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Emma Humphreys – An Inspiring Legacy (with transcript)

December 6, 2009

This video is a moving glimpse into the life of Emma Humphreys, a woman who was a writer, campaigner and survivor of male violence. At 17 yrs of age, she was jailed for killing in self defense, her pimp who repeatedly raped her. She fought a historic struggle to overturn the murder conviction and on the 7th of July 1995, ten years after she was imprisoned she walked free, greeted by crowds of cheering supporters. The story was front page news and was a landmark legal case. For 3 years after her release Emma was an active campaigner for Justice for Women. On the 11th of July 1998 Emma died in her sleep after an accidental overdose of prescription medication. After her death colleagues and friends from Justice for Women set up a memorial prize award in her memory to acknowledge the contribution of Emma and women like her who are working to end violence against women and children.

Directed by Pratibha Parmar and edited by Nicholas Fernandez, the video uses existing archival materials of interviews with Emma Humphreys filmed by her lawyer Harriet Wistrich, newspaper clippings and television reports to create a powerful portrait of a woman whose life was shaped by her experience of male violence. The video is underpinned by a passionate evocation of her poetry read by actress Fiona Shaw.

Visit emma humphreys memorial prize [and also please visit Cutting off the Path to Prison  ]

 Emma Humphreys:  the legacy

Interviewer:  Ok Emma, are you ready?

Emma Humphreys: Yeah, I’m ready.

It was on a hot scorching day in 1995 that Emma Humphreys was set free after ten years in prison.  She was originally convicted at age 17 for the murder of her violent boyfriend Trevor Armitage.  Emma was cleared on appeal, testing the legal grounds for provocation.

News reporter:  It may have calmed down now but just hours ago the scenes here were ecstatic as Emma Humphreys, who spent her entire adult life in prison, walked free.

Emma:  It was great, it was massive.  Everybody fighting for me to get out of prison.   But when they said I was free to go it was all a mad rush.  I remember standing on the steps and receiving bouquets of flowers, getting shoved into a taxi and going to the press conference.

Emma at press conference:  Just thanks to everybody that’s got me here and it was all for a reason and maybe it’s to help people who are abused.

In September 1992 Justice for Women, a feminist campaign group, received a letter from Emma after she had spent seven years in prison.  In response to her plea Justice for Women organised a legal team to take on the criminal justice system to fight for Emma’s freedom. 

Justice for women at press conference:  Whilst we applaud the judges for their decision, we do not feel grateful that a simple act of justice has taken this long.  Justice for Emma has come ten years too late.  This case has been a miscarriage of justice on a par with that of the Guildford Four and Judith Ward.

I’m twenty seven now

and when my physical self is free

from these bars and walls

I shall live childishly and adolescently wildly

and womanly wise.

Emma:  I find it strange how I was abusing myself at the age of seven.  I was picking chunks of skin out of my hands.  I used to have to go to school and ?? hands so I wouldn’t do it.  [I cannot make out a couple of Emma’s words at this point]

Interviewer:  You don’t know if you were sexually abused when you were little?

Emma:  No I don’t know.  I spent every weekend with my father and I don’t remember one weekend.

I live in my own world

away from others…

who do not understand

the mental pain

that is inside of myself

 so unknown by Emma

we, it or Emma, or myself

who?  I don’t know

is very scared to wake up

to sleep

to live.

Emma’s parents separated when the children were very little.  Soon after her mother met Alan Summerville while working at a pub.  They made plans to start a new life in Canada, bringing the children with them. 

Emma:  My mum changed, she became worse alcoholic.  Alan was a chronic alcoholic.  There was always fights and police coming around and.  He seemed really nice at first.  He used to spoil us all.  He flew out to Canada before us, and then he sent for us to come over to Canada.  After about two days he split her head, head open.  He knocked my head against hers.  They were both drunk.  There was a lot of violence, I hated it.  But I’ll always have something for him.  He was beaten as a child.  So I try to understand why he was violent.

I am scared

to find some more

pain inside

the rusty object

that holds the pain

be it my heart,

please take it

and my soul

recycle it

and let me loose

from my own world.

