My younger daughter is three. Her intelligence and humour shine out of her. She is exuberant, irrepressible, magnificent. I begin to see the womanly space she will carve in the world in the future – if she is permitted to carry on growing up with the style and verve with which she has begun.
Snuggled in bed next to me she is playing with a toy vehicle; a robot-truck. It ‘speaks’. It says “You can never have too much power”. She presses the sound button over and over, hearing this message again and again. It’s a great thing to be told when you are small and soft and vulnerable. I love her fiercely and protectively. I know the truth about the world she is growing up in. I wonder if she will ever have enough power, let alone too much.
I read the Saturday papers and I am struck by this story of so-called ‘Crossbow Cannibal’ Stephen Grifiths.
Griffiths is known to have murdered three women:
· Susie Rushworth
· Shelley Armitage
· Suzanne Blamires
The headline says ‘He killed because it was easy’. The article shows that in the same area where the Yorkshire Ripper had stalked and killed his victims in the 1970s a new serial killer again began murdering women with apparent impunity, thirty years later. Other women in other cities have also been casually murdered because their apparent invisibility makes it possible. Stephen Griffiths was eventually caught when – according to the article – ‘the police got a lucky break’. A caretaker, reviewing footage from private security cameras, spotted a woman fleeing from Griffiths’ building, ‘followed by a man who grappled her to the ground, shot her twice at point-blank range through the back of the head with a crossbow and dragged her back into the flat’. How ‘lucky’ for the police.
Although now caught and convicted – like Peter Sutcliffe who killed 13 women in the same area, or Steve Wright, who murdered five women in Ipswich* – he was able to kill multiple times because he operated in an area where the women are routinely disregarded and where violence against them is tolerated. The article draws to a close with this chilling comment: ‘The beatings and rapes continue; six weeks ago, Louise was tied up and raped multiple times by a 50-year-old judo instructor. “There’s no point in me complaining to police,” she says. “It’s normal.”’
Just how much are we willing to indulge these men?
On the same morning, online, I pick up this article:
Tirion Lewis, the 19-year old victim of her boxer boyfriend was not a sex-worker, and was therefore not quite so invisible. In fact, she was in a car outside the family home when the attack on her began. But her neither her visibility, nor the fact that she was with a friend when her boyfriend attacked her, protected her from his irrational, unjustifiable rage. He beat her so badly she was unrecognisable. Her recovery is described as ‘miraculous’, but18 months after the attack her brain injuries still affect her.
How do we protect our daughters?
The previous week I read this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1360801/Haydor-Khan-cleared-rape-climbing-wrong-bed.html
This report disgusts me for two reasons. The first is because the very definition of rape is that the sex that takes place is without consent. There are many ‘he says / she says’ arguments about rape which hinge on whether or not consent was given. But the way the story is presented here it seems that the defendant’s case is not that the woman he attacked consented to sex, but simply that he had sex with the wrong woman. Oops. Does that make it all right? Can it really be an adequate defence against rape to say what amounts to: “I was so drunk I didn’t care who I was having sex with, let alone whether she said yes or not”. It shouldn’t be. After Khan had sex with this woman without – apparently – checking who she was or whether she wanted to have sex with him, it is alleged that he made off with her mobile phone.
The other reason for my disgust is because the Daily Mail closes this report with some paragraphs of information about another case in which a woman has been convicted of false claims of abduction and rape. So the Daily Mail manages to conflate the first story with the false allegation story. Imagine what it must feel like to be the woman who went to bed alone in a hotel room and then woke in the dark in the middle of the night to find a stranger on top of her; imagine being brave enough to call the police, to follow the case through to court, to be made ‘visible’ in this most intrusive and painful of ways, and then to be told the assault was in some way not a crime because the man in question was too pissed to know what he was doing. Then imagine how it must feel to be written about in the same article as a woman who made her story up.
How do we protect ourselves?
These women were far from invisible. There were up to 5,000 of them. In full view on a public street. These women, engaged in a peaceful protest in the Ivory Coast were gunned down by the security forces. The Ivory Coast’s leader Laurent Gbagbo was defeated in an election last November but clings to power. 5,000 visible women, standing up against one man with too much power. The women were attacked with tanks and machine guns. Up to eight women, including one who was pregnant, are thought to have been killed on the spot.
In an account of these killings given to the BBC World Service, one of the women says: “If we assume that we are in a democratic country, then our duty is to march again and again. We, the women of Ivory Coast, will continue our action. Laurent Gbagbo wants to rule the country by force. Suppose he killed all of the women of Ivory Coast, whose ruler would he be?”
I find the bravery of this woman astonishing and humbling. I choose to imagine that her three-year old self was as clever and funny, as lively and unsquashable as the special little person snuggled next to me.
Where and when we will take hold of our power? How do we hold hands around the world on International Women’s Day, with our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters and – above all – our daughters? How do we carve out our womanly space in the world? How do we make sure we are visible, audible, valued?
And when will we stop indulging these men?
Only five years after the killings, the story of these murders has now been turned into a http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/17/catherine-bennett-london-road?INTCMP=SRCH )