How many people have been killed in terrorist attacks and how many Cobra meetings have been held to look at the threat of terrorism? As far as I am aware, there has not been one to look at the threat of men’s violence.

“It is a problem that we all know is there. People accept it as a feature of society but so much more could be done. If state agencies could just do their job properly, women’s lives would be saved.”

The Femicide Census strives to record the killings of women by men in a bid to establish patterns that could ultimately save lives by enabling “better prevention, investigation and prosecution of violence against women and girls”.

Researchers discovered the most common method of killing was with a sharp instrument, with 47 per cent of women dying after enduring this. Some 27 per cent of women were killed via strangulation and asphyxiation; 16 per cent of women were killed with a blunt instrument and 15 per cent killed from hitting, kicking or stamping.

“The known histories of violence of these men and the fact that so many women had told someone or sought help is a shocking indictment of the failure of the systems that are meant to respect, protect and fulfil women’s human rights,” Ms Ingala Smith and Ms O’Callaghan said in a joint statement.

“This report gives the lie to the standard press releases that these killings of women are ‘tragic, unpredictable, isolated incidents’ which ‘give no cause for wider public concern’. They have common patterns, they have known risk factors, they demonstrate a massive public policy failing which should concern us all. That there has been little or no change across 10 years is devastating.”

Domestic abuse surged during the first coronavirus lockdown as escape routes from abuse were shut down for women trapped indoors at home with abusive partners.

At the end of May, it emerged that calls to the UK’s national domestic abuse helpline had risen by 66 per cent and visits to its website surged by 950 per cent since the start of the lockdown, while a report released by MPs at the end of April revealed domestic abuse killings in the first 21 days of lockdown were double the total of an average period in the past decade.

The Independent is publishing testimonials from relatives of women who were killed by men referred to in the census.

Dawn Rhodes

Dawn Rhodes was killed by her husband in the family home in Redhill in Surrey in June 2016. Her husband was cleared of murdering her, claiming he acted in self-defence when he cut her throat.

Kirsty and Liz Spencer, relatives of Ms Rhodes, said: “She was born 43 years ago this November and I loved her from the moment I set eyes on the 6½lb baby girl. The last, much wanted child to complete the family.

“She had an adventurous spirit, joining adventure scouts and participating in their outdoor pursuits, taking a drama course at college, joining amateur dramatic societies and escaping into other characters – the weirder, the better.

“She never really had time for many boyfriends. Just the one. She married him. She made the most beautiful ‘medieval’ bride. Christmas was her favourite time of year. She loved to give rather than receive. A snapshot of a loving, much-loved daughter. Her life was made up of so much more. She married her killer and 20 years later he took her life.”

Mumtahina Jannat

Ms Jannat, who was called Ruma by her friends and family, was killed by her abusive husband in July 2011 at the age of 29. Abdul Kadir, her 49-year-old husband, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment and was forced to serve a minimum of 17 years in jail.

“Imagine a woman who loved the touch of Indian silks and cloths against her skin, and no matter how downtrodden her heart, would dress herself up in the brightest of garments to help her mind break free of the darkness it was battling each and every day,” Onjali Q Raúf, Ms Jannat’s niece, said.

“A darkness added to by judges calling her ‘a silly woman’ for fearing the charmer of a husband she was trying to free herself of; of social workers whispering ‘he seems so nice though’ as if her broken innards were a figment of her imagination; of incompetent lawyers and police officers to whom she was ‘just’ another ‘dumb Asian woman’ they had to respond to because it was in their job descriptions and nothing more.

“She was an aunt, mother, beloved friend, who deserved a system which saw her for the fascinating, wonderful human being she was. A system which worked together to protect her and her children – not one which called her a liar in a million different ways, or better yet, just plain ignored her. But she didn’t get what she deserved. And neither have any of the souls listed in this ever-pain-filled Femicide Census.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in