Murder of Prostitutes Prompts Fears for "Other" Women

// 13 December 2006

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There’s a particularly appalling article on the BBC news site about the recent murders of women in Ipswich.

Here’s a prime quote:

All five were working as prostitutes but the shock and anxiety has spread to the wider community in Ipswich.

“Every woman is now asking themselves the same question – what if he runs out of prostitutes and starts attacking other women?” said Jean, who works in a petrol station near the Portman Road red light district.

It seems that, according to both the writer of the article and the person selected for quotation, a few dead prostitutes would not generally be a concern for the “wider community” (i.e those who don’t engage in sex work). The spreading of “shock” at such events to the citizens who aren’t in that particular trade themselves is somehow exceptional (hence the “but”). The initial stance seems to be that the murder of prostitutes is not something that is alarming in itself and that the killer’s selection of them as victims is something to be expected. On top of this, the main “anxiety” is that that the killer might “run out of prostitutes” and therefore move on to “other” women. So here we are in 2006, still harking back to the good women-bad women dichotomy and being led to believe that the most prominent fear in Ipswich is for the more well-behaved ladies in the community who don’t have the audacity to sell their bodies.

Of course, it therefore follows that these good womenfolk need protection and control and it’s up to the menfolk to dish it out. As Ipswich local Ben says:

“It’s terrible what’s going on. It’s not the sort of thing you want Ipswich to be known for.”

Of his girlfriend, Paula, who stood beside him, he said protectively: “She’s not allowed out on her own.”

There’s certainly no escaping the warming chivalrous glow that situations like this seems to create and, indeed, another example of this can be seen in the way that two female visitors to the area are described in the article as being “chaperoned” by their male workmates. For all we know, these women may have reluctantly decided, for themselves, to make plans to be “picked up and dropped off at their hotel” (by taxi, if need be). However, there’s no sign in the article that this is the case, as only the guys are quoted. Are the readers expected to assume these women just stood there nodding their pretty little heads in silence while their colleagues were interviewed about their plans for them?

In addition to this, the article contains the implication that all prostitutes are drug takers. Local teenager Teila, for example, apparently says that the whole thing has reminded her and her friends of the terrible consequences of “dabbling in drugs”. There is no mention in the whole article with regard to which of the murdered women took drugs (or, indeed, which drugs). This leads me to conclude that either this quote is completely out of context or that it is assumed by the writer that the readers will take it as a given that prostitutes all take drugs and also that dabbling in “drugs” (any drugs!) puts women on the slippery slope to prostitution.

Is this the sort of reporting we should expect from the BBC?

Thanks to Ruth from London Thirdwave for alerting us to this article.

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