While crime can affect all of us, including murder, the treatment of murder victims can depend on who they are. Unfortunately, discrimination and prejudice extend to when we are the most vulnerable – the victims of crime, even murder victims. We can all agree that murder isn’t right but it seems to be not as bad when it happens to some people. That’s the impression I get at least. It’s the impression I get from the police, the media and the wider public. All these elements interact to determine how murder victims are treated.
Public interest motivates the media to look into a crime and this spotlight puts pressure on the police to solve the crime. But then the media is the one who informs the public about crimes. If we don’t know about it, we can’t be interested in it. At the same time if the media doesn’t think people will be interested in a story they are not going to run it. The police are going to focus on the crimes they have pressure to solve, not the ones we ignore. Obviously, the crime-solving process is much more complicated than that and I’m not trying to say that the police only put work into the cases that have attention. But you can see the cycle I’m talking about. £11.75 million so far as been spent to try to find Madeline McCann. That probably wouldn’t have happened without the massive public and media interest.
Let me go through some more examples of the people we are willing to lose and won’t spend millions on finding.
The treatment of Sex workers
However you feel about sex workers and what they do, they don’t deserve to be murdered. No one is asking to be murdered because of the way they try to provide for themselves and their family. Time and time again across the world we see the murders of sex workers being ignored. The exact statistics vary but one UK study found that ‘Female sex workers were murdered in numbers 5 times greater than female bar staff.’ This is despite the fact that there are many more female bar staff in the UK compared to sex workers.
One glaring example of the disregard of the lives of sex workers is the Yorkshire Ripper case. Peter Sutcliff was a serial killer who was convicted of murdering thirteen women between 1975 and 1980. It is widely thought that he was able to kill so many because the police victim-blamed the women who were killed as they were sex workers. But only the first few victims were actually sex workers. When non-sex workers started to be killed too, the police paid more attention as they believed them to be ‘innocent’. The obvious implication here is that the other victims weren’t innocent. Just take a read of this statement from one of the detectives John Hobson, the killer ‘has made it clear that he hates prostitutes. Many people do. We, as a police force, will continue to arrest prostitutes. But the Ripper is now killing innocent girls.’ The police didn’t give up victim-blaming completely though. They did tell women not to go out alone at night. Women were told to restrict their movement because of the violence of men.
This sexism from police, the people who were supposed to protect everyone, led to protests. They were protests against all violence against all women. Now, this was a few decades ago but I can’t say this mindset of disregarding the death of sex workers has completely disappeared.
The treatment of The LGBT+ community
Once again, no matter what you think of the lifestyle of those who are part of the LGBT+ community, their murders deserve to be solved just as much as anyone else’s. The relationship between the police and the LGBT+ community doesn’t have a good history and there are many cases I could mention but I want to talk about a more recent murderer. Steven Port was convicted of killing four men that he connected with through the gay dating app Grindr. This is what got him the name The Grindr Killer.
These deaths weren’t even initially identified as murders. They were assumed to have been caused by misadventure or suicide. I think this is a difficult mistake to make when the victims were dumped in the same area. But there is a stereotype that gay men take drugs so they probably caused the deaths themselves. The number of people interviewed about the deaths was lacking as it would have pointed them towards Port meeting all of them much quicker. It was the families and the wider LGBT+ community that insisted the deaths be looked at closer and Port was finally caught. The treatment of these murder victims almost meant the killer got away with it.
This isn’t a blip in the system. Recent statistics show that there were ‘14,491 crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation in 2018-19’.This violence cannot be written off due to who they are. It is just not acceptable. The whole LGBT+ community deserves to live in safety. They are in no way asking to be murdered.
These aren’t the only groups that are more likely to experience violence, like murder, and more likely to be left behind when it comes to justice. You only have to think about the Stephen Lawrence murder when it comes to the racist treatment of murder victims. Then there are all the cases we don’t know about because they haven’t been widely reported. Murder is just as bad for everyone, no matter who they are or what they do. We need to treat all murder victims the same and not perpetuate harmful mindsets. Next time you see a murder being reported in the media, think about who’s murder hasn’t been reported.
P.S. I wrote a short story about a murder trial where the murder victim had been abused by her partner. How domestic abuse victims are treated by the court can be really harmful too. Check it out HERE.