Family Annihilators: The Murder of Luke Batty and the Reality of Domestic Violence

This was first published at Ending Victimisation and Blame: Everyday Victim Blaming on 5.2.14.

Luke Batty was brutally murdered with a cricket bat by his father Greg Anderson in a cricket ground in the presence of his mother.

Greg Anderson was then shot by a police officer in what was apparently a “suicide by cop”.

For 3 days, the media has been reporting Anderson’s poor mental health and writing sympathetic articles about how we must empathise with Anderson for feeling upset at being denied contact with his son. Excuses were made as were demands for empathy with Anderson.

Yet, the evidence of Anderson’s history of domestic violence has been clear from the start. There is also no evidence of a formal diagnosis of mental illness. This line appears to have come from a quote from Luke’s mother Rosie Batty and has been picked up as fact by the media. As far as I have been able to ascertain Anderson had no formal diagnosis of mental illness which has been released to the media although he was homeless for many years; people who are homeless are statistically much more likely to have mental illnesses and ones which remain undiagnosed and untreated than the general population.

We know now that Anderson had been questioned by the police in January for assault and let go despite 5 outstanding arrest warrants. We know that Anderson had multiple interactions with various agencies because of his history of violent behaviour. We know he was only allowed contact with his son in public places because of his violent behaviour. We know that Rosie Batty had an AVO against him because of his violent behaviour. We also know that the murder was premeditated since Anderson took a knife to the cricket pitch.

Despite this, the media have been writing about how much Anderson “loved his son” and that it wasn’t known why Anderson “snapped”.

Anderson took a knife to his son’s cricket practise. He had a history of domestic violence. These are not the actions of a man who loved his son. They are the actions of a violent, controlling man.

As it stands, we do not know the exact nature of Anderson’s health but we do know that men who murder their children very rarely have mental illnesses and that people with mental illness are far more likely to harm themselves than to harm anyone else. This is one of the biggest myths about mental health: that those who have clinical diagnoses are violent.

Men who kill their children, themselves and/or (ex-)partners are referred to as family annihilators. These men have one thing in common: a history of domestic violence.They are controlling men who choose to harm their children and former partners to punish them. If Anderson did suffer from mental health problems, then he is an anomaly rather than representative of men who murder their families.

We need to contextualise the brutal murder of Luke within a pattern of male violence. It is not an isolated event nor is it one which could not have been predicted. Domestic violence does not happen in a vacuum. In the UK, two women a week are murdered by violent partners. 1 in 3 women in the world will experience domestic and/ or sexual violence. Children and women experience violence in the home on a daily basis.

Domestic violence costs the world economy billions every year yet we continue to pretend that family annihilators are “isolated events” and “tragic incidents”. The truth is the opposite: domestic violence is an everyday occurrence for many women and children.

We need to start addressing the issue of domestic violence properly. We need to stop pretending that domestic violence is an isolated, non-gendered crime. Men are the vast majority of perpetrators of domestic violence. These men do not have mental illnesses. They make the choice to be abusive.

I am waiting for the results from an official inquest into the murder of Luke because I do not trust the media to report accurately about the mental health of Anderson. The media is complicit in perpetuating male violence through inaccurate reporting and victim blaming. If it turns out that Anderson did suffer from mental illness that went untreated, then the agencies involved with him will need to be held accountable for their failures. If Anderson was not mentally ill and was a family annihilator, then the media needs to be held accountable for perpetuating damaging myths about mental illness and myths about male violence.

We need to the media to stop writing articles which make excuses for violent men. We need them to follow the guidelines set out by the National Union of Journalists on how to report domestic and sexual violence appropriately. We need the media to take responsibility for perpetuating the myths on domestic and sexual violence.

We need to prevent more children being murdered at the hands of their fathers and we can not do this without being clear what caused their death.

 

Update : Anderson had brought a knife with him to the cricket ground and threatened an officer with it which is what lead to his death by shooting. Reports now suggest that he also used the knife to harm Luke. Arriving with a knife suggests premeditation.

