In 2013, 86 women died at the hands of their partner or ex-partner – killed by the men who professed to love them, men who, in the words of film-maker Vanessa Engle, “know what colour they painted their toenails”.
Engle (above) is the woman behind Love You to Death: a Year of Domestic Violence, a poignant, unsettling documentary that names all 86 women, focusing particularly on seven of them. Though the women’s ages and backgrounds vary, one thing unites them: the violence they suffered at the hands of a so-called loved one.
The stream of names feels relentless, but that’s the point – it IS relentless. On average, two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week in the UK. Though the sheer volume of names is shocking, it’s the steady, quiet testimony of friends and family members of the murdered women that makes the greatest impact.
There is Anne-Marie Birch, killed by her husband of 17 years. She is remembered by her teenage daughter, Molly, who calmly recounts her mum’s last moments: “I think he said he put a rope around her head and then hit her over the head with a big branch. He tied it up more, kissed her and told her he loved her, and then drove away.”
Kirsty Humphrey, 23, was stabbed to death by her former partner; her mum describes how Kirsty’s four-year-old daughter found her mum’s body and raised the alarm.
Joanna Hall, 35, was attacked by her boyfriend, leaving her with 40 stab wounds. Her sister, through tears, tells of how he sat by Joanna and watched her bleed for hours before he called 999. She died three weeks later in hospital.
The heartbreaking, maddening thing is that it’s the same story, over and over again: a man loses control over a wife, a girlfriend, a former partner, and can’t stand it – so he kills her.
The tragedy in each case – thrown into sharp relief by Engle’s film, which airs on BBC2 tonight – is that the women either didn’t realise, or couldn’t make known, the extent of their abuse. Or that when they tried to speak up, the danger they were in wasn’t acknowledged by those with the power to help.
Naming and remembering each woman, killed in the worst way, is one tribute to them and to the friends and family they left behind. But another would be if the film starts a conversation about domestic violence, if it leads to women – or men – suffering from abuse to speak up.
Engle said of the families who took part in her film, “They felt that if it encouraged even one woman to ring a helpline, it was worth it.” This documentary was made to remember 86 lost lives, but it could save many more.
Love You to Death: A Year of Domestic Violence is on tonight at 9pm on BBC2 (11:45pm in Scotland)