A woman, Jessica McGraa, has been murdered in Aberdeen. She was found dead in a rented flat in the city centre. A man, Bala Wadzani Chinda, has been charged with her murder.
Jessica won't open the door of her London home again, won't cuddle her six-year-old son; will never get to see how his life turns out. She'll never speak to her friends again, never see the sky. She'll never listen to music again, or sleep in her bed, or laugh, or cry, or argue, or sing.
A woman has been killed and real horror has splintered its way into the world.
But you should check your grief, according to a sector of the UK press. You see, Jessica wasn't really a victim. Wipe away your tears. Didn't you hear? She was a prostitute. She died because she was immoral, a whore. She fucked for money, didn't you know? Her death is nothing much to mourn.
Some headlines, if you're feeling strong of stomach:
"Mum's double life as prostitute exposed when she was found dead" (Metro)
"£220-an-hour vice girl found dead in Aberdeen was on a two-day sex tour" (The Sun)
"Mother's secret life as a prostitute revealed after she was found murdered in a rented flat 600 miles from her home" (Daily Mail)
"Sex worker found dead in Aberdeen flat left young son at home as she went on two-day trip as £220-an-hour vice girl" (The Daily Record)
Murder! What a news hook. What a chance to cover the real story, which is, of course, what Jessica did for a living. She charged £200 an hour. Here's a gallery of pictures so readers can decide for themselves if she was worth it (the Daily Record). Comments below.
Remember your journalism course: news angle in the first sentence. Right then, to be clear:
"A doting mother's secret double life as a £1,800-a-night prostitute has emerged after she was found brutally murdered in a rented flat 600 miles from the home she shared with her young son." (Daily Mail)
"A mother was only uncovered as a sex worker after her dead body was discovered in a flat in Aberdeen." (Metro)
"A MUM found dead in a rented flat planned to sell sex there for two days." (The Sun)
The downgrading of victimhood for social undesirables is nothing new. Death, if you're a sex worker, a drug addict or a suspected gang member, for instance, is, to be blunt, kind of your own fault. Certainly, the public isn't encouraged to look at you with quite as much sympathy as your innocent neighbour. Well you're not exactly innocent are you?
At the time of Peter Sutcliffe's trial, in 1981, Sir Michael Havers, then Attorney General of Britain, made a public statement about the nature of the "Ripper's" crimes. Specifically, he made some handy suggestions for people who were wondering how sad they should feel about the women Sutcliffe has murdered, many of whom were sex workers. "Some [victims] were prostitutes," Havers said. "But perhaps the saddest part of this case is that some were not."
The gutter press has made much of the fact that Jessica was a mother. When a woman is murdered and leaves behind a child, this is of course the central heartbreak. But the angle taken by Metro et al is less focused on the tragedy of Jessica's son and more concerned with highlighting the immorality of supporting her child in this way to begin with.
"She described herself as 'classic, stylish, naughty, horny, sexy'," sniggered the Daily Record. "Topless photos on her profile page had her face blurred out."
It continues: "On the flip side, Jessica's own social media sites showed that she was a devoted mum describing her son as 'the love of my life'."
The flip side. Because motherhood is the polar opposite of whoredom. Never mind that an estimated 70 percent of UK sex workers are mothers, that rancid Tory cuts have disproportionately affected women leaving many desperate to find ways to feed their children. Never mind that, really, the story behind Jessica's death is that a woman was working two jobs to support her child. That she was forced by backward laws to work alone.
The Record quotes Jessica's ex-husband, Gareth McGraa, as saying: "She was a very pious girl. She dragged me to church even." Oh the contradiction. A Mary Magdalene indeed.
UK sex workers are 12 times more likely to be murdered than their non-sex working counterparts. Behind this lies stigma. Women are killed by men because men feel entitled, feel superior, believe women owe them something, are disposable things. And parallel to this – at the vortex of misogyny, racism, sexual shame and male supremacy – lies sex work, the most stigmatised occupation in the world.
There's nothing innately good or bad about the exchange of sex for money, or no more so than any other form of paid labour. It's just a transaction. But sex work doesn't happen in a vacuum and, as such, it is subject to the hierarchies and inequalities that shape the world. A special place of disgust is reserved for prostitutes in popular imagination; they're symbols of degeneracy, tragic victims, filthy whores.
Jessica's killer was supported by this social hatred. Maybe she felt like a morally uncomplicated target. And right there, backing up the killer's actions, validating Jessica as a culturally legitimate victim, are you, gutter press. Hang your heads in fucking shame.
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