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Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Stop calling him the Ripper

It's a really bad idea.

For those of you who aren't based in Britain, bad news: we've got a serial killer murdering people in Ipswich. All of the victims have been women in their twenties who worked as prostitutes. Five bodies have been found within ten days, heaven help us all. I'm not Christian myself, but if anyone reading this is (or Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, anything you think might help), say a prayer for them and their families; nobody should have to go through this.

Some of our journalists have taken this opportunity to call him the 'Ipswich Ripper'.

What is wrong with these people?

The Jack the Ripper murders in Whitechapel happened in 1888, and of course, no one was ever caught so there's a thriving industry speculating about who the bastard was. The word seems to appeal to people. Peter Sutcliffe, who killed thirteen women and half-killed seven more in the 1970s, was referred to as the 'Yorkshire Ripper'. Sutcliffe's victims were actually about fifty-fifty women who sold sex and women who earned money some other way, but for years he was referred to as a 'prostitute killer' who occasionally, accidentally killed 'innocent women'.

Thank God, people don't seem to be talking this kind of crap about this latest murderer - the papers are acknowledging that all the women in Ipswich are frightened to go out, which means at least they don't think he has some special yen for sex workers - but still, there's that word again, 'ripper'. Because his victims sold sex. That's the only reason for it. The word caught on in the 19th century because the Whitechapel killer mutilated the bodies of his victims, and so did Sutcliffe, but this man doesn't do that, he just kills them. There's no reason for that word except for the livelihoods of his victims.

I haven't met the man, but I have the very strong suspicion that the main reason why he's killing prostitutes is that he's lazy. Unless she was selling sex, why would a woman go somewhere private at night with a man she didn't know? Sex workers get attacked and killed a lot more than other women, because it's easier to get at them. Of course, the Whitechapel murderer may well have had the same motivation, but it bothers me that people are dragging the label out again.

Among other things, I'm sure it's pleasing the killer.

Jack the Ripper has been a legend for over a century. Suppose you were some weak, worthless loser who was dealing with life so badly that killing women seemed to you the best use of your time. Wouldn't it make you feel glamorous to be identified with the daddy of all serial killers? Men who kill women repeatedly generally do it because it feeds some kind of fantasy. Talk about a fantasy image you're enjoying living up to.

My proposal is that we do away with the word altogether. I personally think if we started talking about 'Jack the Shithead' and the 'Ipswich Scumbag', it would put things in their proper proportions.

I'm only half joking. Writers are as guilty as anyone else of glamorising murderers - hell, just yesterday I was quoting myself being praised as a crime novelist. But we've got to lose this idea that serial killers are interesting, clever, inventive, master criminals or performance artists. Serial killers are failed human beings, and they kill people who are better than they are. The extreme always attracts imaginative interest, and from there it's a short step to imaginative sympathy. I want to understand it too. But surely the first step is to understand that it's despicable, and doesn't deserve any kind of pedigree.

And while we're on the subject, could everyone please stop referring to sex workers collectively as 'girls'. If you're selling sex on the streets, life is hard for you and you don't get much respect. People could at least have the decency to refer to such people as adults. These are women, not girls. Dead women, some of them, who didn't have enough good fortune in their lives and died before they were thirty.

Let's remember who deserves our respect here. The victims, their families, the community of Ipswich. If you say any prayers, say one for them.

*looks at size of hole in dike*

*looks at Kit's finger*

I sympathise, but I don't imagine the British press are going to grow up any day soon. BBC News online was telling me the other day that the women weren't sexually assaulted, so there had to be some "other motive" for the crime. The reporter evidently hadn't done even two seconds worth of research into serial killing.

I just hope the Suffolk police aren't as clueless as they sound.
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