BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

Emotive words

Matt Morris | 16:07 UK time, Monday, 11 December 2006

When someone's been murdered, does it matter what they did for a living?

Radio Five Live logoMany people have contacted BBC News to complain that we have made a point of describing the women who've been killed in the Ipswich area as "prostitutes". The problem must be the description, and not the language. At least once on Five Live we referred to the women as "sex workers". This euphemism hardly rebuts the basic complaint, expressed succinctly in one text message we received - "just call them women".

The complaint took two forms - we wouldn't bother to report that a murder victim was, say, a plumber, and when we report that the victim was a prostitute we are being judgemental and implying that her life was less worthy than another's. In the end I don't think either of these points bears much scrutiny. It all comes down to reporting the relevant facts.

In this case, the fact that the women were prostitutes was crucially relevant. It suggests, if nothing else, that prostitution is a dangerous way to earn a living and that a prostitute is more likely than most people to meet a murderer. That has to be the starting point of the police inquiry. The assistant chief constable of Suffolk has urged prostitutes in the area to stay off the streets.

And implying that a prostitute's life is less worthy than another's? We protect ourselves from that accusation partly by neutral, impartial presentation of the facts. OK, but sometimes people have an emotional response to the news however it is framed. That means there should be careful scrutiny of headlines and scripts to avoid the unnecessary use of emotive words such as "prostitute".

It also means asking the type of questions asked on Five Live this morning - i.e. when a prostitute is murdered, do the police devote as much time to the inquiry as they would to any other murder?

Comments

You would call them plumbers though, if a number of plumbers had been killed in similar circumstances, wouldn't you?

  • 2.
  • At 04:56 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Stephen Turner wrote:

I bet if several plumbers had disappeared you would mention that they were all plumbers.

  • 3.
  • At 04:59 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • D WILLIAMS wrote:

I think that the word "prostitute" should not be used. Think of the surviving relatives who maybe unaware of this fact, it would be a terrible way to find out.

  • 4.
  • At 05:09 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Malk Williams wrote:

Although I take the point that your complainants make, I think that the Beeb is right to carry on as it as been doing. Apart from anything else, the fact that all three of the reported victims were prostitutes is an obvious link between them. I suspect that if three plumbers were murdered during the course of their work, the fact that they were plumbers would indeed be reported.

If only one woman had been killed, and this had been during the course of her work as a prostitute, I likewise think that a mention of her profession in this context would still be relevant for the resaons you cite.

  • 5.
  • At 05:22 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Trevor Hinkley wrote:

Tell it as it is!!
A prositute is a prostitute whatever you feel morally.

If the PC word now for 'prositute'
(one who sells sex,)is 'Sex Worker' does that make my wife and I who do it with each other 'free of charge' :
'VOLUNTARY Sex workers?'

  • 6.
  • At 06:02 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Mr Pineapples wrote:

Why is everyone having a go at plumbers? They do a good job and are not over paid as some people suggest.

  • 7.
  • At 06:03 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Mark Roberts wrote:

In almost every murder case that I've seen reported has mentioned the occupation of the victim, whatever profession he/she was in.

I do not understand what the difficulty is, especially when all the victims worked in the same type of role.

I personally dislike PC terms like "sex worker"; PC names for occupation, sex or race, are in my opinion, an insult in themselves. I actually think that if prostitution was a little more respected and protected, a great deal more safety would be given to those involved, and the police would get greater assistance when real, terrible crimes such as these need solving.

  • 8.
  • At 06:04 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Ann Kenny wrote:

Point taken about a group of individuals with a common link. However the BBC had described the women as prostitues even before it was reported that here were multiple murders.

The word prostitute does not have to be used in the first sentance of every single report. Have some respect for the dead.

  • 9.
  • At 06:05 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • John B wrote:

Nobody complained about Suzy Lamplugh being described as an estate agent. Suzy is believed to have met her killer in the course of her work.

One can only assume that the murdered prostitutes met their killer(s) in the course of their work as well.

As others have said, if plumbers started disappearing after visiting client sites the fact they were plumbers would be mentioned, and rightly so.

  • 10.
  • At 06:05 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Mart G wrote:

Its standard practice for news organisations to report a "police officer" being murdered whilst on duty.

Again, I think most people would consider the inclusion of the police officer's profession relevant if they'd been killed in the line of duty.

  • 11.
  • At 06:05 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Dan Dennis wrote:

The BBC cannot let its reporting of the relevent facts be hampered by political correctness. That would be censorship, and who knows where it would lead...

  • 12.
  • At 06:07 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Oskar M wrote:

@ D WILLIAMS.
About the relatives finding out that they are prostitutes, and that being a factor why they shouldn't call them 'prostitutes' is not relevant in my opinion. They would still get that information from somewhere else, be it from the streets, some other newspaper or the TV.