Synthia China Blast: convicted for the rape and murder of thirteen-year-old Ebony Nicole Williams (content note)

Let me be perfectly clear here: I do not like the US judicial system. They have sent generations of communities to prison for the crime of being poor or not white. The entire judicial system is racist, misogynistic, homophobic and simply not fit for purpose. The death penalty is barbaric and the three strikes rule inhumane. Incarcerating people for non-violent crimes is an asinine position – as is incarcerating juveniles with adult men. Hell, I’m not sure incarcerating men with other men, considering the sheer number of rapes which happen daily in US prisons, is anything but a human rights abuse.

That said, I am very concerned with the ways in which the media is covering Laverne Cox’s support of Synthia China Blast and the campaign to have safer housing for transgender people in US prisons. Blast, born Luis Morales, was convicted of the 1993 rape, murder and the abuse of the corpse of Ebony Nicole Williams who was only 13 years old. The campaign for safer housing writes this:

Synthia China Blast, an SRLP client and Prisoner Advisory Committee Member, has been incarcerated in New York for twenty-one years. Synthia identifies as a transgender Latina woman and proud native of the Bronx. Prior to incarceration, she experienced family rejection, lack of access to safe education, homelessness, police profiling and violence because she is transgender. The violent gender policing and various forms of trauma she experienced as a youth have only been reproduced and exacerbated while being held in various men’s prisons operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) over the past seventeen years.

There is no mention of Blast’s final conviction for child rape and murder – instead the coverage suggests that the Blast was incarcerated for being a transwoman.

Did Blast grow up surrounded by structural violence – absolutely. He was a member of a gang and had a history of violence. But, recognizing the violence within the system which results in boys like Blast perpetuating the very violence which harmed them does not mean we can ignore the crimes they commit.

We absolutely do need to talk about the criminal justice system and it’s gross failures to rehabilitate prisoners. We need to fight to spend our defence budgets on our own communities to prevent generations of children growing up experience poverty and violence. But, this doesn’t mean that we absolve people of their responsibility in committing crimes. We can believe the system is inherently corrupt and that prisoners deserve better treatment whilst holding individual people responsible for the crimes they committed.

Blast committed child rape and murder. We cannot ignore these facts.

You can read more here.

*As I was writing this blog, the video of Laverne Cox reading Synthia China Blast’s letter has been set to private and is no longer visible on Buzzfeed. These are the chunks of the video published on Buzzfeed:

“I was born and raised in the South Bronx, however since age 15 I’ve been raised in prison. In fact – since age 16 – I’ve only been home once, in 1993, for three months. I’ve been in prison ever since. I’m 38-years-young.”

“I am a political transgender woman ‘slash’ prisoner. I strongly support the rights of LGBT brothers and sisters in the community who are imprisoned also.”

“They may not live in a cage 23 to 24 hours a day like I do, year after year, with no fellow prisoner contact, but they too face the constant torment that LGBT prisoners face in here.”

“Lack of adequate medical care, abusive and evasive treatment by law enforcement officials, denial of basic human rights, the freedom to live among the straight society without fear of retaliation.”

“As a whole, in or out of prison, we all suffer,” Cox reads.

“My members consist of one voice. I want my voice to be heard, I want my dreams to matter, I want people to know who I am because tomorrow is not promised.”

“We each have to be an example for one another, we are minorities in here. If you are part of PAC, you are either directly or indirectly part of the LGBT family.

The letter concludes: “So when I’m asked why did I join the Prisoner Advisory Committee, I smile because I didn’t join anything. I found my family.”

UPDATE:

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project has released a formal statement in response to the removal of the video of Laverne Cox reading Synthia China Blast’s letter. Apparently, they didn’t bother to tell Cox what Blast was incarcerated for and don’t think it’s important. I’m glad Cox has demanded they remove the video,  although the lesson here in checking shit out before signing your name to it is one a whole lot of celebrities might want to familiarize themselves with.

