So, it has been concluded by a serious case review committee that 17-year-old Georgia Williams, murdered, then violated, then dumped in woodland by 23-year-old Jamie Reynolds who had become obsessed with her, was let down by the police and their associated agencies.
You wish that this, that any of this, came as a surprise. But the women’s charity Refuge is currently petitioning (refuge.org.uk/publicinquiry) to open a public enquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies to domestic violence precisely because it does not.
That a young woman – a girl I would call her if I didn’t remember how much I hated that when I was 17 – is killed by a man is not a surprise. That he was known to the police is not a surprise. That the police let him off with a warning after he tried to strangle a 16-year-old girl in 2008 is no surprise. Nor their refusal to take action after his own deeply worried parents came to them about the violent image he was creating. In 2011, the police didn’t check his record when he rammed a colleague’s car after she rejected his advances, so didn’t tie him to the 2008 attack. The eight other agencies involved never coordinated, never noted he was obsessed with Williams, never intervened. And so we have Georgia’s dead body, abandoned in the woods, 50 miles from home.
I sit here sometimes and boggle not at the fact that an average of two women a week are killed by their partners (or, in cases like the obsessed Reynolds, their would-be partners) – I’ve seen enough male violence meted out to my friends and family even in my sheltered and privileged life for this not to shock, though of course it makes it no less eternally hateful – but at the fact that it causes no public outcry. Think what would happen if a group of people of religious/ethnic/sexuality type A killed over a hundred people a year, every year, because they were of religious/ethnic/sexuality type B. I think we’d see a coordinated response then, don’t you? I think some state agencies would engage in some joined up thinking pretty effing pronto. Money, special teams, forces, investigations, aid would be mobilised. And rightly so.
But not when it’s women. According to Refuge, 85% of domestic violence victims seek help from professionals an average of five times before they actually get it. There still seems to be some deep-rooted belief that when a man hits a woman it’s part of the natural order of things. And when he hits her some more. Well, there are beatings and there are beatings, aren’t there? You cause a ruckus outside a pub or club and damage another punter, you can expect to be arrested. But if you do it in the privacy of your own home, to your own woman, that’s different. And when you kill her, that’s an isolated incident. You’re not part of a pattern. You – and she – were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I can barely believe that Britain in 2015 is so often that wrong place and that wrong time, but it is. Over a hundred times a year, it is. And that’s just the killings, remember. The visible tip of the iceberg that is made up of years of terrorised misery and suffering among women and, too often again, their children. Years in which far too few of the people we look to for our protection thought it necessary to intervene.
Photography: Ellis Parrinder