  • 13.
  • At 06:09 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • steve wrote:

John charles menenzes was a contract electician.
Nobody has explained what contract he was working on.

  • 14.
  • At 06:10 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • M Birkby wrote:

During the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry, because of the constant use of the word 'prostitute' in the news reports 'ordinary' women believed they were safe - until he started attacking non-prostitutes. If every headline is 'prostitute killed' then women in general are going to believe they're safe. If the headlines, the part that catches our eye and sticks in our head is 'women murdered', all women will be more careful. I'm not saying the fact they are prostitutes shouldn't be mentioned, just that it shouldn't be part of the headline

  • 15.
  • At 06:10 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Jon wrote:

I would hope that the surviving relatives would be a lot more concerned with the disappearances/murders themselves than with the women's professions, if both were to be revealed to them simultaneously.

  • 16.
  • At 06:13 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Mike wrote:

A similar concern I have (mostly in the Press rather than the broadcast media) is when someone is killed and a very little money is stolen. Typical headlines say "Killed for just 50p". This seems to imply that it would have been OK if it had been £1,000 or £1 million which was stolen.

  • 17.
  • At 06:13 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • wendy f wrote:

it doesnt matter what job a person does, while i personally dont agree with prostitution, these women deserve to be treat with the same respect as anyone else whom has been murdered. these women are someone elses daughters. i ask you how would you react if it was one of your own children.

  • 18.
  • At 06:17 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Fatima Manji wrote:

Identifying the women as prostitutes is important as their roles are not just occupations but in many cases refer to specific lifestyles.

Secondly by identifying them as prostitutes, it will highlight bigger issues about the way in which prostitutes are percieved in society - it will be interesting to see the way in which the police deal with this case and the general public reaction

  • 19.
  • At 06:18 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • dean wrote:

All this talk of plumbers is irrelevant. Of course the BBC would mention the occupation of a murder victim, just like the banker in Elgin, and the take-away delivery man in Glasgow. They would also give information such as their age, marital status, hobbies, etc in order to give the listener enough information to make up their own minds.
When the victims of a serial killer in Paisley were all elderly ladies, that's exactly what the media reported them as being.
If prostitutes are being murdered in a particular area, then it is only fitting that any female working there should be given as much warning as possible.
Those who are offended by prostitutes being called prostitutes need to have a long hard look at themselves.

The man police shot dead at Stockwell was described as "a Brazilian electrician". If three (or five) women of the same profession are found dead in a small area, perhaps the job has something to do with it. And, dare I suggest it, that job carries certain hazzards.

  • 21.
  • At 06:19 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Martyn wrote:

The unfortunate case of the man murdered in Henley over the weekend does identify that he worked in sales. So I dont see a problem with stating the occupation, especially when they probably came to thier untimely end due to thier occupation.

  • 22.
  • At 06:20 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • John Plumber wrote:

What is is with you all talking about plumbers being killed. I dare not go out to work now. Then again, if I were a prostitute, then I would not venture out myself either. These women need to know the dangers occuring in their areas. I'm sure my wife would like to know if there were women being murdered on their way home from Bingo. Rather than reporting just on their way home from "being out". Prostitution is not a legal profession, and these women are the easy target for these sick excuses for human beings out on our streets.

  • 23.
  • At 06:21 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Alex wrote:

I think the mentioning of 'prostitutes' merely signifies a connection in the murders.

If it were bakers or plumbers and more than one then the job description would be used in that case also (as per no.1’s comment.)

Anyone who takes offence of the use of the victim’s occupation is being a wet Political Correctness flannel in being oversensitive to the descriptor.

It's important for people to understand that the victims are all of the same occupation, regardless of what that occupation is.

  • 24.
  • At 06:21 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

I don't see the fuss, whenever there's a murder news story the occupation, nationality, ethnic background, age, gender and homeplace of the victim is nearly always mentioned, regardless of who they were.

In the case of a suspected serial murder the BBC surely has a duty to report whatever criteria the victims have in common, not least so that other people know that they might be targets of further attacks.

  • 25.
  • At 06:21 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Gary Moss wrote:

Of course its relevant to the case. If a key fact was all of the victims were white and over 6 ft I would expect the police to say that.
I do not think any less of the victims because of the work they do same as I would not think any more if it was 5 school teachers that had been killed. Its just one of the facts that needs to be highlighted to the public to help the police catch this serial killer. I think the main driver behind this is that the police obviously need support and help from the prostitutes and their clients.

  • 26.
  • At 06:21 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

It is one thing I find very annoying although ironically in this case it seems appropriate. Whenever the case of Tom ap Rhys Pryce was mentioned it was always stated he was a lawyer. It seems totally irrelevant. Similarly Mark Hobson was always described as an ex dustman. How is this germane? Steven Langford, kicked to death in Oxfordshire, is described as a salesman. What has this to do with his murder?

