Emma Chesworth explores the realities women face in the course of their everyday lives – the risk of being murdered in the course of an ordinary work day.
The back garden of a house in Sutton, Coldfield is currently being searched by the Met Police as they resume their search for Suzy Lamplugh, 32 years after her disappearance and more than 20 years since the estate agent was declared dead, presumed murdered.
Last year journalist Kim Wall was murdered and dismembered while carrying out an interview. In August 2017 her torso was found. Almost two months later, her head and legs were located by police divers in Koge Bay, Denmark. It wouldn’t be until November, three months after she was killed, when her arms would be discovered. The man she had been interviewing, Peter Madsen, is serving life imprisonment for her death.
Two women who went to work and did not return.
Ann Maguire was teaching Spanish in a Leeds’ school. Aged 61, she had taught there all her working life. Before the late morning lesson ended in April 2014, she was stabbed to death by 15 year old pupil William Cornick.
In June 2016, Jo Cox MP was fatally stabbed and shot in Birstall, West Yorkshire, on her way to hold a constituency surgery. Thomas Mair received a whole life tariff for his crimes.
Another two women who were murdered during their working day.
Four women, all with different professions and at different stages of their careers. They all made the headlines, not for their work or life. But for their death. The only factor linking the four women is men and male violence.
Every day women calculate risk in a way men do not. We weigh up whether we choose to walk home alone after dark or not. If we do, well-lit routes are planned where possible, keys often clenched defensively in our hands, family or friends alerted to our movements and ETA.
Our work life is no different. Kim Wall, as a freelance, investigative journalist, will not have boarded the submarine to interview Peter Madsen without due consideration. She told people when and where she was going. She then went to do her job.
A lone woman does this all the time. Checks. And checks again. It is second nature and I think we do it without realising it, such is it ingrained in us to do so.
The classroom should be the foremost space for learning and growth, and for children developing as individuals. A colleague of Ann Maguire described her as ‘well liked, very lovely, like a mother figure’. Her 41 years of teaching will have provided her with a wealth of knowledge, not just in her academic sphere, but in her ability to interact with teenagers and run a disciplined class. This did not prevent her being murdered.
As a caseworker in a busy MP’s constituency office, I know only too well the risks I can face and I calculate and behave accordingly. From where my chair is positioned when dealing with members of the public to what I wear. As a scarf loving woman, it does not escape me that my silky accessories could be potential weapons. It’s why NHS staff and others have the triple breakaway lanyards to prevent them becoming an implement for strangulation. Colleagues are always informed when I go to visit a constituent or attend tribunals or hearings.
As an estate agent, meeting clients would have been a regular and inevitable part of Suzy Lamplugh’s job. Of course she had ticked her checklist by recording in her office diary who she was meeting, where and at what time. She had done what she could.
These are the realities for women. We don’t have to be doing what is considered a ‘dangerous’ job to face the very real danger of male violence. We limit ourselves in so many ways, whether by not going for an after work run in the dark or missing out on a film or play because late night public transport makes us feel unsafe.
While we grudgingly accept avoiding solo runs in secluded parks, we should not have to accept limiting our career choices. We should not face accusations of ‘why did she put herself at risk like that?’ or ‘that’s no job for a woman’.
The deaths of Ann Maguire, Kim Wall, Jo Cox and presumed murder of Suzy Lamplugh, show no matter what type of job women do, no matter what precautions women take, we cannot escape the long shadow cast by the unifying factor of male violence.
Women don’t need to swap jobs or bow out of professional life. Men need to stop killing us.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust can be found at www.suzylamplughtrust.org
Emma Chesworth is a senior caseworker in Middlesborough, a qualified journalist, and a regular contributor on regional television, radio and the press on women’s issues.