Femicide has been identified globally as ‘a leading a cause of premature death   for women’, but does such a dramatic statement stand up to scrutiny, asks Neil   Lyndon 

    Domestic abuse

Figures from the UN claim that more than one in three of all women is subjected to sexual violence Photo: Alamy
This week, in the New Yorker, David Remnick – editor of that august organ and one of the most gifted journalists writing in English today – takes leave of his Olympian intellect by credulously repeating figures from the UN which claim that more than one in three of all women is subjected to sexual violence.

Last month a report in The Independent claimed that “Femicide has been identified globally as a leading a cause of premature death for women” and called for “increasing awareness and understanding of male violence”.

In neither instance does the writer stop to ask, “Can these claims possibly be true? Are these figures backed-up by my own experience and the evidence of my own eyes? Do they tally with the society in which I have grown up and now live? Are they verified by objective research?”

If we are told that one in four people will die of cancer, we don’t have any trouble believing it because every adult will have direct, personal experience of the truth of that claim. Likewise, anybody who has reached the age of 40+ won’t find it all hard to believe that – as we are told – one in 10 people will get into serious personal difficulties with alcohol. We all know that’s true. We have seen it happen.

But if femicide is, truly, “a leading a cause of premature death for women” as a global phenomenon, it certainly isn’t true of the society I see around me.

I have known women who died prematurely (ie did not reach their full, natural span) through breast cancer, leukaemia, road traffic accident, suicide, smoking-related illnesses and drink and drugs; but if I count up the number of women I have ever known who were murdered by men, what do I find?

Not a single one.

Thinking further, I realise that I don’t even know anybody who ever knew a woman who lost their life that way.

If you go beyond direct experience and start to look into the impersonal evidence, that claim in The Independent becomes so fanciful, so unreal that you have to question the motives of anybody who would write and publish such a transparent fiction.

The latest figures from the ONS in the 2013/14 Crime Survey for England and Wales show that 85 women had been killed in that year by their current or a former partner (compared to 24 men).

Let’s guess that 20m women live with men in the UK (it doesn’t make very much difference to this calculation if the true figure is 15m or 17.5m). If 85 a year are murdered by their men, the ratio would work out at one victim in, roughly speaking, a quarter of a million women. That’s equivalent to 0.0004 per cent of a total of 20m women. It would follow, then, that 99.9996 per cent are not murdered by the man they live with.

In the terms of sociological surveys, a phenomenon with such a minute incidence would normally be treated as aberrant and, therefore, insignificant. On the evidence of those findings, any conventional statistician would conclude that women are, effectively, at zero risk of being murdered by their men.

This would make a classic headline in The Onion: “Woman in absolutely no danger of being murdered by man!” There is, as a matter of fact, not much less chance of being struck by lightning. That happens to about 60 people a year. Every year in Britain greater numbers of women die from falling down the stairs, drowning in the bath and choking on their chewing gum than are murdered by their men.

What is going on, then, in the mind of anybody who would claim that murder is “a leading a cause of premature death for women” without going on to add that the opposite is true in our own society? But how can it possibly be true even in other countries that we don’t know so well? Around the world, can murder conceivably be a cause of premature death for women to bracket with malaria, diarrhea, childbirth gone wrong, smoking or road traffic accidents?

So why on earth would anybody say something so manifestly indefensible? Why would The Independent publish such a monstrous, ludicrous misrepresentation?

If you put your mind in the same way to the UN claim – repeated by David Remnick – that one in three women is subjected to sexual violence, it disintegrates in similar wreckage.

“Sexual violence” is, obviously, more difficult to define than murder (which is the main reason that the murder statistics are such a reliable guide to the true extent of violence between men and women) but, again, consider your own experience in your own family and society. How many women have you ever known who were subject to “sexual violence”?

My late mother had five sisters, born in the first quarter of the twentieth century. I once asked if she or any of her working-class sisters had ever suffered domestic or sexual violence. She was incredulous at the suggestion. “Of course not,” she answered. My mother-in-law is one of three sisters who were born into a far from well-off home in the Scottish Borders before the Second World War. Not one of those women has ever suffered sexual or domestic violence. Years ago, when they were sitting together in a public place, my own wife was bitten on the thigh by a nutter she was going out with. That, I believe, is the full extent of her experience of what might be called sexual violence but could equally be termed common assault.

I am nearly 70 years old. In the whole of my life, I have only known two women who claimed to have been raped. Both of them were disbelieved by their own women friends who reckoned the soi-disant victims were making up stories that couldn’t be verified to dramatise their lives.

These personal observations are, again, borne out by official statistics. In “An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales published by the Ministry of Justice, Home Office & the Office for National Statistics in January 2013” it was reported that “2.5 per cent of females and 0.4 per cent of males said that they had been a victim of a sexual offence (including attempts) in the previous 12 months… These experiences span the full spectrum of sexual offences, ranging from the most serious offences of rape and sexual assault, to other sexual offences like indecent exposure and unwanted touching. The vast majority of incidents reported by respondents to the survey fell into the other sexual offences category.”

Two and half per cent equals one in 40 of all women.

Can we believe that one in 40 British women might suffer some form of sexual violence in a year? Sure, if you say so. As a phenomenon, it lies outside my own personal experience but I’m willing to take that figure on trust. It doesn’t seem obviously implausible.

Isn’t it probable that the figures for the UK would be broadly similar in comparable countries whose populations might add up to, say, a third of the world’s population? In which case, how can the UN’s claim that one in three women has suffered sexual violence in her lifetime possibly be remotely true? It would have to follow that, if only one woman in 40 suffers in that way in our own societies every year, every single woman in other societies must be subjected to such violence all the time. Does anybody believe that?

So, again, you have to ask what the hell gets into the head of one of the developed world’s most admired journalists that he would uncritically repeat a claim which disintegrates in your hands like wet tissue paper the moment you subject it to scrutiny?

Then ask: why is the media of the western world ever-willing to transmit such ludicrous calumnies against men?

And, further: why, as a society, are we so anxious – no, eager – to believe any fiction that portrays women as the defenceless victims of brutal men?

Answers below, please.