Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I was uneasy watching the news last night about Ipswich. It was the report about women who have been murdered in the town. The place looks like a ghost town. What concerns me is the fear and panic this will instil in women and will the advice be that women should be prisoners in their own homes? It is also reminiscent of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper aka Peter Sutcliffe though I just hope that the cops are more enlightened in their attitudes towards women who work as prostitutes. But there is a difference between hope and expectation.

As the English Collective of Prostitutes say: "The Suffolk police must not use the criminality imposed on sex workers by the prostitution laws as an excuse to deny women the protection we are all entitled to by law."

If the cops want women who work as prostitutes to be more co-operative and helpful then they should stop criminalising them. Criminalising women who work as prostitutes pushes them onto the margins of society makes them more powerless. Enforcing ASBOs, for example, does nothing to reduce the stigmatisation and the hostility women face instead it makes it a whole lot worse. And the cops are known to be utterly dismissive to crimes against sex workers.

"In another case, a street sex worker wanted to report an attempted rape. There was a warrant out for her arrest, so a support worker called the local police station, asking if it could be temporarily waived so that she could report the attack. The police refused."

If the cops want help from women to catch this killer then they will have to change their attitude towards them by overhauling the sexism prevalent within the police. Certainly solutions include decriminalising prostitution and the drugs industry which are integral to this situation .

But in the mean time the cops have got to treat women with respect and equally. During the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe the language used by the cops in charge of catching him was significantly different when describing women who worked as prostitutes and women who didn't. Women who didn't work in prostitution were described as "innocent women". In death these women had their lives fleshed out while women who worked as prostitutes were reduced to one-dimensional mugshots staring from the television screen. Who cared about these womens lives certainly not the cops?

These women were not afforded the same equality as other women. And it took the police many years to catch Sutcliffe. In her book, The Street Cleaner, Nicole Jouve Ward describes reporting about the hunt for Sutcliffe and witnessing first hand the appalling misogyny between the cops and the media and how this had a negative impact in tracking down Sutcliffe. Grim reading. But I hope lessons have been learned in how to conduct a proper investigation.

All women deserve justice.

Update: This quote disturbed me somewhat. Are women sex workers fair game then unlike "other" maybe more "innocent" women?

"Every woman is now asking themselves the same question - what if he runs out of prostitutes and starts attacking other women?"

Hat tip: The F Word

Another update: Today's Guardian features a piece by a woman called "Jasmine" who writes about her life as a prostitute.

"The attitude of the police makes this work so much more dangerous for us. At the moment, in the area where I work, the police have got a purge on street prostitution. The place the women in my area usually work is all cameraed up so we feel safe there - but when the police move us on, it means that we take more risks".