Please cut it out unless it is important. And for the record if the Beeb ever mentions me, please state that I am a son and brother rather than a construction worker! (Unless relevant)

  • 27.
  • At 06:22 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • chrissie wrote:

I believe it is the duty of the police to make sure the public knows to be wary. serial killers often follow a parlicular m.o. So, sex workers/prostitues whatever you want to call them need to be even more vigilant. This should however not lure other women into a false sense of security. This (probably) man has obviously a strong urge to kill and may deviate from his usual habits if he has to.

  • 28.
  • At 06:22 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • J Miller wrote:

The Beeb and other media have been critised at various times for describing people by their age, sex, nationality, colour, marital status, sexuality, job, disability... I'm sure the list goes on. But you have to give some descriptions in your report. Otherwise it would be, "something has happened to someone you don't know, er, somewhere". Not very informative! We trust the Beeb to not over-sensationalise the details, but you also have a duty to draw us a picture, and telling us someone's job is a good start.

  • 29.
  • At 06:23 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • AJ wrote:

It should never make a difference what job someone does.

These girls were murdered, they have families, friends and they deserve to be respected just as much as anyone else whose life is stolen from them.

If this is a serial killer, what will the comments be if a victim is proven not to be a prostitute...as was the case with the Yorkshire Ripper...not all of his victims were prostitutes were they?

These girls who have died and the others who are missing should be given respect and those who say that they are lesser beings just because of the work they do, should look closely at themselves and say 'there by the grace of god, go I'.

Someone is killing women...those women are sisters, daughters, mothers...they are flesh and blood...and their lives have been taken away by a mindless act of depravity and violence. Give them and their families respect.

  • 30.
  • At 06:23 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Ian Stirling wrote:

It matters.

When builders die, hard hats get introduced.
When pilots die, air transport gets improved.

When prostitutes die, the police make some noises for several months, issue the same press release, and nothing happens.

Legalise and tax it.

  • 31.
  • At 06:23 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Cal Mattock wrote:

Prostitution is not the only occupation that requires working alone at night - taxi drivers and night attendants at petrol stations do it, too.

When an occupation links the victims of a series of crimes, it is a legitimate part of the story, regardless of what that occupation is.

  • 32.
  • At 06:24 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Raymond Morrison wrote:

I agree that references to the women's work should not be made unless it is relevant. it is relevant now that a number have been killed and their type of work is the obvious link. But the first one should have been reported as a 'woman', not a 'prostitute'.

It is very clear from the tone of the BBC reports that judgement is being made regarding the victims, almost that as prostitutes they less important members of society.

It is the same as the reporting that went on in Northern Ireland during the 'Troubles', and to some extent still does, e.g. "a protestant/catholic man was killed today.....".

It is all irrelevant and to report it in this way only serves to perpetuate prejudice.

I think it is correct in this instance to say what the victims work was -they seem to be the ones at risk and it at least lets other prostitutes, sex workers etc in that area know that they could be being targeted. It's a very alarming case - it would seem to be the work of one person but if the deaths aren't related it could be even worse in that there are several murderers on the loose.I think the coverage has been handled properly and hasn't been sensationalised.

People seem to think that the word "prostitute" conveys some sort of moral judgement on the person described. In fact, it is a totally factual label and is neutral in tone. I can't think of any better word to neutrally describe a woman of that profession, and there are many which would be both demeaning and probably considered offensive in their own right.

The situation is tied together by their profession. To not mention it would be a serious error. Three murders and two disappearances, all in one profession and one area surely apeaks loud enough.

Further, what else is available but "prostitute"? The BBC can barely describe them as "ladies of the night" or "fun time sex girls". "Prostitute" would seem to be the least loaded word.

  • 36.
  • At 06:27 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Pippa Brook wrote:

Are the complainants upset about the BBC using the word ‘prostitute’? Or are they in fact upset over their own reaction to the word?

The most I can say is that were prostitution legal in the UK, then these women would probably be safe now. It’s likely a mix of the fact the murderer is looking for prostitutes as victims, and the fact that there aren’t enough safe environments for women who sell sex for a living.

If I had to pick on the BBC for anything, it would be for not making it clear that by referring to ‘prostitutes’ they are in fact referring to women who by necessity spend amounts of time on their own on street corners (at night) interacting with strangers.

  • 37.
  • At 06:28 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Carl Siracusa wrote:

The BBC was reporting the first victim as a prostitute when no others were known to have been murdered. Which is wrong. Since at the time there was no reported evidence that her murder was somehow connected to her profession, there was no reason to mention it -- and doing so did indeed pander to the common belief that somehow she "got what was coming to her."

I do admit, however, that now that more prostitute victims have been discovered, it is highly likely that their profession did have something to do with their fate, and the occupational identifier is more justified.