I am very disturbed by the message within the SRLP which effectively states that it doesn’t matter why a transwoman is in prison, they must be supported regardless. Prejudice is a common reason for incarceration in the US and many people within the system should not be there, particularly those incarcerated for substance misuse, prostitution and petty theft. But, there is a huge difference between a transwoman incarcerated for prostitution and one incarcerated for rape, murder and abuse of a corpse – just as there is with any other group of  people incarcerated. We can understand that the carceral system is built on racism, poverty etc and that young men and women living in ghettos end up in gangs for millions of reasons which have nothing to do with personal choice whilst still holding them accountable for their actions. Understanding the system and campaigning to destroy it doesn’t mean that people who commit rape and murder should be forgiven because of the violence they grew up with. Lots of people grow up in families and communities ravaged by poverty and structural violence who do not go on to commit child rape and murder. Whatever we think of the system itself (and it’s a massive failure), the crimes committed by individuals within it need to be spoken about. Failing to address Blast’s actual crimes undermines the SRLP.

UPDATE TWO:

Laverne Cox has posted a response on her tumblr.

UPDATE 3:

This video was just shared on my FB. It is Cox’s reading interspersed with facts about the murder of Ebony Nicole Williams :

 

Andrew Parsons: Wife Murderer but still a "Good Father"


Andrew Parsons has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder of his wife Janee Parsons. Andrew murdered his wife in front of their young son. The murder was captured on a dictation machine that Andrew had hidden under Janee’s bed to spy on her. He stalked his wife and then he murdered Janee.

Janee’s crime: having an affair and ending her marriage to Andrew. Andrew murdered Janee because she ended their relationship. Yet, the judge, Patrick Eccles, summation includes the following phrases:

“You were overwhelmed in my judgement by jealous rage.

“Nobody can predict the psychological harm which will be significant to your son.

“You were and no doubt are a good father, you will suffer for the rest of your life knowing the harm you have caused to them.”

Eccles has not only excused Andrew’s violence by labelling it “jealousy” and, therefore, abnormal, he has also chosen to claim that Andrew was a “good father”. Jealous men are not good fathers. Good fathers do not murder their former partners in front of their children. Any man who chooses to abuse or murder his (former) partner is not a “good” father. He is a violent man.

Andrew Parsons lawyer, who at least should be expected to engage in victim-blaming, claimed that Parsons was “clinically depressed” and under “extreme pressure”. Many people are clinically depressed and under extreme pressure and they do not murder their (former) partners.

Janee Parsons was brutally murdered by her former husband, yet the judge has implied that it is her fault for making Andrew jealous.

There are no excuses for violence.

Jealousy is used as an excuse to diminish men’s responsibility for their violence.

Jealousy is used as a way of blaming women for their brutal murder at the hands of violent current or former partners.

Janee Parsons was brutally murdered. Her son saw his mother being murdered. They are the victims of this crime; not Andrew.

Angela Bourkes’ The Burning of Bridget Cleary

Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary is a social history of the use of fairies and other myths to control people’s behaviour in Ireland in the 19th century. She traces the history of these myths to contextualise the brutal torture and murder of Bridget Cleary by her husband and kinsmen. It is very powerful but equally horrifying. What impressed me the most is that Bourke places the murder of Bridget firmly within a narrative of domestic violence. There are no excuses for male violence so, whilst the murder is contextualised with a history of faeries, changelings, power struggles, and jealousy  Bourke holds the murderers accountable. Bourke then situates the trial of Bridget’s murderers within the political context of British Home Rule of Ireland and the British construction of Irish people as savages.

The Burning of Bridget Cleary is one of the most fascinating and well-researched books I have ever read. Bourke traces multiple layers of  history and myth to tell the story of the murder of Bridget Cleary. It’s rather like Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher* but from a feminist perspective rather than a comprehensive social history. 

I honestly can not recommend this book enough. It is brilliant, insightful, frightening and, above all, a true picture of the complicated processes required to tell the history of women. 

*The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is worth a read too as it contextualises the origins of detectives in British society within the literature of the day particularly in relation to the work of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens.

