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Joan Smith has written an opinion piece for The Independent about the recent spate of high-profile sexually-motivated murder cases perpetrated by men against women.

For the benefit of anyone who’s been on another planet recently, Levi Bellfield was convicted on Monday of bludgeoning to death two female students, and he is also being questioned in relation to the high-profile case of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old who went missing 6 years ago. He attacked women who rejected his sexual advances.

Next up we have Mark Dixie, who was recently convicted of the murder of Sally-Anne Bowman, in a bizarrely grisly trial in which he denied her murder but confessed to necrophilia.

And finally we have the lovely, the charming Steve Wright, who murdered not one, not two, but FIVE women over the course of ten days in Ipswich in December 2006, the most intensive murder spree in British criminal history. That’s quite some accolade.

Joan Smith thinks that if violence against women wasn’t so readily tolerated, perhaps these men would never have got as far as committing such heinous crimes:

So many people were aware that they abused women but nobody felt able to do anything about it. In a society where domestic violence is commonplace and rape goes unpunished, what is someone to do when they suspect that a man is abusing girls and women?

I am not arguing that all men treat women badly. But a substantial minority do, and we refuse to read the signals or condemn their behaviour unequivocally. Bellfield had a reputation for picking up under-age girls and having sex with them in the back of his van, even offering to prostitute his 16-year-old “girlfriend” and her 14-year-old sister to an employee; a former partner recalled finding magazines in which he slashed photographs of blonde women, with whom he had a lethal obsession.

Wright had a series of violent relationships, attacking partners and abusing them as “slags” and “whores”. The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, told a drinking friend he had attacked a woman with a stone hidden in a sock, but it took five years for the man to inform the police; while he was thinking about it, 13 women were murdered and half a dozen others attacked.

Several people have been murdered. And it makes me angry that it sounds so much more serious when you use the word “people” instead of “women”.

I don’t think anybody thinks that these crimes would be any less horrific if the men had targeted other men, or had killed indiscriminately regardless of gender. But if these men had shown early signs of being violent individuals, having committed violent crimes, or just generally being absolute raving maniacs without specific victimisation of women, I suspect that it would have been brought to the attention of the authorities sooner. And it’s not just about protecting future victims – let’s not forget that however disgusted you might feel by their recent actions, these men needed and deserved psychiatric help which they might have got had they been brought to the attention of the authorities. Feeling the urge to hurt and kill other people is regarded, quite rightly, as the sign of a dangerous lunatic. Feeling the urge to hurt and kill women specifically, particularly sex workers, might be frowned upon, but it is more readily accepted.

Smith also has much to say about the culture of blaming mothers when children grow up into violent misogynistic psychopaths:

Men do not commit such crimes out of the blue; most of them don’t even bother to hide their hatred of women. There is usually a childhood history of domestic violence, which means that they grow up in an atmosphere of physical fear and contempt for women, whom they regard both as victims and the cause of their fathers’ violence.

I’ve heard a great deal about the role of absent mothers in the psychopathology of men who kill women, but cause and effect are being confused here; a misogynist culture inevitably overlooks the father’s role and blames the mother, even when her reason for leaving the family is to escape violence.

It’s a pity that The Independent website doesn’t allow comments – it would be really interesting to see what people make of this.