  • 38.
  • At 06:29 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Ros wrote:

Their lives are as valuable as any others but their lifestyle places them at greater risk than average. Since part of the reason for the publicity is to jog people's memories, the description as 'prostitute' or 'sex worker' may help passers-by to recall seeing them and I hope then phone the Police.
It also helps to underline the risks to other young people considering embarking on the activity.

  • 39.
  • At 06:32 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

OF course it doesnt these girls found these jobs through different paths ALL capable of being loved all Victims most of life.. This government has bought our society to its knees there are some who are addicted to drugs which are freely available thanks to labours open door

  • 40.
  • At 06:33 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • leon wrote:

If it was a police officer, fire fighter , diplomat or train driver who had been murdered, we wouldn't have an issue about their profession being revealed. The discussion so far seems to demonstrate much more about our own prejudices about someone working as a prostitute.

  • 41.
  • At 06:34 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Robin Devereux wrote:

I do not think the word prostitute should be used as a headline, particularlly in the context "another prostitute missing" They are young women and how they earned her living does not make them less worthy of respect. Reffering to their proffession in text as a link to their deaths is understandable, but please have respect for the women and their families.

  • 42.
  • At 06:36 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Keith wrote:

A job's a job, as far as I'm concerned. Given that so far all the victims found have been prostitutes, it's obviously relevant.

I don't care for the euphemism 'sex workers' though.

Frankly I'm more concerned that the police find the culprit - if there is indeed only one perpetrator - before he kills any others.

  • 43.
  • At 06:38 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • John, Devon wrote:

I was one of the people who originally complained about this.

Your response is quite frankly patronising and smug. You say you protect yourselves against the accusation by "neutral, impartial presentation of the facts". That is exactly what you were NOT doing in the initial reporting and why I complained. I note you have in this evening's reporting changed the language and tone significantly, so maybe some good has come of the complaints.

But this begs another question. Who decides whether you are "neutral and impartial"? You could just as easily have described them from the start as "Women who work in the sex industry", as some later reports have done.

I asked whether there are not editorial guidelines on choice of wording on this type of sensitite story. Are there? And if not, why not?

  • 44.
  • At 06:39 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Terry Schofield wrote:

The fact that these young ladies were involved in the oldest profession in the world does not make them fair game for the PERVERT that has taken their lives. They had the right to make their living the way they chose and we should report any relevant issue or link to other crimes to help the police to find the person responsible. Perhaps we can then turn the guilty party over to the DO GOODERS in our society who will no doubt give them a gentle slap on the wrist and tel them "not to do it again".What we call these young ladies can't hurt their familes more than they are hurting now!

  • 45.
  • At 06:40 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Jerry Woolner wrote:

Unfortunately, I do believe it's very relevant to mention that these women were prostitutes - not to be judgemental, but to identify them as members of a highly vulnerable group of people. Time and again, studies show that women don't go into street prostitution as a vocation, but mostly through desperation, and that they are constantly at risk of violence from their clients. Clearly, if someone is targetting prostitutes in that area, the police and media have a duty to warn everyone who might be at particular risk. If they didn't, then I would feel they were discriminating against prostitutes.
I agree it would be a terrible shock to a victim's relatives to find out she was a prostitute after she had been murdered, but surely it is better to worry about protecting the lives of those still alive than about the sensibilities of the relatives of the deceased. What's worse - to find out she was a prostitute, or to find out she'd been murdered?

  • 46.
  • At 06:47 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Steve wrote:

"A person or persons unknown" is not a term that figures in this commentary. It has been assumed, rightly or wrongly that the crimes have been perpetrated by a man acting alone, when in fact they could have been committed by two men, a women, more than one women, a man and a woman or any other combination - even a gang of female plumbers!

  • 47.
  • At 06:53 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Monty wrote:

The BBC and others are right to use this term. Prostitution is illegal, the fact that three people from this "illegal profession" has been murdered is very unfortunate but requires impartial reporting. If three bus drivers, teachers, circus performers, plumbers, rapists or car thieves had been murdered that would be reported with equal importance. Good luck to the Officers charged with investigating this matter; they will be busting a gut to catch the person/s responsible irrespective of the persons colour, creed, gender and certainly occupation - illegal or otherwise.

  • 48.
  • At 07:10 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

This most important thing is that these young women were someone's daughter or mothers themselves. We should not judge people because of the way the earn a living.These women are trying to survive in a harsh world.No-one except those close to them may know their reasons for doing what they did. Just mourne the loss of human life.

  • 49.
  • At 07:10 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Mohammed wrote:

Not only were their jobs relevant to their murders, but there also needs to be warning for other prostitutes in the area.

  • 50.
  • At 07:14 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Alan wrote:

I believe it is significantly relevant that you do include a reference to prostitutes - we are obviously dealing with a pervert who targets prostitutes, so it is a relevant factor (just as it would be if the target was, for example, nurses).
I feel really sorry for the people whose main concern is your reporting nomenclature - aren't they bothered about the fate of the victims ?

