A harrowing look at violence against young women
BBC Three’s ‘Murdered By My Boyfriend’ tells us from the start that it is a true story. The details are all as they took place for a real-life woman from Nottingham, who was killed by her boyfriend when she was 21. The writer, Regina Moriarty, carried out extensive interviews with the woman’s friends and family, who wanted the programme to be made as a warning to other young women but asked that all names be changed.
The programme is powerful and haunting throughout. Over the opening credits we hear screams, see flashes of what will later be the final, brutal scene, and hear a young woman say: “This is the end of my story. The journey here was not straightforward. It began when I fell in love.”
Ashley is 17 and working part time in a clothes shop while at college. She dreams of owning a beauty salon, of falling in love and settling down with a family of her own. She meets Reece at a party – he’s good looking, charming and makes it clear that he likes Ashley straight away. Reece is good with her friends, he’s generous and he doesn’t pressure her to have sex – “a real gentleman,” Ashley comments.
The title of the programme, along with Ashley’s periodic narrations from beyond the grave, mean the audience knows where this will lead. We see the significance when he first, with a teasing smile on his face, wants to know who a text message is from.
After three months, Ashley finds out she is pregnant. She wants to talk about their options, pointing out that she’s only 17 and is still studying. But Reece insists that she should have the baby, that he’ll take care of everything and that they can be a proper family. It’s while she’s pregnant (as in 30% of domestic violence cases) that the first physical attack takes place.
The programme gets across a chilling sense of the complete control over Ashley’s life that Reece assumes. He is constantly logging in to her Facebook account to check her messages. He tells her to change what she’s wearing. He demands photos to prove where she is and who she’s with. He controls her money and checks receipts to see where she’s been.
In this way the programme helps show that domestic violence is a consequence of the idea that women ‘belong’ to men, and that men have the right to enforce obedience from their partners.
These ideas have been embedded in society over centuries and are intrisically linked to the structures and inequality of society divided into classes.
Georgina Campbell, who plays Ashley, brilliantly gets across the transformation of a happy, funny, ambitious teenager into a scared and worn down woman. The violence escalates over the course of the programme leading up to the final, deadly attack, which is hard to watch.
Ashley leaves Reece several times. Her friends beg her not to go back, but she feels trapped. Reece stalks her, turning up at her house demanding to see their daughter. At one point she starts to believe she could have her own life – she sleeps with Jamie, who has liked her for years. But Jamie tells her they can’t be together because he’s too scared of what Reece will do. Tragically it’s Reece finding out about Jamie that triggers his last outburst.
The audience feels with Ashley the sense of there being no way out, that she’ll never be free – echoed by Reece who shouts through her door when she refuses to let him in: “I’ll never let you go!”
At the end of the programme, text explains that the real life Reece was sentenced to life in prison for Ashley’s murder. It says: “It took four years for Ashley to die. In that time at least 229 other women in Britain were murdered as a result of domestic violence.” That was one of the most powerful things about ‘Murdered By My Boyfriend’ – it was written about one real woman, but could have been written about thousands.
Young women aged 16 to 24 are the most at risk of intimate partner violence. But 75% of women aged 11 to 21 are unaware of what constitutes abuse – for example 21% think there is no problem with a partner controlling what you wear.
Last year the government expanded its definition of domestic violence to include this type of coercive behaviour and to cover 16 and 17 year olds. This is a good step forward. But when combined with huge cuts to support services, including refuges, and access to legal aid, its impact will surely be limited.
In this context it’s vital that violence against young women in relationships gets more attention, so programmes like ‘Murdered By My Boyfriend’ have an important role to play in raising awareness. We then have to oppose all cuts as well as fighting the inequality and prejudice of capitalism.
Domestic violence and the cuts:
►Funding for services for victims of sexual and domestic violence has been cut by 31%
►The legal aid budget is being cut by £350 million a year – it is estimated 54% of women suffering from domestic violence would not qualify for legal aid
►Two out of six specialist refuges for women from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups closed and two others suffered significant funding cuts
►Respect services, working to reform male perpetrators of domestic violence, suffered budget cuts leading to a 78% reduction in the number of clients they were able to assist
►Combating violence against women: A socialist perspective on fighting women’s oppression (Hannah Sell – www.socialistparty.org.uk)
►Domestic violence: Can new laws work alongside cut-backs? (Eleanor Donne – Socialism Today issue 179, www.socialismtoday.org)
►A brief history of the Campaign Against Domestic Violence (Heather Rawling – www.socialistparty.org.uk)
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