Originally published: 18.07.14
Hollie Gazzard – described by her family as “a beautiful, happy, and loving girl” who was “full of life” – was stabbed to death by her ex-partner at her place of work, in full view of multiple witnesses, late on Tuesday afternoon.
It was the very public nature of Hollie’s death that ensured she made the national news. People are understandably horrified when forcibly confronted with that level of terror and violence. Right there, on our streets, or depicted on grainy videos filmed from mobile phones, it becomes impossible to turn our faces away. However the vast majority of women who fall victim to fatal incidents of domestic violence are lucky to get just a few paragraphs in the local rag. Why? Because it is all too common, that’s why.
Shockingly, Hollie Gazzard is just one of around a hundred women who will die from domestic abuse this year in the UK alone. An average of two women a week are killed by their current or previous partner in this country; a figure that has remained fairly stable for decades. Domestic abuse is extremely common, with around one in three women experiencing it at some point during their life times. It also tends to be progressive, increasing in severity over time, and – as shown by recent events in Gloucester – it can be deadly. Frighteningly, a woman is most at risk when attempting to leave, and in the first few months after having left, her relationship.
Despite accounting for sixteen percent of all recorded violent crime though, domestic abuse is still vastly under reported. Reasons for this are many and varied, however a fear of not being adequately protected and/or taken seriously by the police still rates high. A common general perception tends to be that police attitudes towards victims of domestic and sexual violence have improved in recent years and, as a former Women’s Aid worker, this is a perception I have tentatively shared.
Which is why I felt such dismay upon reading this article in The Independent; in particular the quotes it contained from a Chief Inspector Neil Smith concerning Hollie Gazzard’s murder. C.I. Smith seemed only too eager to reassure everyone that this was a:
“very, very nasty incident” but added: “I would like to reassure members of this community, both residents and local businesses, that this is an isolated incident. These offences don’t happen in Gloucester regularly. This incident was very tragic, however; both victim and suspect knew each other. They were in a previous relationship. That doesn’t lessen this horrific incident but it would be good for us to reassure the local community.”
So the incident was very tragic, but. But, they knew each other. But, they had been in a previous relationship. In this context the disclaimer at the end sounds little more than a hasty add-on, made necessary only by the minimising, dismissive nature of everything that has gone before it. In fact the speech reads simply as a modern day equivalent of the old chestnut, “It’s just a domestic”. According to C.I.Smith this was no random attacker, therefore there is nothing for anyone to concern themselves with. Nothing to see here. Everybody move along and get back to business as usual.
There are no doubt many women who could assure Chief Inspector Smith that offences relating to domestic abuse do indeed happen regularly in Gloucester. They happen on every street in every town in every corner of the land. The brutal murder of Hollie Gazzard is very very far from being an isolated incident. Rather it is the highly visible tip of an enormous iceberg; a small exposed part of a much larger pattern of hate crime that is perpetrated against vast numbers of women on a daily basis. It also comes at a time when funding for domestic violence support services is being slashed to ribbons. Until we acknowledge and begin to take a good look at this bigger picture, there will only ever be many more deaths like Hollie’s.
And most of them, we will never even get to hear about.