A charity has warned of the dangers posed to Filipina women who are “hypersexualised” by British men.
Within hours of the Bennylyn Burke case becoming a murder inquiry, a London-based organisation called the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium came to the aid of her family, the Aquinos.
Kanlungan – meaning “Shelter” – offers support to the 200,000 or so Filipinos living in the UK, including those impacted by domestic violence.
In Bennylyn’s case, she was a 22-year-old woman living in the Philippines where the average annual salary is less than £3,000, wanting to secure a brighter future.
She then struck up an online relationship with Lexington Burke– 38 years her senior.
Bennylyn fell pregnant with Lexington’s baby – Jellica – and they quickly got married and she moved to the UK in August 2019.
Then in November 2020, Bennylyn and Jellica moved out of her family home and into emergency accommodation.
A worrying trend
Within three months of moving into that temporary housing, Bennylyn met Andrew Innes – another British man with a significant age gap to her.
This time the gap was 26 years. He was then 51 and more than double her age.
Bennylyn travelled from Bristol to Dundee with Innes and was tragically found dead within days, along with Jellica.
A spokeswoman for the charity told us: “It is a white, older man, murdering a young Filipina woman and her child.
“It fits into a broader context of violence against East Asian or South-East Asian (ESEA) migrant women.”
The spokeswoman cited a worrying trend in such violence, as this tragedy unfolded at the same time a white Western man went to three spas in Atlanta, Georgia and shot six Asian women dead.
They added: “There is also a more general presence of hypersexualisation and exotification of ESEA women.”
The spokeswoman made reference to the contrast between Bennylyn’s fortunes before and after November 2020.
She went from living with Lexington Burke in one area of Bristol, taking her daughter on days out with her group of friends to moving into a small flat in another part of the city.
There, Bennylyn was alone with her daughter throughout a winter lockdown – on the other side of town to her friends, and thousands of miles away from her family.
Because the Philippines is one of only two countries in the world where divorce is illegal, Bennylyn would have perhaps been aware of the social stigma of talking about any marriage troubles with friends and family back home.
Then Innes came along to offer her some false hope of stability.
The spokeswoman said: “When you’re in the UK (as a Filipino), you don’t have access to the same support, to the same networks, to the same community, as you do when you’re living in the same country that you’re from.
“This man (Innes) did take advantage of Bennylyn’s vulnerabilities.”
They added: “Unfortunately, we also see that in other women we support, who are targeted by British men online for relationships and lured to the UK on false premises.
“They are promised relationships that never come through and they might become undocumented or destitute as a result.
“It’s different for Bennylyn because she had already been living in the UK for several years, but all these things are connected.”
Forced to emigrate
The charity’s views were supported by Arman Hernando the chairman of another organisation that has been assisting Bennylyn’s wider family, Migrante Philippines.
He said: “Hopefully there is no need for people to die or suffer the way Bennylyn did.
“Hopefully there is no more need for Filipinos to emigrate to fulfil their dreams.
“I hope you are not forced to go abroad and that you find your luck here – if there is luck and opportunity to fulfil your dreams in the Philippines.
A time will come that there will be no more cases like Bennylyn’s case – that there will be no more Filipinos killed like that because our own country will get better.”
“Before Bennylyn, thousands of Filipinos died and it’s sad to think that, as long as the situation does not change, that Filipinos will be forced to emigrate – and there may be much more suffering to come.
“So that is what we ask – for people to stay in the Philippines.
“A time will come that there will be no more cases like Bennylyn’s case – that there will be no more Filipinos killed like that because our own country will get better.
“We want to be able to work and fulfil our dreams without people abusing us.”
Kanlungan has helped the Aquino family in many ways in recent months, particularly with navigating culture differences between the Philippines and the UK.
The spokeswoman said: “The family reached out to us through social media. We were able to meet with them.
“What became very clear is they were not getting adequate support in terms of really understanding what the criminal justice system is like in the UK.
“We had to reassure them that the suspect had been arrested and that the police were fairly confident they had arrested the right person.
“Their fears were that, based on the experience of the Filipino criminal justice system, that there’s a chance that some kind of corruption would happen – someone would pay their way out of jail – so it was a case of trying to install in them some faith and understanding in the UK justice system.”
Another aspect was the difference in grieving rituals.
They said: “Community-based grieving is extremely important in Filipino culture.
“Typically when someone dies, you’ll have a 10-day ecumenical service.
“For 10 days, every night, you hold Mass – a vigil for an hour and say prayers.
“So it’s very centred on a socially mediated way of grieving. It’s really important to have that contact with the community.”
While Bennylyn’s friends in Bristol had held a vigil, her family felt they wanted to hold a second event to bring them together with Filipinos in the UK, and it took place in the form of a webcast memorial in May 2021.
The spokeswoman said: “The online memorial was really powerful and a good way to show solidarity and grief for the family.”
Visit kanlungan.org.uk to find out more about the charity’s work.