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Women against Male Violence in West Yorkshire

Kester Aspden

This paper will examine key developments in a decade of women's activism against male violence against women, taking West Yorkshire as our case study. The approach will be historical, drawing on newspaper reports, archival sources, and interviews with local activists.

The issue of domestic violence began to feature in national debate for the first time in the 1970s. The Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976 was in large part due to the pressure of women's groups in bringing the issue to public attention. From the early 1970s Women's Aid refuges were established in British cities. This paper will discuss the background to, and subsequent development of the first refuge for women in Leeds, which was opened in 1974.

We will then consider two high-profile West Yorkshire feminist campaigns. In both cases activists made an impact not only locally but nationally. The first campaign was in protest against the conviction of the Maw sisters, two Bradford women who were charged with the manslaughter of their abusive father. We will show how feminists set the plight of the Maw Sisters against the law's inability to protect women from male violence.

On the very day the Maw Sisters were convicted (in November 1980) a Leeds student was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, the so- called `Yorkshire Ripper'. This was the last of a series of attacks which had left many women in a state of constant fear and anxiety. Whilst the police and media fed the mythology of the single, crazed maniac, feminists began to highlight the continuity between these attacks and the more prevalent forms of male violence in society. We argue that it was these impassioned campaigns which brought such questions into sharper focus and to wider public attention.

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