On dehumanising victims

So three prostitutes have been murdered. They weren’t people, then? They had no lives outside their sexual trade, no families, no loved ones, no hopes, fears or plans? This is not to suggest that their work is irrelevant, or should never have been mentioned, or should not figure in the analysis of the “back-story” of this appalling series of events. But it is intolerable that these women’s lives should be so one-dimensionally dismissed. By focusing so relentlessly on their status as prostitutes, their worth as human beings is systematically dismantled.

There is a ghastly parallel here with the treatment of the alleged killer of these women. Leaving aside what has become sickeningly routine in the reporting of cases like this, when any semblance of a truly fair trial is torpedoed by the quasi-trial of prurient and salacious innuendo conducted in advance by the tabloids, the usual demonisation of offenders continues apace. And so a terrible symmetry begins to emerge. Less-than-human victims, whose very trade it is suggested in some way indicates that their terrifying demise was almost self-inflicted; and a monster perpetrator who is not so much human as embodiment of an evil that has a palpable presence outside of any actual person.

And where does that leave us, the more or less willing audience for this danse macabre? It leaves us distanced and off the hook. We are enabled to ditch moral responsibility in favour of horror-film detachment. Prostitution is nothing to do with us. Those who embark upon such a career sign away their right to our engagement, our sympathy, our understanding. Wickedness is likewise removed from us and bestowed upon a pantomime villain with whom we have no connection, who is not like us in any way, and whom we can safely use as a lightning conductor for our own darkest thoughts and feelings.

There are no winners here.* Certainly not the hapless victims. Certainly not the accused. Certainly not justice, either as an ideal or as embodied in the criminal justice system. And certainly not our collective health.

Perhaps, even worse, by this routinised, choreographed reduction of tragedy into a repulsive entertainment, we ensure that it will be endlessly repeated, as our attention is fatally distracted from the causes and what might be done to mitigate them.

* Actually, I’m wrong about this. There are some winners – the proprietors of trashy newspapers and sensationalist websites who see their circulations peak, and their advertising revenues jump. But their ephemeral benefits reaped from the misery of others will soon revert to the steady income from footballers’ infidelities, talent-show trivia, and soft-porn photography.

7 thoughts on “On dehumanising victims

  1. Pingback: Excellent post… « Deeplyflawedbuttrying's Blog

  2. Somebody had to say this, I’m appalled at the prurience and deliberate celebration of this crime by tabloid mentality that screams disgust but never asks why or cares about the human consequence/poverty that drives all forms of exploitation. I am angered by the indignation that is shocked but not moved to demand change that would remove the economic need for prostitution.
    Sorry for ranting, but I heard (R4) the son of the Yorkshire woman murdered some years ago describe how his mother was driven by dependency and domestic violence to the streets and her brutal death…. and his own struggle as an orphan not to repeat the spiral of poverty/abuse and prostitution in his own life. I have enormous respect for your eloquence in stepping up on this issue .
    Regards ,Steve. Too angry to spell check x

  3. Fantastically put. You’ve echoed my own thoughts and conversation. Interestingly I’ve written along similar lines myself as this is something that’s bothered me while looking at the news coverage.

    I live a couple of miles away from where this happened and so it’s been a big talking point for people here. So many of those people say things like “well she had it coming doing that job”.

    Having known people who’ve been involved in charities that help working girls I know all too well the sort of situations these girls go through before they end up on the streets.

    Society needs to change big time, we (speaking for the masses not myself) view prostitutes similarly to homeless people. We think they should “want more” for themselves and look down our noses at them because their lives aren’t as perfect as ours; ignorant to the many traumas that have led to their lifestyle choice.

    We need to support them and help them get out of the sex trade, but at the same time we need to stop making it so ‘easy’ for them. Police lock up the men who go looking for sex and stand and have a chat with the prostitutes (who all re-emerge as soon as the police have gone). The demand is never going to stop, has it ever?

    The police seem to know this about drugs, that’s why they go after the supply not the demand. They’ve got it all backwards with prostitution.

    • Thanks, Johnny, for your compliment, but even more for contributing a local perspective, both here and in your own excellent post on this sad and tragic case. However, I’m not too sure about your parallel with drugs in terms of demand and supply. The result of “going after the supply” would presumably be the criminalisation of the act of prostitution itself, and the focus on the women rather than their customers. There is one sense in which I agree with the parallel though. In both drugs and the sex trade most of the social damage is done not by the acts themselves, but by the criminal infrastructure that grows up around the acts. Neither the decriminalisation of drugs, nor of the procurement of prostitutes and the living off their earnings, would be without serious consequences that would need careful thought. But it’s hard to imagine that those consequences could be as bad as what we have now, with a vast “industry” of related crime, and death and destruction on our streets.

      • Thanks for your reference to my post.

        I’m not advocating locking up scores of prostitutes. I recognise many of them are victims controlled by the infrastructure you mention. Pimps control “their” girls and I agree the associated infrastructure is responsible for crimes. It seems to me from the knowledge I have, including having friends in the police, that often the police target the ‘curb crawlers’ and just send the girls on their way. They do nothing to help them all they do is lock up the customers for a night then release them.

        It solves nothing. The girls move to a different street, and the next lot of customers emerge once the coast is clear.

        It is true that the problem needs careful thought. Many working girls are underage or barely of age and have been trafficked here and to just lock them up whilst the traffickers and pimps roam free would be a gross misjustice.

        The whole system needs shaking up from top to bottom. What the authorities are doing isn’t working.

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