We’ve come to intimately know four more women this week – and the terror of their final moments, Nicola Anderson writes
Anne Colomines, Sarah Everard, Gabby Petito, Sabina Nessa – campaigners rightly urge us to remember the names of women killed in violent circumstances. In the past week alone, we have become intimately acquainted with these women because we know the terror of their final moments.
We know the smiling faces of these four women captured in a happier time and the dark side that lay beyond that. In so-called civilised societies and in a variety of predatory circumstances, their lives were brutally snuffed out – by a man claiming to have loved them, by a man who had become obsessed with them, or by a man who had simply lurked in the shadows, awaiting any opportunity that might arise.
We know that French woman Anne Colomines (37) was a senior Paypal team leader living in Dublin and that she wanted to leave her Brazilian husband, Renato Gehlen for another man. Gehlen flew into a rage and stabbed her through the heart in her own home.
Englishwoman Sarah Everard (33) was a marketing executive walking home from a friend’s house at 9pm when she was conned by Wayne Couzens, a serving police officer who falsely arrested her for breaking Covid regulations before abducting, raping and strangling her.
Her fellow national, Sabina Nessa (28), was a primary school teacher, walking to meet a friend in the pub near her home in South London when she was attacked. Police said her death involved “extreme violence”.
American woman Gabby Petito (22) was a blogger on a camper van trip to a national park in Wyoming with her fiancé Brian Laundrie when she disappeared. Her remains, discovered on September 19 had lain there for weeks. The cause of death is being “withheld” by the authorities.
Four women preyed upon when they were at their most vulnerable and at the mercy of false reassurances. Anne thought she was safe in the comfort of her home, Sarah believed herself to be safe in the presence of a uniformed policeman, Gabby was with her high school sweetheart on a well documented journey, while Sabina was just five minutes from home when she endured a terrifying ordeal in the dark.
All bright, talented, capable young women whom the wider world now knows simply as victims because their killers had used the ultimate violence to wreak revenge, to get what they apparently felt was their due.
No woman needs to be warned of the potential threat that hangs over them throughout their lives, because it is hardwired into our brains instinctively. We are all too familiar with the heart-pounding fear of a lurking random menace that might be waiting on a brief walk home in the dark. More vaguely felt is the possible risk of starting a new relationship, more numbly acknowledged is the risk of maintaining an old one.
It does not go too far to say this. The WHO reports of a ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women – one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly at the hands of an intimate partner.
But the narrative is skewed. We speak passively of women who are raped – rarely of ‘men who rape’. Language matters. We fret over the statistics that show how women who have been subjected to sexual or violent assault are failing to come forward, less so about the men who evade justice for such attacks.
And if women survive a violent assault, they are often blamed. It is staggering to realise that the underwear of victims is sometimes held up in court for inspection as if to prove lewd intentions on the part of the woman. And yet, it happens.
Why do we calmly accept such routine violence against women? Why has ‘toxic masculinity’ become a catchphrase that causes annoyance in certain male quarters without the acknowledgement that something needs to be done to rectify it?
Some talk of young boys getting the wrong message and feeling threatened by a culture of militant feminism, apparently refusing to face the fact that many young boys are, clearly, well and truly getting ‘the wrong message’ that it is acceptable to objectify, dominate and violently control women.
The situation is not improving. Remember the four women this week, who we have learnt of. How many next week – and in the weeks after that? There is always outrage – but when will we finally say that enough is enough?