Statement: Remembering 13 women, victims of terrorism, on the death of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.
We heard the news of the Yorkshire Ripper dying and our first thoughts were with the families, with the survivors. Probably, they must be feeling relief that they don’t have to face any chance of Sutcliffe getting out of prison, as there was some talk of that not long ago.
The ECP was very involved at the time of the Yorkshire Ripper trial, we picketed the court every day because the Attorney General had said about the victims that “Some were prostitutes but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women.” This was such an inditement of the whole way in which the police and the establishment were dealing with the Yorkshire Ripper case.
That statement really explained why it had taken the police all those years, with so many women being attacked and killed, before they actually caught Sutcliffe. They showed their contempt for sex workers, their utter contempt for working class women generally and for single mothers, for women who were doing their best to support their children. They really didn’t care, and it was only when some so-called ‘respectable’ women were killed, that they began to pay attention.
The ECP went to Leeds, we went to Bradford, we spoke to some of the women, to Marcella Claxton and to a fantastic woman called Helen, who was a real point of reference in Chapeltown in Leeds. We spoke to them about what had happened and how the women had been used as a decoy by the police, who were really not interested in their safety at all. We spoke about the children, the fact that 23 children had been left orphaned as a result. The women were mothers, they were first of all mothers.
Looking back and looking at where we are at now, we don’t feel much has changed. What has changed is that the police are much more careful about how they speak about these things. They were blatantly biased then, blatantly sexist, blatantly racist and anti-working class. Now, they would be more careful, but their actions would not be that different.
The fact that prostitution has not been decriminalised means that sex workers are really in the same difficult position — of being arrested, of being criminalised, of being looked down on, of being stigmatised, of not being able to report to the police if we are raped or attacked, for fear of being arrested ourselves.
The poverty hasn’t changed. The poverty which drove many women to work in prostitution at the time of the Yorkshire Ripper, despite knowing that it was even more dangerous than usual, is worse now than it was then. Benefits have been decimated. We now talk about ‘survival sex’ and about all the single mothers and even the children who have to go into prostitution to support themselves. Nothing is being done to deal with that poverty, so much so that there is a scandal about the fact that the government didn’t want to provide free school meals to children over the Christmas break. It was ready to have children starve, and it took a footballer to campaign to get the government to change their minds.
The same is true of rape and domestic violence, which again tells the story of what the police and the establishment generally think about violence against women. Two women a week — and it went up to three women during lockdown — are being killed by partners and ex partners. The conviction rate for reported rape and domestic violence is down to 1.4%, the lowest it has ever been.
This is the situation that we are in, so no, it is not better for women in relation to the violence we face, the poverty we face and the criminalisation of poverty that we face.