Emma:  I asked to be removed from home; I couldn’t stand it any longer.  I was in many kid’s homes, children’s centres.  There was about five hundred kids.  I lived with a Mormon family.

Interviewer:  What was that like?

Emma:  Weird.

Emma:  I ran away from home when I was 12, and the only way I could guaranteed to get a roof over my head was to sleep with a man.  Then I met this other girl and we started doing it for money.  Could be a judge, could be a mechanic, could be an unemployed bloke.  There was abuse, rape, muggings.  You name it, it happened to me.  I don’t care what anybody says, there’s no happy hooker.  Three quarters of the women that work the streets are out there not just ‘cos they want to be out there, because they’re made to be there.  Like a piece of meat, that they’re there to be bought and sold and…

Dear Justice for Women, I hope you don’t mind me writing to you.  I’ll try to keep this brief because you’re probably very busy.  In December ‘85 I was convicted of murdering my boyfriend Trevor Armitage who was 35.  I had met him six months previously when I was sixteen.  I was a prostitute and he was a client.  I was seventeen at the time of the offence and am 24 now.  The night of the offence I had a knife in my hand from cutting my wrists, because I wanted some kind of response from him other than physical abuse or rape again.  As I heard him coming I panicked that maybe he could actually turn even worse and turn the knife on me and I was cornered upstairs.  He came and laid beside where I was sitting.  He was undressed, and I knew I was going to be raped again, beaten or both.  I couldn’t go through it again.  I just wanted him to get away from me. 

Emma:  I know I killed somebody and I know it was one of the worse things you could ever do.  I knew that once he took his clothes off it wasn’t just going to be a straightforward knockaround the house.  I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t go through with it anymore, I couldn’t.   And I don’t know what made me do, do it.

News Reporter:  For stabbing him to death she was ordered at seventeen to be detained at her majesty’s pleasure.  She’s been in prison for ten years, her entire adult life.


What does it mean?

It means to get up in the morning and not to be afraid, like I was as a child,

like I am in my confinement, what will hit me today?

I hope to wake up without anxiety, wake up slowly or fast whatever the day feels like.

Emma:  I’ve had to resettle into a community that I don’t know.  I’m used to kid’s homes or prisons; I’m not used to being out here on my own.

While in prison Emma developed a love for writing, finding solace and expression through her work and won a Cursor award for literature. 

Emma:  I said I want to keep on writing and work with children.  Those are still two things I would like to do.

To slip over the edge

would be like

to carelessly write

over the edges of this paper

if you want to know

where my sanity lies

just feel the edge

of this paper you are


Interviewer:  Have there been any good times since you’ve been out?

Emma:  Yeah there has.

Interviewer:  What’s been good?

Emma:  Ohhhh, I don’t know.  (shakes head)  Like today, going on a picnic in the heat.

Emma:   All I can remember is, she’s to be set free immediately, I still don’t feel free in my mind.

Interviewer:  Do you not, no?

Emma:  ? my body, no.  [again, I cannot make out one word Emma says]

Emma Humphreys died on the 11th July 1998 aged just 30.  Her death was caused by an accidental overdose of the medication she had become addicted to whilst in prison. 

Following her untimely death in 1998, friends set up the ‘emma humphreys memorial prize’ in order to remember her brave spirit and allow her legacy to continue to benefit other women in similar situations.  The prize recognises the many different forms that violence against women and children can take.  There are many inspiring and creative ways in which women have sought to challenge that violence.  In its ten year history prizes have been awarded to individuals and groups working around issues such as child abuse, domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation, the use of immigration laws or organised religions to control women’s access to basic rights, women’s imprisonment, pornography and prostitution. 

Emma:  It was all for a reason, and maybe it’s to help people who are abused.

[Note:  With the exception of ‘Freedom’, I do not know how Emma’s poems are presented so they are written here as they are on the screen.  Two words differed when spoken to those on the screen so I chose to type the spoken word.)

I transcripted this video for The F Word.  Please feel free to use for your own site, and if you do then kindly leave a comment below.  If you can hear the three words I missed then let me know so I can update the post.

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