frontline volume 2, issue 7 June 2008

Ending the silence about domestic abuse

Men killing their children to 'punish' their wives. What does it say about our society and what, if anything, can we do about it? Catriona Grant writes.

Father's Day 2008 saw the headlines dominated by the news of two children who were found dead alongside their father in a car. It was no tragic accident, but a double murder followed by a suicide. Brian Philcox, aged fifty-two, whilst on a contact day with his daughter and son, drove them to a local beauty spot and then poisoned them. Amy, seven and Owen, aged three, lived with their mother following she and Philcox's separation some eighteen months earlier.

News reports suggest that Brian Philcox had sent a 'device' to his estranged wife. The organisation Fathers4Justice confirmed that Mr Philcox had been in touch with them on several occasions. If this was an isolated incident it could be seen as a tragic and unpredicted one-off: the truth is, however, that every six weeks in Britain a man kills his children during a contact visit following a separation from a partner. In most cases the Father has committed suicide directly after murdering his children, but in some incidents they have also gone on to kill their estranged partner before ending their own lives.

In May 2008 Paul and Jay Ross were gassed to death by their father in Lennoxtown. The same weekend Ryan and Michelle Thomson were stabbed to death in Buckhaven, again by their father. The statistics for women being murdered are horrific; every three days in Britain a man kills his intimate partner or ex-partner. The British Crime Survey states that in 2006 120 women were killed by their current or previous partner. In June 2008 in Glasgow two women within 48 hours were brutally murdered and within days a teenage boy was charged with 11 indecent assaults on women. But what is being done about this? Women and children are being slaughtered and abused, these statistics horrify us yet does not bring us out on the street. To discuss men's violence against women is often seen purely as a gender based feminist issue, and not a subject to be discussed by socialists generally.


There appears to be a narrative from Fathers4justice that they are denied justice by not getting to see their children and that the legal system conspires against them to deny their rights as fathers. The truth of the issue is, however, that in more than 90% of cases heard in court Fathers are granted access to their children. In the great majority of these rulings, the decision is a correct one. However, this still means that a percentage of woman are forced to hand over their children to men who they are afraid and distrustful of. Women's real worries and fears are often dismissed in the court process, with her experiences of violence and abuse being underplayed if her abusive partner had not subjected the children to violent attacks. However, studies indicate a direct correlation between spousal assault and child abuse, and it is now accepted that children's development and emotional well being is undermined by witnessing or listening to their mother being demeaned and/or assaulted. Fathers 4 Justice rarely if ever discuss these issues when they dress up as super heroes: fictional characters with over inflated super powers and egos to match. If they had a real concern for fathers estranged unfairly from their children they would be calling for a court system that genuinely protected children rather than a court system entirely concerned with Father's rights.

White Ribbon Campaign

What have Fathers 4 Justice got to say about Brian Philcox and the men who kill their families every six weeks in Britain? Michael Kaufman of the White Ribbon Campaign said in 2007; 'If it were between countries, we'd call it a war. If it were a disease, we'd call it an epidemic. If it were an oil spill, we'd call it a disaster. But it is happening to women, and it's just an everyday affair. It is violence against women. It is sexual harassment at work and sexual abuse of the young. It is the beating or the blow that millions of women suffer each and every day. It is rape at home or on a date. It is murder. There's no secret enemy pulling the trigger. No unseen virus that leads to death. It is only men. Not all men, but far too many men. In some countries most men will never be violent against a woman; in others, the majority of men take it as their birthright to do what they want, when they want, to women. And just who are these men? Just regular guys. Men from all social backgrounds and of all colours and ages. Rich men and poor men, men who toil in the fields and men who sit behind desks. All those regular guys, though, have helped create a climate of fear and mistrust among women. Many of our sisters, our mothers and our daughters, our girlfriends and our wives do not feel safe in their homes. At night they cannot walk to the store for bread or rice without wondering who's walking behind them. It's hard for them to turn on the television without seeing men running amok in displays of brutality against women and other men. Even those women in relationships with men who are gentle and caring feel they cannot totally trust men. All women are imprisoned in a culture of violence. Men's violence against women isn't aberrant behaviour. Men have created cultures where men use violence against other men, where we wreak violence on the natural habitat, where we see violence as the best means to solve differences between nations, where every boy is forced to learn to fight or to be branded a sissy, and where men have forms of power and privilege that women do not enjoy. Men have been defined as part of the problem. But the White Ribbon Campaign believes that men can and must be part of the solution. Confronting men's violence requires nothing less than a commitment to full equality for women and a redefinition of what it means to be men, to discover a meaning to manhood that doesn't require blood to be spilled. It has been the longest war, the greatest epidemic, the biggest disaster. With strength and love, we commit ourselves to work alongside women to bring this violence to an end'.


Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. It affects all women in all countries, of all ages, cultures and classes, and in affecting all women, it affects all men. Violence against women is not confined to isolated incidents. The United Nations believe that at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime Ñ with the abuser usually someone known to her. It is probably the most pervasive human rights violation that we know of. It devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development not just of the women being abused but of her children and her community too. The statistics are horrific, so bad that they are almost unbelievable. It is suggested that for women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability. The World Bank in 1994 stated that out of risk factors for women between 18 to 44 rape and domestic violence rated higher than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria. And to add insult to injury several studies have revealed increasing links between violence against women and HIV/AIDS. Women who have experienced violence are at a higher risk of HIV infection: a survey among 1,366 South African women showed that women who were beaten by their partners were 48 percent more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the costs of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceed US$5.8 billion per year: US$4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly US$1.8 billion.

Violence against women impoverishes individuals, families and communities. Violence against women depletes their life chances and keeps them poor and unequal. Whilst men's violence towards women exists, especially pandemically, women cannot be equal to men never mind dream of their emancipation and liberation. While the facts and figures about men's violence against women are shocking, they do not fully explain the true nature of the incidents to which they refer. Men's violence and the threat of that violence prevent women from being free and finding their true potential. The most pervasive violence towards women from men is domestic and intimate partner violence that includes physical and sexual attacks against women in the home. The sad fact is women in Scotland, Britain and the rest of the world are more at risk of experiencing violence in intimate relationships than anywhere else. And it would appear that in no country in the world are women safe from violence from their intimate partner or previous partner. Out of ten counties surveyed in a 2005 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 50 percent of women in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Tanzania reported having been subjected to physical or sexual violence by intimate partners, with figures reaching staggering 71 percent in rural Ethiopia. In only one country (Japan) did less than 20 percent of women report incidents of domestic violence. An earlier WHO study puts the number of women physically abused by their partners or ex-partners at 30 percent in the United Kingdom, and 22 percent in the United States. It is estimated that in the US women who experience domestic abuse lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year Ñ the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.

According to evidence gleaned from several surveys from around the world, half of all female murder victims are killed by their current or former husbands or partners. Women are killed by people they know and die from gun violence, beatings and burns, among numerous other forms of abuse. A study conducted in S‹o Paulo, Brazil, reported that 13 percent of deaths of women of reproductive age were homicides, of which 60 percent were committed by the victims' partners. Only 89 countries in the world have some form of legislative prohibition on domestic violence, including 60 countries with specific domestic violence laws, and a growing number of countries have instituted national plans of action to end violence against women. This is marked progress as in 2003 only 45 countries had legislation.


But legislation does not protect women by itself - only attitudinal and cultural changes about men's behaviour and beliefs towards women can make women safer. Unfortunately without availability of services, the stigma of being a 'victim' and fear prevent women from seeking assistance and redress. The World Health Organisation in 2005 did a survey of 24,000 women in 10 countries, and found that between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help. The services throughout the world that are accessed are starved of funding; the workers are overworked and cannot cope with the request of services. Only tiny fractions of GDP are spent on providing services, preventing violence against women or protecting women from men's violence. Last year in Scotland there were 48,500 calls to the police to assist with domestic abuse incidents, 90% of these requests were to deal with men's violence towards their female partner. There were more than 6,000 requests for Women's Aid refuges in Scotland last year - Women's Aid could only offer a space to less than half. But what do socialists have to say about men's violence against women? Do we turn a blind eye, blame society, or do we say enough really is enough and that men's violence against women must be tackled head on?

There needs to be discussion within the Scottish Socialist Party and beyond in all our networks about what we can do about it. It can no longer be left up to women to tell us what the problem is, we know what the problem is - men are assaulting women and sometimes killing them. When they can no longer be abusive to them they will kill their children in an act of vengeance. Women are demanding a solution be sought. They not only want action - they need action. The men who are violent do so because they can. They do it all over the world and in the majority of cultures. Men who are violent and abusive to women do so because they believe they have entitlement to control, dominate and make women do what they want them to do, and more often than not go unchallenged. Socialist men and women need to talk about their role in challenging men's violence against women. They need to state clearly that they condemn it, and never condone it, but beyond that they cannot be silent about it any longer.