Since launching Parallel Magazine, I get a lot of spam emails. Most of the time they are from S.E.O companies wanting to boost our indexing and ensure that we’re the first thing that comes up when someone types “feminist magazine” into Google. And for the most part I don’t mind. It’s annoying because it’s spam, and because most of the emails probably contain more viruses than good intentions. And it’s irritating to me because I’ve worked as a social media manager before. I know about meta-tags and indexing and how to optimise my website, and I work on the Parallel website whenever I can (which, to be fair, isn’t too often considering my schedule). I know that we have a French competitor magazine with the same name, and I know we’re in a constant battle to keep our version on top of theirs so that their soft-porn “fashion” photography doesn’t trump our empowering message of self-love and liberation. But the emails themselves are easy to delete, and they doesn’t keep me up at night. What does annoy me is when I get emails to my personal email address with the same messages, but focussing on my blog and own website instead. “Do you want to get Sophie Elliott Photography onto the front page of search engine pages?”. No, I don’t. I really don’t. What I want to do is respond to every single one of those emails – whether they are bots or real people trying to sell their business -with an angry email outlining the underlying insult in that question. But I can’t. So I’m writing this blog post instead.
Google the name Sophie Elliott. What results do you get?
On the 9th of January 2008, Sophie Elliott, 22, from Dunedin, New Zealand, was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend Clayton Robert Weatherston. They had been together for six months, and he was 11 years older than her. He attacked her in her bedroom in the family house, and she died from 216 stab and cut wounds. She “suffered clusters of stab wounds to both eyes, her genitals, her breasts, her left cheek, her left temple and her left ear and the left side of her neck as well as 45 wounds to the front of her throat. Her ears and the tip of her nose were cut off and several pieces of her hair were also cut.” The pathologist who examined her body gave evidence, saying her injuries indicated a “persistent, focused and determined attack“.
His reason for the attack? “The emotional pain that she has caused me over the past year“.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and the media coverage of her murder contributed to the government abolishing the partial defence of provocation in cases of murder.
Sophie Elliott had just completed a first class honours degree in Economics at Otago University. She was an accomplished piano player, photographer, and dancer. She was murdered violently by a man she had known for less than a year, her relationship with whom was said to be “up and down” and “all on or all off“. And she was only 22.
The Sophie Elliott Foundation was set up on the 6th of October 2010 by her family. It is “committed to enabling young women to identify warnings patterns and remove themselves safely from abusive relationships as early as possible.” The website is filled with information of abusive relationships, and the team behind it have worked with schools to create a programme entitled “Loves-Me-Not”, which is delivered to year 12 students by three facilitators trained by Police, and focuses on healthy relationships as opposed to unhealthy ones. The facilitators comprise a teacher, a police officer and a representative of a non-governmental organisation working in the field of family violence prevention. On average a woman in New Zealand dies every 26 days at the hands of her current or former partner. Police receive a call for help in a domestic setting every seven minutes, yet they estimate only 18% of abused people make that call.
Now do you see why I don’t want to be on the front page?
Abused women are so overlooked and invisible in our culture. There are hundreds of tragic cases every day about violence, rape, and murder – and most of these stories stay sealed behind the lips of the abused, or hidden in police reports that are locked away in filing cabinets. There are too many cases to even cover them all in the news: if we did, newspaper pages would consist solely of a grim list of battered women. And usually if they do make the news, it is because the relationship has reached its inevitable finale, its ending as tragic as Sophie’s.
So no, SEO companies. I don’t want my blog to block out Sophie’s story. I don’t want my photography to push her Foundation from the front page. I don’t want to be yet another reason why yet another abuse case is hidden from history. I do not. I will not.
The Sophie Elliott Foundation may on the opposite side of the globe to me, but the issue of domestic abuse and violent relationships is a global problem. In Europe we recently discovered that in a survey of 13- to 17-year-olds, four in ten teenage girls confessed to having been coerced into sexual acts. One in five said that they had suffered physical violence or intimidation from boyfriends, including slapping, punching, strangling and being beaten with an object, and the report’s co-author Nicky Stanley, a professor of social work at the University of Central Lancashire, said these girls had expressed “serious distress and harm following abusive behaviour from boyfriends”. In the UK, one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute. On average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. And when you read those statistics, remember also that domestic abuse, for the most part, stays hidden.
It is so important to have educational resources available for younger women to learn from in order for them to understand the warning signs of an abusive relationship. Sex education and PSHE in British schools may cover these subjects, but it is not enough. With regards to the recent European research, Claire Lilley, head of child safety online at the NSPCC, said “The levels of victimisation revealed by this research shows action is urgently needed by the government to make updated sex and relationship education a statutory right for every child and young person… there needs to be a greater focus in schools on topics such as sexual exploitation and violence against girls and young women, as part of a balanced curriculum.” Sex and relationship education is not even currently compulsory for all students, and Academy schools have the ability to censor and remove these subjects from the syllabus.
This is a problem. A real problem. Why should it be down to foundations like the Sophie Elliott Foundation to bear the responsibility of educating young people about healthy relationships? Why should women like Rosie Batty, an Australian anti-domestic violence campaigner, have to create mobile apps aimed at instructing and empowering women by providing information about different forms of domestic violence? Why should there be online petitions pushing to teach “all primary and secondary schools students in England about issues such as sexual consent, healthy and respectful relationships, gender stereotypes and online porn in an age-appropriate manner as part of Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education“?
Of course, none of that should be necessary in the first place. Preventing violence against women should begin at home, with parents teaching their sons that “no means no” instead of forbidding their daughters to go out at night. But clearly that hasn’t happened. And unless we educate our young people in a different way in the face of rising levels of abuse and an increased accessibility to violent porn, the cycle is set to continue.
For some it is too late, and that is why the need for education is so important. There should be newspapers dedicated to battered women, so that their voices may be heard. There should be reports online of every example of abuse that occurs, so that the world can see that it is a widespread problem. There should be memorials and plaques and foundations made in the names of every woman who has suffered at the hands of a man.
And so I will not silence Sophie Elliott. I will not allow her to disappear. And I will not consent to her name or her Foundation leaving the front page of Google, where they belong.