  • 51.
  • At 07:17 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Tracy wrote:

Being called a "prositute" is only an insult if the girls are not one. It is inverted snobbery to complain about the term and is insulting that their means of living must "not be mentioned". Don't do the working girls an injustice by PC arguing at a time that these poor girls must be terrifird for their lives and facing uncertain financial hardship at christmas. Some of these girls have children dependant on them and many are drug dependant and work so they don't have to steal. What are these girls to do? More importantly, if you must argue and complain... how about a more worthy topic, such as, why society allows these girls to become so desperate that they are forced onto the streets to risk their lives in the first place.

  • 52.
  • At 07:19 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Elvis wrote:

The trouble is part of the police's job was to warn other prostitutes they may be in danger from a potential serial killer. It would sound rather odd if the BBC reported: "Three women have been murdered in Ipswich, oh, and by the way, be careful if you're a prostitute in that area too ..."

Unfortunately in this case there's no other way to do the story. The fact they were sex workers appears to be absolutely key to telling the story, no matter the feelings of the relatives.

  • 53.
  • At 07:19 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Chris Huff wrote:

You would probably refer to plumbers as "general waterwork technicians", just not to upset electricians, postmen and other similar professionals who would think you were using a more degrading "common" term rather than describing the actual job they do. It would also break the monotony of seeing the word "plumber" in every sentence.

  • 54.
  • At 07:22 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Paul Manson wrote:

I'm interested in the opposite phenomenon: that when a person is accused of committing a crime their profession and age are almost always noted by both the police and the media.

Is it really relevant that Mr Smith, accused of molesting small furry animals, is a 42-year-old tax inspector? Is the implication that I should suspect other tax inspectors of similar illegal activities? Should I avoid associating with 42-year-olds?

The profession of a victim may sometimes be irrelevant, but the profession of the accused almost always is!

  • 55.
  • At 07:23 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Chris Huff wrote:

You would probably refer to plumbers as "general waterwork technicians", just not to upset electricians, postmen and other similar professionals who would think you were using a more degrading "common" term rather than describing the actual job they do. It would also break the monotony of seeing the word "plumber" in every sentence.

  • 56.
  • At 07:25 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Doug Smith wrote:

All murders should be investigated thoroughly. It is relevent what these girls did for a living, they are always in danger in one form or another. I see nothing wrong in a girl being a prostitute. There is an obvious demand for the services or they would be out of work. The danger is always there when 2 strangers are alone - Prostitutes are often in contact with the sexual devients who often want more than just sex, This killer could have targeted children or your wives,this is a real danger for the people in the area.
Poor girls, trying to make a living
is not easy in any walk of life these days. I do hope they find the killer very soon

  • 57.
  • At 07:27 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Duncan Andison wrote:

If the news did not report them as being prostitutes and another prostitute then went out to work and was murdered, the complaint would then be, "Why did the news authorities not make prostitutes aware of the possible danger?. Is it because a they believe prostitutes aren't worth saving?"

A lot of the news we have to hear today is sad and not very pleasant but it still has to be told without editing out crucial information! especially when it could save someone’s life!

  • 58.
  • At 07:27 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Rita Elliott wrote:

First, let's figure out whether the word 'prostitute' still has a huge stigma attached to it. I think not.
Therefore it was the appropriate word to use. It's the only link between the three women.

  • 59.
  • At 07:28 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Joanna wrote:

The BBC is reporting the facts as they have them. The women were prostitutes and pretending they were not might put other prostitutes in danger. On the other hand the murders are horrible and certainly no less so because of what the woman did for a living.

I'm sorry to see that you appear to be having the same problems with the armies of "political correctness" on your side of the big pond. The simple fact is that if the women were prostitutes, referring to them thusly constitutes nothing more than reporting the news. In response to the woman who says "Think of the surviving relatives who maybe unaware of this fact, it would be a terrible way to find out." - unless the BBC turned those women out on the street and on to a life of prostitution, it is not responsible for the choices they have made in life. If it were reported for malicious reasons, that would be questionable, but still defensible.

  • 61.
  • At 07:34 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Robert Holbach wrote:

You're right. It is an important fact in this case. But is it headline-important, or second-paragraph-important?

I suspect that there would be a noticeably different effect on readers if the "emotive" word appeared one or two sentences later.

  • 62.
  • At 07:35 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Deborah wrote:

I think it is entirely relevant to mention that the murdered and missing women work as prostitutes. Where I find issue with the media descriptions is that this appears to soley define these women who are clearly many other things besides. It is a different matter for other professions as they do not convey an over-riding stigma which negates all other facets of their lives and personality, nor do fairly large sectors of society feel that crime against plumbers is somehow excuseable because of their profession.

