I was prompted to look up the definition this week after reading about the death of Claire Parry.
Claire Parry was strangled by Timothy Brehmer in a pub car park in May. She died in hospital a day later from a brain injury caused by compression of the neck. During his trial, Brehmer - a former police officer - said he strangled Claire Parry by accident during a ‘’kerfuffle’’ in his car. He said his arm ‘’must have slipped in all the melee.’’
On Wednesday, Brehmer was acquitted of the murder of Claire Parry and was sentenced to 10 and a half years for manslaughter.
The details of the case have been well aired in the media and it is those that are the most salacious that have come to define it.
Claire Parry and Timothy Brehmer were having a long-term affair. On the day of the incident, Parry had sent a text message to Brehmer’s wife revealing their relationship.
In sentencing Brehmer the judge said he was doing so ‘’on the basis that you lost your self-control following the sending of the text message to your wife where the affair was revealed.’’
It’s a curious thing, self-control. Our newspapers are peppered with stories of the men who lost theirs and the women who suffered the consequences. So much so that some believe - in certain, sex-segregated circumstances - violence is a natural response to displeasure.
We have an abundance of words and phrases to explain this get-out clause for violent men. Snapped; red mist; pushed to the edge; blacked out. It all amounts to the same thing: women being blamed for the harm done to them.
Headlines are only a snapshot of the story and what is included in those precious few words speaks volumes about how the overall story is being framed. It is only the most important details that warrant inclusion in bold typeface at the top of the page or screen. Claire Parry’s headline – like so many other murdered women – included the words ‘’after she…’’.
‘’Dorset police officer strangled lover after she revealed affair’’.
Look out for the ‘’after she’’ the next time you read about a woman who has been killed by a man. Perhaps she spurned his advances or had an affair. She might have revealed an affair or confronted him about his. She may have rejected him, ignored him or tried to leave him. The list of excuses is endless but in cases where the victim knew the perpetrator there is almost always an ‘’after she’’.
Where there’s not an ‘’after she’’ there will probably be a ‘’because he…’’ in its place.
One particularly inglorious example of this will always stay with me. It involved the sentencing of an abusive man who had assaulted his partner violently and mercilessly over a long period of time. He attacked her while she was lying in hospital recovering from surgery and while she was pregnant. He hit her with a belt and with a dog chain. He broke her bones. He left her scarred. The headline read:
‘’Thug caged for battering woman because he couldn’t find a matching pair of socks.’’
At the time, there was an outcry about the insensitivity of the headline, as well as the cartoon image of a pair of socks that was used to illustrate it. In response, the newspaper removed the cartoon socks. They kept the headline.
Giving the excuses of violent men such prominence legitimatises the idea that male violence is inevitable and in some cases, justifiable. That is not only dangerous for women: it is insulting to men.
On this, violence against women experts are clear. When a man beats, strangles or kills a woman: it is a demonstration of control, not a loss of it.
Putting your hands on somebody’s throat is not an instinctive or normal reaction to a stressful event – it’s an alarm bell. A 2008 study from the Journal of Emergency Medicine found that 43 per cent of woman who were murdered by their partners had been choked by them in the previous year.
Claire Parry had an intimate relationship with the man who killed her. That doesn’t mean her life should be characterised by her death. She was also a nurse and a mother to two young children. Her husband has described her as a ‘’loving family member’’ and ‘’doting mother’’.
‘’Her energy and enthusiasm for life were infectious and our lives are poorer without her in them.’’
Those humanising details are often lost when we speak about women killed by men.
We saw that this week when the BBC released a trail for their new four-part documentary about convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius. The trail included a montage of his athletic successes yet it omitted entirely the name of the woman he shot and killed – Reeva Steenkamp.
In the accompanying press release the BBC said the documentary tells the story of an ‘’international hero’’ who suddenly ‘’found himself’’ at the centre of a murder investigation.
After being criticised for the ill-judged video, the BBC released a statement in which they apologised for not referring to Reeva Steenkamp directly. They removed the trail and said they would replace it with something more representative of the series, which airs in November.
While the circumstances of their deaths are markedly different, both Claire Parry and Reeva Steenkamp were killed by men they knew, who sought to defend their deadly violence by claiming it was accidental.
In the coverage of both killings, the richness of their lives was overlooked in favour of the gruesome nature of their deaths.
Both cases triggered a wider conversation about societal attitudes to violence against women. Both raise uncomfortable questions about the value we put on women’s lives.