Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Somebody's daughter, somebody's friend...

The horrific murder of five young women in Suffolk is headline news. It has also re-opened the debate about prostitution. There is a real change, it seems to me, in the public's reaction to the murders of these vulnerable and marginalised young women. If you compare the news reporting and reaction to the Yorkshire Ripper case, notorious for comments such as ' he may now move to innocent victims' to today it is clear that there has been something of a sea-change in attitudes to the murder of prostitutes.

I checked the comments at the Daily Mail and found little condemnation of 'vice girls' and chunterings of 'well, what do you expect if you are a street prostitute'. Instead I found compassion and sympathy and people raising the issue of decriminalisation and legalisation, recognising that these women have little protection and lead desperate lives. And that thinking has been seen across the board. There are still some however who are saying that we cannot legalise prostitution because 'that condones it.'

I wanted to understand more about the argument for legalisation so I read the entire International Union of Sex Workers website today, which makes a compelling case for decriminalisation. Sex workers pay tax and national insurance, yet they have very little protection, especially street sex workers who often have chaotic lives with few choices and struggle with drug addiction, abusive pimps, beatings, robberies, rapes and worse. The international traffic in women and children is a modern day slave trade. It strikes me that it is an expensive and hypocritical morality that purses its lips at prostitution whilst sex workers suffer in dangerous working conditions. Like the drug trade, the sex trade has always been with us, and prohibition only serves the interests of organised crime and quadruples the damage done.

I have little patience with 'Christians' who condemn out of hand those whose lifestyles do not match their own high standards. As we approach Christmas, I am remembering the stories told of the son of an unmarried mother, whose family sought political asylum in a foreign land and were refugees during his babyhood, the man whose birth was attended by shepherds, the unclean outcasts of Jewish society, and by pagan foreigners, who as an adult sat and ate with the hated and the despised tax collectors and 'sinners', whose feet were washed by a prostitute who loved him, who said 'set the prisoners free, feed the hungry, clothe the naked', who condemned hypocrisy and who told those without sin themselves to throw the first stone. I wonder what Jesus would have said to those who say 'we are a Christian country' and who so saying turn their face away from a debate about how we can care for the poor, the dispossesed, the desperate, the terrible lives of those who we look past and do not see, until their thin bodies are found naked and dumped, and their young faces look out of the pages of the papers.

And while we are at it: legalise drugs as well. More on that later.

UPDATE: Oh dear, just when I thought sanity had struck the Mail, AN Wilson comes out with this bilge, one of the most stupid pieces I have ever seen. Kate Moss is to blame for the murders?

UPDATE 2: Much more sensible stuff from Archrights and NotSaussure


Blogger Gavin said...

Hi Rachel, this is a good post you've done here. I am a practising Christian (and by "practising", I like to think that it means more than simply going to church on Sundays, and acting as if I did not do so, for the rest of the week). I completely agree that I find the media's attitude distasteful about this issue. I hate the way that the newspapers are labelling the victims of this murderer "prostitutes" first (as if to imply that they are second class human beings). You are quite right, the founder of the religion that I follow, would see everyone as a valuable human being, regardless of their circumstances.
However, as I commented on 18DS, (I am the one whom Iain referred to as "Stan", not sure why my hotmail address rather than my username is coming over there), I do not agree that the answer is to legalise either drugs nor prostitution. I can see the argument for making it safer, but in principle I disagree with saying "it's going to happen anyway, so we may as well give in, and make it safer".
Hard drugs cause nothing but suffering to those who use them, and to their families/friends. Hard drug addictions force vulnerable women onto the streets, to be used and abused by uncaring men who view instant sexual gratification as a normal urge to be satisfied.
I think that, if we really got serious about cutting off the drug supply, if we imposed truly serious sentences on drug pushers, then, in time, we could reduce both hard drug addiction, and prostitution too.

December 14, 2006 1:49 am  
Blogger Billy said...

According to the Telegraph, it's all their fault for doing drugs. link

December 14, 2006 8:22 am  
Blogger Ms Melancholy said...