Her Name was Reeva Steenkamp : It’s Time We Take Personal Responsibility for our Media Culture

I am so very angry at the reporting of the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. The hypocrisy and women-hating of our media never fails to shock me.

I have written numerous times on the issue of personal responsibility in maintaining the women-blaming rhetoric in our celebrity- obsessed mass media culture; the hypocrisy of the British press publishing nude photos of some celebrities without consent whilst whining about other news media publishing those of others. I’ve written about the mass media’s sensationalising and eroticising male violence for entertainment purposes and of the harmful nature of “women’s” magazines. I’ve written about the links between reality television, bullying culture and the lack of personal responsibility in the Huffington Post.  

The media response to the murder of Reeva Steenkamp by her partner has been just as offensive as every other story of the murder of a woman by a man. The failure to name Reeva Steenkamp and the rendering her as an object has even surpassed even my cynicism of the media’s desire to reinforce rape culture and VAW. I’m not going to link to the picture in the Sun or the article in the Daily Mail since both have been shredded on twitter this morning. And, really, no one expects much from either since they both stopped publishing the news years ago. 

However, they aren’t the only mainstream media who’ve gone with worshipping a murderer at the expense of the victim. I found the Guardian’s retrospective on the life of the murderer of Reeva Steenkamp particularly galling. The Washington Post went with a quote on how some man never saw Reeva Steenkamp’s murderer as “violent”. He’s just murdered someone. I think the boats sailed on the question as to whether or not the man was violent. The BBC can’t seem to remember Reeva Steenkamp’s name. The mainstream media is effectively removing Reeva Steenkamp for the reporting of her own murder.

So far, I’ve only read two articles on the murder of Reeva Steenkamp which weren’t offensive: Mother Jones wrote about it relation to the issue of gun violence in South Africa whilst the F-Word UK wrote about the sensationalising and obfuscation of responsibility of VAW committed by athletes. It is utterly pathetic that the mainstream media has not managed to report this case with anything approaching empathy.

You can complain to the Sun about their front page by phone:  0207 782 4104 

Or, email: dominic.mohan@the-sun.co.uk  and ombudsman@the-sun.co.uk

Do feel free to tweet your anger to @rupertmurdoch

There is a petition here demanding that the Sun apologise for their front page.

Sian and Crooked Rib has written a form letter here.

There are other suggestions for activism here.

Please make a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission. As EVAW has been tweeting, you can use article 12 of the Code of Practise to make your complaint.

More importantly though, we have got to start taking personal responsibility and stop financially supporting the media outlets which perpetuate VAW as entertainment. There is no point in complaining about the Sun running such an offensive front page if people are clicking on it which increases their advertising revenue. The same goes for the Daily Mail. Complaining about the hateful nature of celebrity culture  whilst financially supporting it is hypocritical.  If we genuinely want to stop this shit from being published, we need to stop buying the Sun, Daily Mail, Heat and OK Magazine. We need to stop financially supporting a culture of bullying vulnerable people for entertainment. 

The Sun may have chosen to run an offensive picture but they did knowing full well that people will buy it. 

We need to start boycotting all forms of media which sensationalise violence in society. We need to start making formal complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. We need to start getting our media coverage from sources interested in justice rather than profit.

We need to force our media to cover actual news without glorifying male violence.

UPDATE:

Here are some very good criticisms of the treatment of Reeva Steenkamp within mainstream media:

Helen Lewis in the New Statesman
Marina Hyde in the Guardian
Jane Fae in politics.co.uk

Apparently, murdering your wife is not a sufficient reason to lose custody of your children.

Neil Ellerbeck murdered his wife Kate Ellerbeck on November 14th, 2008. Kate received 43 separate injuries in the attack before being strangled to death. Neil was sentenced to 8 years in prison for “manslaughter” The jury cleared him of murder “on the basis of lack of intent to cause serious harm”; 43 separate injuries which lead to her death but it was still judged a “lack of intent to cause serious harm”. How did we get to a point where 43 separate injuries leading to death aren’t considered intent to cause serious harm? 

