I walk past the scene of a murder every time I go to Tesco’s. It’s a pretty normal-looking house. Nothing special. Once the police cordon had gone there was nothing left to distinguish it from any of its neighbours. I suppose that’s not surprising when you consider how ordinary the crime that was committed there actually is. On 20th July 2013, Nirmal Gill is alleged to have battered his estranged wife Rosemary to death in the course of a row. On average two women every week lose their lives this way in the UK. For all I know I could pass half a dozen murder scenes every time I stock up on toilet rolls.
The thing I’ve never been able to get my head around is how any human being believes they have the right to rob another of their life. How can your feelings, no matter how strong, be more important than that person’s right to live? And yet it happens time and again. With a kind of weary inevitability.
A fact sheet published by Women’s Aid says there are no reliable data on the general incidence of domestic violence in the UK. It could be that Rosemary never appeared in any statistics until the day she died. On the other hand, it’s unlikely the attack that killed her was the first. It’s estimated that a woman will be beaten on average 35 times before she raises her voice to seek help. Amnesty UK makes the point (almost unbearably) in this video.
On a miserable Monday morning in early December I found myself with half an hour to spare before catching a train. I decided to get a coffee. Outside the café a woman I know slightly was huddled on a seat. Her partner had thrown her out of the house. Not for the first time. Over coffee she told me he’d done time for assaults on her in the past.
So why are you still with him?
I forgave him.
She stared into her coffee.
It’s a heady blend of love and terror keeps women in abusive relationships. Believe me. Call it trauma bonding if you will. There’s a kind of insane optimism. Flying in the face of all the evidence. He’s a good man. Deep down. Just no-one else can see it. By contrast, the men believe there’s nothing good about us. We’ll never get it right. If we only did it their way, they’d be fine. They must police. Control us. Discipline. Make us do it right.
I read a fascinating article this morning. Men are being lured to Ukraine by dating agencies. Told they’ll be able to date a model, but with the values of your grandmother. Talk about feeding male fantasies. Do these men actually want women who wear full-length flannel nightgowns and insist on separate bedrooms? Or do they believe their grandmothers were obedient slaves? Not surprisingly, they’re being fleeced. And going home alone.
I’m cynical. I don’t think a man like that wants a real woman. He wants fantasy. An inflatable doll would do. One that cooks and cleans, of course. She won’t catch colds or need the loo. Never have a headache. An opinion of her own. She won’t need food or clothes. Ask awkward questions about who that woman with the mini-skirt was. And she’ll do everything just the way his mother used to. Or his grandmother.
I knew a woman once. She spent more than half her life with someone whose first love had rejected him. He kept the photo in his wallet. He yelled. He stormed. He hurled abuse. He shouted. Sulked. Threw tantrums. She tried so hard to please him that it hurt. She was never good enough. She just wasn’t his fantasy woman. She was herself. It took her a long time to understand. I’m not sure he gets it even now.
I’m not suggesting I’ve got all the answers. But it might stop one or two men in their tracks if they remember a woman is not a fantasy. She’s real. Unique. Not a substitute for someone who’d be better. A living, breathing person. Not an alien. Not wholly unlike you. She needs food. Sleep. She has a job. Breaks wind. Is not responsible for cleaning up your mess. Or feeding you. She has bad days. Forgets to shave her armpits. Loses her keys. Won’t wear make-up in bed. Or a full-length flannel nightgown. Thank God. She has ideas. Opinions. Dreams. You can’t control them. Nor do you have the smallest right to try. She doesn’t have to play the game your way.
Above all, her life is never, ever yours. You have no right to take it. End it. Or control it. Under any circumstances. End of story. Get it? Good.