I rode number 37 of the rides in #Ride4MurderedWomen for Natalie Hemming on Sunday.
I read about her before I set off. The details are horrific. All the details of all the women I ride for are horrific because at the end of their stories a man kills them. A man they knew. A man they knew better than any of us. The thought of what they endured before he did kill them is nearly as bad. For those of us who have our own memories - we know that she was dying a bit faster and harder every day she spent with him anyway.
Natalie Hemming's ex partner beat her to death in their living room. He beat her severely, causing a fractured skull and damage to her arm (consistent with defending herself) and then wrapped her in a blanket. During this one of her two children, her son, came down and peeped through the door because he had been woken up by the frenzied attack. He was afraid of what he saw, he thought he might have been in trouble. Natalie Hemming's ex-partner then dragged her naked body out and took it to a wood. He dragged her through the ground by her ankles and left her face down to be found by whoever came by.
He them returned home and took his children to the zoo the next day as though nothing had happened.
3 weeks later her body was found by a man doing some work on the wood.
It does not really matter "why" he killed her. He killed her because he was an abusive woman-hater and had been for many years. He was controlling and violent and bullying.
Yet, when I read the details there were details which bothered me. The details which are constantly thrown around male circles to justify abuse.
She was embarking on a relationship with another man. A colleague. It had begun as "flirtation" and "developed into something more" so she was planning to leave her violent, controlling, manipulative partner with whom she had endured a controlling and coercive relationship/hell on Earth. In her view they had already split up. In his head - she was his possession.
I realised yesterday, whilst believing absolutely none of it, that some men hearing this would secretly say..... "Ah. She was unfaithful. I can see where he was coming from." Or worse, the men who say, "If my wife cheated on me I'd kill her and then I'd kill him" or "He has every right to smack her about, she's a slag."
I could hear some women absorbing those time-established judgement from within themselves thinking..... "oh but... she was seeing another man behind his back. That's not really allowed. It was bound to make him angry."
Over the years many women have sought refuge from an abuser by entering a friendship or relationship with another man. At the time they have been utterly destroyed. In all kinds of ways. They are not used to seeking women to help them. They do not know about feminism or refuges or escape plans. They feel intrinsically that the way to escape one violent bully is to seek another man who may be able to protect them from him. Women who are used to relying on a man who makes them totally reliant only see the escape route in yet another man.
It makes sense no? This man is hurting me. Who can help me? Where will my escape route be? Ah. A better man. A stronger man. A different man.
When another man shows interest in them it may be the only kindness they have had from anyone in years. A man saying "your hair looks nice" is like a thousand diamonds strewn at your feet after a man who makes it his life's mission to make you feel ugly and worthless.
She will have heard.... "Who on Earth would look at you? The state of you! You've got fat. You're old. You're ugly. You'd never get a man like me again. " She has heard this a lot. Her esteem is ridiculously low. I have seen the loveliest women with personalities like sunshine and eyes like oceans convince themselves they are as unattractive as gravel. They get new clothes. He says they make her look like a tart. She cuts her hair... he likes it short. They grow their hair. He thinks they're letting themselves go and trying to act "like mutton dressed as lamb". They wear perfume to make themselves feel prettier. He says the smell turns his stomach. They cook nice meals straight out of the cookbook. He says it makes him sick. What a waste of his money. They try to share details of their lives. He says they bore him and he's tired because he doesn't have the easy life they do.
In their heads they fantasise escape routes. One where he dies. They live a better life. They win the lottery. They leave him and live a better life. Or they meet someone who offers to save them and take them away from all this.
They are terrified. A man can get them killed. They know the rules. And yet.... a word of kindness and a smile can break their pain for a day. A gesture of care can lift their eyes. A simple offer of basic help or a sharing of emotion can lead them onto a fantasy world where they are free. A text returned can be the rope that hangs them or leads to freedom. Women faced with unbearable choices make unbearable choices. The man they turn their face to for the sun may also be an abuser sniffing out their vulnerability. Or he may be a good man. He may genuinely think he can help. He may unwittingly place her in danger.
She will cling to him. What trapped prisoner would not want the man with the key to their prison to befriend them? We women have grown up with fairy tales. We do not always realise that other women have the key too. That we have the key in ourselves. We are too weakened and beaten and lost.
If Natalie Hemming clung to a man... and I don't know if he was a good man... or if he was a man who would not have saved her.... I don't care the judgement about "adultery". You cannot commit adultery or be unfaithful in a relationship where you are already deceived. Abuse is deceit. It is one man convincing you he loves you whilst he steals your soul. You owe that man nothing. None of us do.
She may also have heard the words that Natalie Hemming did. "If I can't have you no one can." He was right. No one ever did again. Including her children and her friends and her parents. Never judge a woman for her escape route. Her escape route is the thing that she needs to stay with us in this world.
Let's keep women in this world.