  • 63.
  • At 07:36 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Mike Orton wrote:

The very point of the story is that there 3 (or perhaps 5) women who are the victims of a possible serial killer have something in common,their work.
It would be just the same as if 3 female solicitors had been murdered by a suspected serial killer and two more solicitors were missing.

It also gives a possible motive, the killer doesn't like solicitors or prostitutes, or whatever common job they did.


You are quite right to point out that the fact all five women are prostitutes is very relevant - particularly with the reports of anxiety in the town and other women feeling in danger http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6166635.stm].
However I don't agree with the statement
"In the end I don't think either of these points bears much scrutiny. It all comes down to reporting the relevant facts."
The language used is very important and perhaps it needs to be seen / heard that the corporation is chosing to report the facts most impartially: especially given the reinforcement effect of repeating the headlines so many times during the day.

I would conclude similarly, though, that the action is for "careful scrutiny of headlines and scripts to avoid the unnecessary use of emotive words such as 'prostitute'". For example that the victims and missing persons should always be described on first mention as women, in the headline; before reporting that they all are/were prostitutes - or perhaps better still all worked as prostitutes.
To be fair two of the headlines of linked stories for the online article [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/suffolk/6168697.stm] use neutral terms.

One the second point the comparison with plumbers seems less relevant - the corporation may indeed report that the person was a plumber, but because the term has less emotive weight it matters less, to their reputation, to be described as a plumber than as a prostitute. A more interesting scenario would be with an unsympathetic 'occupations': perhaps a case where the victim was a convicted sex offender. On principle it would still be relevant to phrase this as neutrally as possible, but would people care - to uphold the value of that person's life - as much?

  • 65.
  • At 07:53 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Khanh Ngo wrote:

If you intentionally choose NOT to use the word "Prostitutes" in these tragic deaths of the women who are taking big risks making a living, then you have already had bad feeling towards them.

I read the word "prostitutes" in the context, and all I can relate was that they are in a very vulnerable situation doing their job.

What you hold in your mind matters more than what other people suggest you should think.

  • 66.
  • At 07:56 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Dave Browne wrote:

What's the alternative? "Someone was killed somewhere, somehow." You might as well not bother!

Any news story will be made more tangible and gain news value if it includes plenty of facts. Yes, it may be insensitve to broadcast details that innocent victims or their families would rather remained private. But with every fact left out of a story such as this, its power to inform seeps away.

  • 67.
  • At 08:26 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • diane wrote:

when i heard that some ladies had been murdered and that they just happened to be prostitutes, I immediately thought of the Yorkshire ripper. How these young ladies earn their living is their business, and how sad for their relatives that they have been callously murdered. Lets hope there isnt another yorkshire ripper , because the last time , the police force kept missing vital clues, and there were extra unneccessary victims.

  • 68.
  • At 08:59 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

OF course it doesnt these girls found these jobs through different paths ALL capable of being loved all Victims most of life.. This government has bought our society to its knees there are some who are addicted to drugs which are freely available thanks to labours open door

  • 69.
  • At 09:47 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Steve wrote:

(I think it is interesting that 3 out of 4 people used "plumbers" in their examples. What is that saying about our thoughts of plumbers?)

  • 70.
  • At 09:54 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Matt, I admit I haven't followed all the coverage on this so I can't rush to a judgement. I think you may have missed the point some of the others were making. Their concern may have been around the impression that the victims were reported almost as prostitutes first, women and human beings second.

I agree their occupation is germane to the story, but I think sensitivity is also required here. After all, we can't be 100% sure that there is a single, male perpetrator as yet. And therefore whilst it seems likely he or she or they would have known their occupation, I don't think we can make that assumption at this stage.

  • 71.
  • At 10:37 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Julie wrote:

Maybe the problem is that when the victim of a crime is a prostitute, people tend to dismiss her or him as somehow less than human. I've just watched the news on television, and believe the BBC are doing a good job in making it clear that this is happening to your daughter, sister, friend, next door neighbour.

  • 72.
  • At 11:16 PM on 11 Dec 2006,
  • Adrian Phillips wrote:

After Gary Bradley was murdered in a Leeds park in September 2002 BBC News published the article, “Man admits solicitor murder”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/3158928.stm
Mr Bradley was actually retired and his former job was irrelevant to the circumstances of his murder.

After Tom ap Rhys Pryce was murdered in a London street in January 2006 BBC News published the articles,
“Two men guilty of lawyer’s murder”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6176854.stm

“Lawyer’s life cut cruelly short”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/6188860.stm

Again, his job was irrelevant to the circumstances of his murder, but I doubt that anyone complained when the BBC reported that he worked for “a leading London law firm”.

If those lawyers had been plumbers would the BBC have run headlines saying, “Man admits plumber murder” and “Plumber’s life cut cruelly short”?

In the Ipswich case the victims’ occupation is so central that simply calling them “women” would be like saying that in 1888 Jack the Ripper killed “five women” (when it is significant that all of them were prostitutes). Sanitising the news is bad journalism.

