04:26, July 10 59 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-10 04:26:07
Women who kill their partners are still being treated differently to men

Twenty years ago tomorrow, Emma Humphreys died of an accidental overdose. In 1985, when Humphreys was 17 years old, she was convicted of murdering her pimp/boyfriend, Trevor Armitage, following threats of rape. Humphreys’ childhood had been dominated by violence and abuse. Her stepfather was extremely violent, and she had witnessed regular abuse. From the age of 12, she started to run away from home, and was soon abused into prostitution by men offering her a bed for the night in return for sex. At 16, Humphreys met Armitage, a local punter, and moved in with him. Armitage immediately became violent and controlling. Humphreys was regularly raped and beaten by clients, so her life was pure hell.

At trial, Humphreys was advised not to give any evidence. Unsurprisingly she was convicted and sentenced to life. Little, if anything, was said in court about the violence and abuse she had endured from Armitage as well as other men. There is no sympathy or understanding as to why this child, with no history of violent offending, had been driven to kill.

Seven years into her life sentence for murder, Humphreys heard about the cases of other women who had killed as a response to domestic violence, and contacted Justice for Women. Together we launched a massive campaign to clear her name. Three years later, Humphreys won her appeal and walked out of court to hundreds of cheering supporters, her victory making headline news all over the world. Her case resulted in a change in the law. Judges could now direct juries in such cases to take into consideration the whole life histories of women like Humphreys who ended up on trial for murder.

Feminist campaigners were buoyant, certain that the tide was turning and that other women in Humphreys’ position would be better understood, and treated fairly by the courts. We were wrong: 23 years after Humphreys was freed, very little has changed. Justice for Women is currently dealing with the cases of several women who have killed violent men and subsequently been convicted of murder. It is almost as though the huge campaigns of the past three decades never happened.

Farieissia Martin was 22 when she was convicted of the murder of Kyle Farrell in 2015, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Martin, who at the time had two small children with Farrell, grabbed a knife when he tried to strangle her. Farrell’s violence often left Martin in fear of her life, but she too was frightened to call the police in case social services became involved and removed her children. Farrell’s history of violence was not adequately explored during the trial. Justice for Women is campaigning for the case to go to appeal, on the grounds that the evidence of domestic violence was not afforded enough significance during the trial.

Another case is that of Sally Challen, who killed her husband Richard after decades of domestic abuse. Sally met Richard when she was 15 years old and he was 22. Sally was abused and controlled by Richard from the beginning of their relationship.

Sally now has a new legal team, and her appeal against the murder conviction will be heard later this year on the grounds that she was subjected to “coercive control” for decades. She was given a sentence of 22 years in 2011. The prosecution suggested that her motive was “jealousy”. Richard had a number of affairs, and also was known to have visited brothels on a regular basis. One neighbour said: “‘It was well known that he had an eye for the ladies.”

This is somewhat different to the way that many men who kill their female partners are treated. Infidelity is regularly used as a defence in such cases, often successfully, by men who kill, and yet women such as Humphreys are given no understanding of or sympathy for their experience of horrendous domestic and sexual violence.

In January 2017 new grounds were submitted to the court of appeal, claiming that at the time of the killing Sally Challen was subject to “coercive control”, a form of abuse prevalent in domestic violence relationships that has only recently been made a criminal offence.

In 2016, Emma Jayne Magson stabbed her partner, James Knight, after he had attacked and attempted to strangle her. There was a known history of domestic violence perpetrated by Knight towards Magson. On the night he died, Knight was captured on CCTV, pushing Magson into the road. She had grown up witnessing horrific domestic violence, which led to mental health problems in later life. During the murder trial, no mention of this history was made.

Why are so many women charged with murder, as opposed to manslaughter, if there is strong evidence of domestic violence?

How different is the attitude to men defending property than to women defending their own lives or the lives of their children against violent men? When Richard Osborn-Brooks was arrested after stabbing a burglar who tried to break into his home, the hashtag #FreeRichardOsbornBrooks was launched alongside a petition calling for the Crown Prosecution Service to take no action against him. He was released without charge. “We have the right to protect ourselves in our own home,” tweeted one man, in support of Osborn-Brooks.

The victims of domestic violence, who live in well-founded fear of their lives, have the right to a fair trial. Tragedies could have been avoided had the perpetrators of these crimes been dealt with in the first instance. For the sake of all the Emma Humphreys out there, let us demand that domestic violence becomes a thing of the past.

Julie Bindel is a freelance journalist and political activist, and a founder of Justice for Women

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