Neil’s responsibility for the murder of Kate was minimised by the press in a myriad of ways, with their obsession over Kate’s affairs whilst simultaneously downplaying Neil’s own affair. The Telegraph and Daily Mail were both obsessed with how much money Neil earned as an investment banker, as if being a rich white man was more important than his status as a murderer. The very obvious  signs of domestic violence were ignored and the quite clear indicator of Neil’s potential to physical violence downplayed. Neil was tracking his wife’s movements. He was recording her conversations. Jealously and controlling behaviour are obvious indicators of a propensity to violence, yet these were minimised in the media

This is, apparently, part of the Judge’s statement at sentencing: 

‘We have studied and dissected a marriage which was obviously in terminal decline. It should have ended in separation and divorce. Tragically it ended in death. 

‘The jury have found that you did not intend to kill or cause really serious harm during the long eruption of violence which ended in her death. 

‘You achieved a great deal in your life, but it is plain to me there was a darker side of your character – the secretive obsessively jealous husband who spied on his wife, invaded her privacy and contributed to the unhappiness in the final months and years of her life. 

‘A husband who knew divorce was coming and would go to almost any length to prevent that from happening.  

‘You squirreled money away intending to keep it from your wife. It was the darker side to your character that boiled over. 

‘I am sure you intended some harm to your wife albeit not serious harm. I am sure your anger and frustration erupted that morning when it became clear your wife was serious about divorce and it was then you applied constant and deliberate pressure to her neck.’

Neil was sentenced to eight years for the murder of his wife. He served four before being released. He is now living in his former home with his two children. He murdered their mother and only spent 4 years in prison. He now has access to his million dollar home. He has custody of his children. A man who brutally murdered his wife because she asked for a divorce is now living in their former home with their children. 

Because, murdering their mother in anger doesn’t constitute a significant risk to the children’s lives. 

Because, a middle class white man who violently murdered a woman shouldn’t lose custody of his children. 

Because, a middle class white man couldn’t possibly be a risk to his children. After all, no middle class white man has ever murdered his children.

Because, a middle class white man with a clear history of domestic violence against his partner couldn’t possibly be a risk to his children. 

The facts that he has already abused the children by forcing them to live in the house where he was abusing their mother, that he has already committed child abuse by killing their mother, and the fact that he is continuing to abuse his children by forcing them to live in the house where he killed their mother with him are all, well, just irrelevant really. 

Instead, he gets to move back into his expensive house and pretend that he hasn’t already destroyed the lives of his children. 

Welcome to the Patriarchy: where women and children don’t matter. 


Holly Baxter’s Guest Blog on Mumsnet: Some Unpleasant Victim-Blaming

This week’s guest blogger on Mumsnet is Holly Baxter from Vagenda as part of the 16 Days of Activism on VAW. I am genuinely at a loss as how to adequately express my rage and my disgust at the article Baxter wrote. Baxter has used the mass murder of 14 women in Montreal as a way of attempting to make a political point about the inclusion of men within the feminist movement. Now, I fundamentally disagree with Baxter on the issue of men’s involvement in feminism as I have explained here and here, but, even if I did, I can not begin to imagine how the inclusion of men in one feminist event is necessary because one violent man killed 14 women.

This is the image Mumsnet chose to run in conjunction with the blog. On a blog referencing the murder of 14 women.  I have no words for this.

Tonight, I am too angry to write a proper response to Baxters’ blog. Instead, I want to remember the 14 women who Baxter failed to name in her post; 14 women who were murdered by a man who hated feminists:

Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21;
Hélène Colgan, 23;
Nathalie Croteau, 23;
Barbara Daigneault, 22;
Anne-Marie Edward, 21;
Maud Haviernick, 29;
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31;
Maryse Leclair, 23;
Annie St.-Arneault, 23;
Michèle Richard, 21;
Maryse Laganière, 25;
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22;
Sonia Pelletier, 28; 
Annie Turcotte, aged 21.