  • 73.
  • At 01:50 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Jeremy wrote:

I think that there is a problem here.

Allow me to stretch this debate one degree further. According to the BBC, Acts of terror can be called terror but you can't then call the perpetrators terrorists, on the grounds that this "can be a barrier to understanding" (and I'd love to know who came up with that line). The points made in 43 and 60 are excellent The second (60) first. "The simple fact is that if the women were prostitutes, referring to them thusly constitutes nothing more than reporting the news". 100%. Nothing is implied, nothing is deemed to be judgemental, just that the women who were murdered (and murdered is the correct word) were prostitutes: This is what they did for a living, be warm about them as people but don't shy away from the simple truth of what they did.

The first point (43) next, John in Devon wrote:

"Your response is quite frankly patronising and smug. You say you protect yourselves against the accusation by "neutral, impartial presentation of the facts". That is exactly what you were NOT doing in the initial reporting and why I complained. I note you have in this evening's reporting changed the language and tone significantly, so maybe some good has come of the complaints.

But this begs another question. Who decides whether you are "neutral and impartial"? You could just as easily have described them from the start as "Women who work in the sex industry", as some later reports have done."

Who indeed decides whether the BBC is being impartial? The BBC write articles and in them is tone and nuance implicit to the articles.

Just as the the women who were killed were prostitues and their living played a the vital (and frankly rather obvious) link between all the cases, so too when someone goes around killing innocent civilians in the name of a political or religious cause, they are a terrorist, and referring to them thusly, constitutes nothing more than reporting the news.

No judgements, no tone, just reporting of the plain fact.

Otherwise, no can be called anything, whether in connection of what they do for a living or by being discriptive of what they've done for the fear that calling them this name/label "can be a barrier to understanding".

This is why the BBC's position on this makes no sense either logically or emotively, cos if you can't apply this evenly then you can't apply it at all.....


  • 74.
  • At 02:12 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Paul Kynman wrote:

Isn’t it about time we stopped forcing these women out onto the street to earn a living illegally with the threat of prosecution on one hand and assault or murder on the other. Shouldn’t they be allowed to work in a safe environment?

By continuing to criminalise prostitution we put sex workers at risk.

Being that this is the oldest profession, can we not, as a supposedly caring society, offer these people the same sort of safe working environment the rest of us take for granted, regardless of whether we approve of what and how they work?

  • 75.
  • At 06:22 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Charlene wrote:

Calling these victims prostitutes is important for two reasons: it puts the pressure on police to investigate the crimes and not sweep them under the rug, and it points out that prostitution is a dangerous business. I would consider it both unethical and inaccurate to not call them prostitutes. However, unless the police are certain the victim was chosen because he or she was a prostitute, I don't think that the victim's profession has to be front and centre in the article. (In fact, I would say this of any victim. If somebody is killed because they are a prostitute, plumber, or professor, their profession is important. If not, not.)

I'd like to see the BBC take a deeper look at why young people end up in a life of prostitution in the first place. There's often a perception among the smug and self-satisfied that they are weak people who deliberately turned their backs on a good, loving home to live a life of sin. One study from Canada, however, showed that the vast majority of female prostitutes surveyed either suffered from some sort of neurological condition (fetal alcohol syndrome, especially), were repeatedly sexually and physically abused as children, or were driven from their homes by an antagonistic family member, most commonly a stepfather. Most turned to drugs and prostitution not through a truly informed free choice but because prostitution kept them alive and drugs cushioned their self-loathing.

As for "Labour's open door" - this is a comment bred of a common but unfortunate rose-coloured-glasses view of the past. There are one-tenth the number of prostitutes on the streets of any major city now than there were in 1906. Just because the media show us reality instead of protecting us from it doesn't mean the past was some magical vice-free paradise. And as for drugs supposedly being more available than in the past: heroin might not have existed in 1906, but they had laudanum, a drug that can enslave the unwary as effectively as any other. They also had very cheap gin.

  • 76.
  • At 09:00 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • John Henry wrote:

Quote: "3. At 04:59 PM on 11 Dec 2006, D WILLIAMS wrote:
I think that the word "prostitute" should not be used. Think of the surviving relatives who maybe unaware of this fact, it would be a terrible way to find out."

Imagine that.

"Mildred! Our darling daughter's been 'offed' by a bad man!"

"That's a shame Arthur. Still, at least she wasn't a prostitute"

"..."

  • 77.
  • At 09:01 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Cecilia Weightman wrote:

The man who is killing these women is doing is so because they are prostitutes. They are available to him, vulnerable because they are waiting to be picked up off the street and although street-wise, less wary than other women. They take risks that a secretary wouldn't as part of their job. Yes it is relevant to mention their profession but it should be also relevant to report that just because the man is targetting prostitutes it doesn't mean that all other women are safe. All sorts of reasons drive women to be prostitutes and we should be grateful we don't have to do their job. Let's send some positive thoughts to them and their families.

