This morning on the Today program I listened to a very interesting segment regarding deaths of children and young people in the criminal justic system. You can read more about it here:
The charity Inquest has worked with the Prison Reform Trust to produce a report
(called Fatally Flawed, can be found here:
regarding deaths in custody, specifically those of children and young people under the age of 24. They report that in the past ten years 163 children and young people have died in the care of the state, mostly as a result of suicide (although there are cases where the cause of death was a result of, for example, the types of restraint used against them). Of those who died, two thirds of those under 18 and almost a third of those between 18 and 24 were being actively monitored for self harm and/or suicidal behaviour. Today’s coverage is as we await an announcement from the prisons minister, Jeremy Wright as to whether he will acquiesce to the charities’ request to hold a full independent enquiry. He has previously refused such calls, but has agreed to look at the request again.
The BBC article states that the heart of the debate lies with the state’s obligation to protect life (Article 2 of the Human Rights Act), and quotes Deborah Coles (the co-director of Inquest),
“The relentless nature of these deaths is shocking enough but the recurrence of depressingly familiar failings year after year should give most cause for alarm.”
Let me be clear here. The preventable deaths of children and young people held in custody are awful, terrible things, and something needs to be done to address them. I agree wholeheartedly. Any death in custody is to be mourned as a waste.
But I wonder at the comparisons we can draw. 163 children or young persons (mostly young persons) died over a 10 year period. That’s 16.3 a year. There is media attention. There are calls for official public enquiries. There is condemnation and sorrow.
How can we compare? Let’s look at the Counting Dead Women campaign, started and run by Karen Ingala Smith. You can follow it on twitter @Countdeadwomen, and read about it here:
How many ways can we count dead women? It is estimated that 2 women a week are killed by current or former partners. But more than that. In 2013 140 women were murdered by men. 140. In a single year. And that only counts cases which were publicly available and acknowledged as being the deaths of women caused directly by men. Women murdered by male violence. That doesn’t include rates of suicide caused by male violence. Women fleeing domestic violence. It is estimated that approximately 3 women a week use suicide as their last resort, their only escape from a violent man. Women traumatised by rape. There are no definitive figures on this, but in the last week a British women ‘fell to her death’ following the acquittal of her rapist. The Counting Dead Women twitter reported another young woman who commited suicide after she was raped, because she feared what her father would say. We don’t know how many women commit suicide as a result of rape or sexual abuse. But we know that around 85,000 women are the victims of sexual violence of one form or another ever single year. How many of them do we lose?
Even if we only take officially recorded figures, almost 300 women a year killed by male violence. And that is in the UK alone.
Where is the media attention for these women? Where are the calls for a public enquiry into this epidemic of men murdering women? It leads you to suspect that women don’t matter. No one cares enough to connect the dots and see that it is men murdering women. There is no official record of male violence against women. The home office doesn’t keep those sorts of statistics. No one cares enough to look.
That last isn’t exactly fair. Karen Ingala Smith cares. She started a petition (found here: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-ignoring-dead-women If you haven’t signed it already, I urge you to do so.)
Women’s charities care. Groups like Refuge and Women’s Aid work hard, not only to support women, but to raise awareness. The government doesn’t care. The government doesn’t count dead women. But it does (presumably) count the money it saves by cutting vital funding to women’s refuges.
I care. I care about our dead sisters. I care about the survivors of male violence who can’t go on any longer. And I know the problem. I can name it. So can you. Male violence against women.