On May 28, 2016, a gorilla named Harambe was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo. A small child had fallen into the primate’s enclosure and… well, you know the rest.
“As I watched the sort of public outrage and mourning rarely afforded murdered women, it was the final straw,” explains Dawn Wilcox, a registered nurse for 22 years. Wilcox is no “expert,” but she didn’t need such status to recognize the disconnect.
“Roughly 1,600 to 2,000 women are murdered per year by men they know and trust, yet no one except feminists and domestic violence activists seems to speak out or care,” Dawn wrote at the time. “Murders of women merit a tiny paragraph in newspapers and rarely provoke the levels of outrage, marches and petitions I’ve seen when dentists kill lions or zookeepers kill a gorilla. I love animals, but there is something very wrong with the priorities of too many people.”
CNN covered the Harambe story exclusively for hours. “They interviewed an animal activist who has probably spent zero seconds speaking out against violence against women,” adds Wilcox. “The ‘animal rights’ activists went as far as calling the gorilla a ‘person.’ I was dumbfounded. So I posted about the multiple women who had been murdered that week, unnoticed, and deactivated my Facebook account for a while.”
“Women are people and they deserve to have their lives valued,” Wilcox declares. “They deserve our voices speaking out on their behalf. And when they are abused, assaulted, murdered, and erased, they deserve our attention and our outrage.”
Dawn has channeled her outrage into an essential project called “Women Count USA” She is documenting every single woman and girl murdered by men in the United States in 2017.
As someone who has often written on the issue of femicide, I knew I had to speak with Dawn about this daunting challenge she’s accepted. She graciously agreed and our conversation went a little something like this…
Mickey Z.: How does one reach the decision to take on something this massive, this relentless, and this challenging?
Dawn Wilcox: I am not technically a sexual assault or domestic violence (DV) activist in that I do not work for any organization — but perhaps I am because I spend much time writing and, I suppose, trying to educate on violence against women. I honestly feel I am lucky to be able to speak out about these issues when so many women have been silenced. I experienced a very dangerous boyfriend who kidnapped me, sexually assaulted me, viciously bit me and threatened to kill me for hours, at knife point, in the mid-1980s. After we broke up, he went on to rape two women at the apartment we had shared, also at knife point, and then took them to a rural area nearby. They managed to get away and run to a farmhouse, straight out of a horror movie. It dawned on me many years later that he took them there because he planned to kill them. He went to prison for 26 years which got him away from me — otherwise, I might be one of these women I write about. As a survivor of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse and sexual assault by multiple men, I began self-educating on domestic violence and sexual assault beginning in 1988.
MZ: Can you tell us a little about this self-education?
DW: I started reading every book I could find on the subject. Back then, shows like Phil Donahue, Oprah, and Sally Jessy Raphael also shone a light on domestic violence in a way never seen before by humanizing women through their personal stories. But too little has changed since then. Every year, I see the same news article about the plight of domestic violence, the procession of murdered women and traumatized children — the same candlelight vigils and lip service on the part of society.
MZ: Your efforts are addressing two dangerously ignored realities. Of course, there’s the global epidemic of male violence which we will discuss at length. But first, there’s also the tendency for so many of us to delegate such work to “experts” and then dutifully trust these “experts.” You’ve said, “I am not technically a sexual assault or domestic violence activist in that I do not work for any organization.” How important do you feel it is for individuals to take on projects like yours?
DW: It is vitally important. While I value the expertise and education professionals bring to the table, laypersons who felt passionately about an issue have often been the ones to make enormous changes to the status quo. Look at John Walsh who has spent 36 years turning the grief and anger he felt when his son Adam was murdered into powerful activism for victims of crime, including founding the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with his wife Reve. I remember when nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was murdered not far from where I lived in Texas, in 1996, after disappearing from a park I often visited with my own child. Her parents passionately pursued stricter laws for sex offenders and they along with Marc Klaas (the father of Polly Klaas who was also murdered) were extremely influential in the enacting of both the Amber Alert system as well as Sex Offender Registries. My friend and sexual assault survivor Brenda Tracy was drugged and brutally gang-raped in 1998 by four men, including college athletes. She did everything survivors are told to do do seek justice, but the evidence in her case was destroyed before the statute of limitations expired. Now Brenda speaks to coaches, athletes, and legislators about the need for reform in attitudes and laws concerning sexual assault. Politicians didn’t agitate for these changes. Pissed off people did.
MZ: And pissed off people create a project like yours!
DW: The only reason I didn’t start this sooner is I assumed someone was tracking femicides — specifically how many women were murdered by men. Of course, there are national crime statistics but it is mostly numbers and mostly domestic violence. Usually the number cited is 1,600 women a year killed by current or former partners. I think it’s probably significantly more. My understanding is reporting to a national database is not always mandatory and women are often counted in with all homicides. What about if you add murders by acquaintances and strangers? Women also make up 70 percent of victims of serial killers. Who is counting all of these women’s deaths at the hands of men, together? There is no disputing male violence against women is an enormous problem. I have searched but I’m afraid there is no clear picture of how big a problem. I wanted answers. So I started doing something anyone could have done all this time. I started counting.
MZ: Do you know of anyone else doing similar work?
