How Karen Ingala Smith is breaking the silence

What’s the single biggest killer of women in the UK? Cancer? Alcohol abuse?

What’s the single biggest killer of women in the UK? Cancer? Alcohol abuse? Contrary to popular belief, fatal male violence is the real killer, at present claiming a shocking two women’s lives a week in the UK.

So why is enough action not being taken to combat such a shocking statistic? Karen Ingala Smith, founder of the #CountingDeadWomen campaign, hopes to achieve exactly that, calling on the coalition Government to tackle fatal male violence against women and girls.

It’s a sad but familiar sight when you flick through a newspaper—a woman killed by her partner or ex-partner. But while we shamefully might turn the page, Ingala Smith began to count. Horrified at the frequency of fatal male violence in the UK, she subsequently took matters into her own hands, founding the #CountingDeadWomen campaign to demand that the Government to do everything its power to combat it. The campaign has since received the backing of a string of high profile figures including Lauren Laverne and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and secured more than 16,600 signatures.

But can #CountingDeadWomen translate into much-needed change? I caught up with Ingala Smith to find out more.

What notable event inspired you to launch the #countingdeadwomen campaign?

Counting Dead Women didn’t start as a campaign. In the first three days of January 2012, seven women in the UK were murdered by men, three were shot by Mike Atherton on New Year’s Day and this made the national news. Kirsty Treloar was stabbed in Hackney, a London borough I work in. It was the beginning of the year, at least one news report referred to these murders of women by men as isolated incidents, seven women in three days and they’re saying isolated incidents?  

So, with no plan or grand intentions, I just started counting and since I started, I haven’t felt able to stop. Initially I just tweeted the women’s names and put them on the Facebook page of the charity NIA that I work for. Gradually interest developed and through talking to other women, the idea of a campaign and petition evolved.

What changes do you hope to create out of #countingdeadwomen?

I want to see a fit-for-purpose publicly available record of fatal male violence against women. I want to see the connections made between the different forms of fatal male violence against women. I want to see a homicide review for every sexist murder. I want the government to fund an independently run Femicide Observatory, where relationships between victim and perpetrator and social, cultural and psychological issues are analysed.   

I want to believe that the government is doing everything it can to end male violence against women and girls. I want us to understand men’s violence against women and girls so that ultimately we can stop it.

Why do you think the Government and the media are reluctant to commemorate fatal male violence against women?

In a word: patriarchy. Male violence against women is accepted as normal and inevitable. It is inevitable in a patriarchal society where women are oppressed by men, where sex inequality is seen as natural, where gender is seen as a product of biology not society.

The media is interested in selling copy and the politicians are interested in getting elected or re-elected. The government and media as institutions aren’t feminist – and whilst there are some great feminists in the media and politics – as institutions they are male dominated and have a vested interest in keeping things are they are.

Do you think the taboo surrounding domestic violence can perhaps be attributed to the national media’s silence surrounding victims of male violence?

In part, yes; but it’s not just about whether something is said, it’s what is said, how it’s presented. There is so much victim-blaming and disbelief of women and children’s voices. The myths and attitudes feed the silence and lies.

What has been your campaign highlight?

I wouldn’t pick a highlight because I haven’t yet reached the point where I think the campaign has made a real difference but the most important times to me are when someone who is a friend or family member of a woman who has been killed gets in touch and shows support for what I’m trying to do. 

Also hearing that academics and students have found my work useful is a great boost, it supports my argument for a need for a femicide observatory.

What challenges have you encountered since creating the campaign?

It’s time consuming – but it’s important to me so I can live with that.  It can also be pretty grim, especially when I update the list of women killed every month, or write something about a particular aspect, for example men who killed their mothers.

I get the inevitable ‘what about the men?’ challenges but so do most of us working to support victims and survivors of male violence.

Are you optimistic that the Government will one day do everything in its power to end violence against women and girls?

Not really, but I am optimistic that feminists will continue to highlight the need for more to be done.

Finally, can we hope that one day, the media and the government will stop ignoring dead women?

I hope so, yes.  There are some in the media who are interested and many people, including academics and policy makers (mainly women) who will continue to raise awareness of fatal male violence against women and girls. Between us, we have a hope of forcing the government to listen, ensuring that they name the problem and persuading them to take action.

Learn more about the campaign here and follow them on Twitter here. Have your say on the campaign in the comments section below.