Couldn't agree more, Rachel. I have noticed that the reporting is generally less sexist and judgemental, and if even the Daily Mail is tempering it's judgementalism that shows just how ideas do filter through society if we keep plugging away. I remember the reporting in the Peter Sutcliffe case, and, even though I was only a young teenager, remember being shocked that the life of a prostitute appeared not to matter. In the 80's a lot of feminists were writing about it and it appears to have hit the collective concsiousness.

I look forward to a full and frank debate on decriminalisation of drugs.... :)

December 14, 2006 9:19 am  
Blogger jailhouselawyer said...

Hi Rachel

I was contacted this morning by Southern Counties Radio, to do an interview, and they informed me that the government has announced (on Ceefax)it has started the consultation process with the question whether prisoners should be allowed the vote. I took the case to Europe, and the government has not spoken to me on the issue. Nor has the Department of Constitutional Affairs updated this issue on its website since February. I have also done a Radio Humberside interview on this issue this morning.

I made the point that everybody in prison is somebody's father, mother, son, daughter, brother or sister. This is so easily forgotten when the redtops label criminals and prisoners with labels that are not human. In your post, I call them working girls.

When I was in Sudbury Open Prison, I would visit Bubbles Massage Parlour in Derby. They had a policy there that the girls were not addicted to drugs. It was a clean and pleasant environment. The management had notices up forbidding sex, so it was all perfectly legal. What the girls did behind closed doors was their business. In effect, it was a legalised brothel. There was measures in place to protect the girls from violence.

Unfortunately, some girls become junkies and to pay for their habit they work on the street. This makes them vulnerable to the predator. I would like to see drugs decriminalised, and made available on the NHS. Also, I think it is time that the law was changed to allow sex workers to go about their business without fear of prosecution.

December 14, 2006 1:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! (Also as a practicing Christian). Legistlation for prostitution might be a good idea. In Nevada, prostitution is legal, but only in certain areas. It is not legal to pick up a prostitute on the street, but there are special "ranches" and houses where men can go. The girls have STD and HIV testing every month. It's mandatory. Because they are "legal," they have protection, legally, physically (by law enforcement) and also their health. Oddly though, these girls are not, for the most part, hooked on drugs. The state of Nevada takes a very hard line on drugs. These girls are just making a "nest egg" or college money, and getting out while they're still young. Some are supporting their kids, and work as long as they stay healthy.

December 14, 2006 11:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It had saddened me that TV reports had referred to these women as 'prostitues' first rather than women, or in some cases mothers (yes I know some people wouldn't approve of that either), but as I thought about it, I reckoned that this was their job and you would also see a report of a teacher, student or lawyer murdered.

But then I suppose that is also a value judgement - to convey their status. You wouldn't have a headline of 'receptionist' or 'chemist's assistant' murdered, would you? A nurse would become an 'angel' - possibly - all interesting to me at least on how we refer to women.
And of course what a sad indictment for me to be even considering the intracacies of how to refer to murder victims.

I agree that there has been some sympathetic and sensitive reporting, but I was also saddened to see one of the women referred to as a "junkie" in headlines yesterday.

December 15, 2006 1:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your observation about the media. If anything I’ve seen a backlash against the MSM for reporting the fact that the women were prostitutes at all. These commentators have claimed that saying that calling them prostitutes implies that their life has less worth. They could have a point but I think in this case that attitude goes a bit far and is possibly a hangover from the ripper reporting you allude to. In this case the fact that all five were prostitutes is highly significant. These were unlikely to be five victims who just happened to be prostitutes. Much more likely is that they were targeted because they were, either because it afforded the killer easier access to vulnerable women or because their lifestyle motivated the killer in some way.

I also support legalisation of prostitution and (since everyone is declaring) I'm not a christian.

December 15, 2006 2:00 pm  
Blogger archrights said...

Rachel, we've just fleshed out the decriminalisation debate a bit on our blog - thought you might find it interesting?

December 15, 2006 3:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's what your post made me think about:

A heartbreaking contribution from the dad of a lost 19-year-old daughter this evening and across tomorrow's papers.

December 15, 2006 10:35 pm  

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