DW: State domestic violence organizations often keep track of women, and men, killed at the hands of current and former partners. I also discovered Karen Ingala Smith, who counts domestic violence murders in the UK. And since I have started counting, someone told me about Christine Armstrong who has been counting domestic violence murders here in the United States. I want to count ALL women killed by men. No matter the relationship.
MZ: You say, “There is no disputing male violence against women is an enormous problem.” Apparently, though, there are plenty of groups — from anonymous cyberstalkers right up to the current White House staff — who are deeply invested in disputing this. How do you challenge those narratives?
DW: My goal is to amass some hard evidence to the contrary for groups who deny the existence of violence which is specifically aimed at women merely because they are women. It is easy to dismiss and ignore what you can’t see. I’m going to make the murders of women in the United States at the hands of men visible. When information is diffused across a wide variety of media and it enters your awareness in a drip-drip-drip fashion, you don’t get a feel for the enormity of a problem. And how can you? Unless you are tuned in to violence against women, a news story is just another dead wife, girlfriend or ex. But when you scroll through the hundreds of murdered women in my database, the picture becomes clearer. And more sobering.
For many women, the most dangerous decision they will ever make is their choice of boyfriend or husband. Let that sink in. That is a chilling realization that ought to make your hair stand on end.
President Trump, in the meantime, has ordered the creation of VOICE — an ongoing list of “crimes committed by immigrants.” I plan to send him MY list at the end of the year and to let him know many of the most heinous criminal acts in the United States are being committed against women by its citizens who are husbands, and boyfriends, fathers, and sons.
MZ: Have you identified specific trends you’d like to discuss?
DW: In my research, I have frequently seen how euphemistic, exculpatory and damaging the language is used to described fatal domestic violence. I even consider the term “Domestic Violence” to be so sanitized as to be problematic. Studies have shown men frequently receive less severe sentences when they terrorize or murder their families than when they commit the same acts against strangers. When police or journalists describe men as “just snapping” or cite reasons like arguments or drunkenness or breakups as “reasons” men kill their wives, girlfriends, exes, children, and/or themselves, they fail to recognize that murder is often the final of many acts of abuse and control perpetrated by a man. And that many of these murders are PLANNED. Plenty of men get in arguments or get divorced or drunk and don’t kill the women in their lives. When a woman is reported as murdered by her husband or boyfriend or ex, police often remark the “the public is safe” because this was an “isolated event.” But how can a society where at least 40 percent of female murder victims are killed by a current or former partner be considered safe? The public isn’t safe if women aren’t safe in their own homes. When children are murdered, we would never entertain the idea of presenting it as a “nothing to see here, folks” isolated incident. We are rightly horrified and are sure to intervene. But when the victim is an adult women, no matter if she doesn’t stand a chance against some 200-pound guy, she is on her own.
MZ: Would you say DV is a primary focus within Women Count USA?
DW: In a nutshell, I care about violence against women, period. Not just domestic violence. I do see DV as particularly heinous because men are given wide latitude to abuse females they date, marry or father in ways which would not be tolerated if the victim were a stranger. Then again, when I read accounts of women murdered and mutilated by serial killers, etc., no one takes that too seriously, either. It becomes salacious fodder for movies and TV shows.
My main focus is to document women’s death at the hands of men to prove it is happening to a truly horrifying degree, to humanize these women who are more than names or statistics and to demand legislators make changes. Hate crime prosecutions are rarely, if ever, pursued against men who kill women, even ones with well-documented histories of singling out women for their abuse and violence. I have watched the Black Lives Matter movement bring massive attention to police violence against black and brown people and I am in awe. They have done tremendous work in making people care about this issue. WAY more women of all races / ethnicities are getting killed by men and crickets are chirping. I want to change that.
MZ: How can readers learn more, get involved, contact you, and share your work?
Currently I maintain a Facebook page called Women Count USA where a link to my ongoing, frequently updated Google spreadsheet of women who have been murdered is pinned at the top. I record a good deal of information about each case which may be helpful to people who need information for research or political activism. The spreadsheet can also be shared from the page there or if someone needs a direct link they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because it can be daunting to find every news story, it is not absolutely complete. I use multiple alerts to find many of these stories and also periodically do some additional searching. What is unique and helpful about using a spreadsheet is having the data collected all in one place which can be sorted for different information. I have seen websites with individual stories and it can be daunting to try to scroll through it all.
This project is extremely time-consuming and I envision eventually having some volunteers to help gather and enter data. One day, I would like to see at least one volunteer for each state who would be responsible for cataloging all cases there. I am planning to create a Google form where someone can enter all of the significant information I track on each case, and then I can just enter it.
People can help tremendously by sharing my work and by emailing news stories of women killed in their area of the country to email@example.com
I am also available to help any other groups worldwide who want to learn how to track and document murdered women and girls in their own countries. I have been working with a group of women in Brazil who reached out to me for assistance and who have started Women Count Brazil. That’s amazing, and it gives me hope.
Mickey Z. is the founder of Helping Homeless Women – NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!
What if I told you 2,000 women per year are murdered by men they know? (My interview with Dawn Wilcox) by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://worldnewstrust.com/what-if-i-told-you-2-000-women-per-year-are-murdered-by-men-they-know-my-interview-with-dawn-wilcox-mickey-z.