  • 78.
  • At 09:30 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

Quite apart from the fact that these women were prostitutes is of great relevance to the case. Whats wrong with calling them prostitutes? Thats what they are, criminal desease spreading drug addicts. And yes there lives are worth less than the hard working people paying tax for what they do often paying for them when they get themselves in trouble.

  • 79.
  • At 11:01 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Gina wrote:

I think that its passed time to for those that write the news scripts to drop the prostitute tag. They are using this as some kind of defining factor. There was far more to these women that the fact they worked as prostitutes.

In other murder cases the chosen occupation of the victim is not stated and restated over and over again.

It's getting to the stage that they sound like kids being allowed to say a dirty word.

  • 80.
  • At 11:06 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Bill Clark wrote:

These are good points, I have noticed in Switzerland that when a crime is commited and someone is caught if that person is non Swiss e.g. from
Serbia, croatia that part of the world the news paper headlines are "young man commits crime. If it is a Swiss person the newspapers say "Swiss young man commits crime" this is political correctness , but to me in the wrong direction.
The people that read the press can see thru this.

Remember you cannot please all the people all the time.

Tell it like it is.

BRGDS Bill

  • 81.
  • At 11:29 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Imogen wrote:

The irony is that by people saying "respect the dead and stop calling them prostitutes" are obviously the ones with the real problem with "sex workers". I think everyone is aware that prostitutes still operate today, and I think it's fair to assume that it is a dangerous occupation just as drug dealing/trafficking is a dangerous occupation - by working outside of the law you make yourself far more vulnerable and far less visible. Apart from their location (which is also mentioned in the first sentence of every article), their occupation seems to be their common link, which is a very important thing to identify.

  • 82.
  • At 11:38 AM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Julie wrote:

From an early age we are taught never to go off with strangers. Most women, (unless very drunk, or drugged) would never get into a car with a strange man. For prostitutes doing just this is often part of the job description, and therefore they are uniquely vulnerable. Because of this it IS relevant to mention their profession in this case, and does not imply judgement on their way of earning a living.

  • 83.
  • At 12:13 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Jess wrote:

I don't object to the use of the word prostitute when it is clearly a link between these tragic deaths.

But I do think putting it in the headline makes it too prominent - and makes it resemble the unacceptably judgmental headlines about "vice girls" that some papers have been using.

  • 84.
  • At 12:19 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Al wrote:

I agree with the news coverage of the story. At the moment 3 prostitutes are dead are 2 are missing. At the moment the only link between all five is that they are prostitutes and hence the warning to other female prostitutes in the area to stay off the streets. However, comments above have stated that it makes other women feel safe because it is only prostitutes being attacked.

Of all the news coverage I have heard and watched it is being made fairly clear that any woman in the area should not be going out alone and have a plan of how they will be getting home. So how can anyone say the media coverage is misleading?

As far as I'm concerned the media and the police are doing the most they can to get the message across.

  • 85.
  • At 12:39 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • John wrote:

What does it matter?!? I think the main point here is women are being murdered by what they believe is a serial killer! Isn't that a bit more important than we're all PC by making sure we dont offend someone. If we spent as much time bickering about what people actually knew about the case we might get a bit closer to catching the person doing it. But carry on, this trivial nonsense will go on regardless!

  • 86.
  • At 12:49 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

Let's be honest about this: if a plumber were murdered, you probably wouldn't bother to report it at all. It's the fact that the victims are prostitutes that makes this such a big story, because I'm sure the first thing they teach you at journalist school is that any story somehow related to sex sells.

  • 87.
  • At 01:04 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Justin Ward wrote:

The following quote from the one of the forensic investigation team is used twice on the news page and is completely unacceptable:

"My worry is that his perception of women will change and he will see any woman who's out on the street at night on their own as a prostitute."

What was meant, presumably, was 'victim'. In this context the word 'prostitute' becomes a pejorative, and betrays a (not unexpected) lack of sensitivity to the issue on the doctor's behalf. This does not bode well for the investigation.

BBC 2 News just now mentioned the word prostitutes constantly. These women have families, possibly children, parents, etc., what about their sensibilities. It is okay to mention, for example, 'women who work in the red light district' once, but then for goodness sake give them the dignity of 'women'. Those who do work there must all know about these awful crimes- stop being so sensationalist and think of others for a change.

  • 89.
  • At 01:37 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

EMOTIVE WORDS

Emotive words have been a major part of the journalist's stock in trade for as long as I can remember. Why the sensitivity now?

  • 90.
  • At 01:50 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Fee Lock wrote:

The term used by those who work in the industry is, I believe, 'prostitute women'.

  • 91.
  • At 01:55 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • CHad wrote:

I'm sure if there was someone out there killing plumbers the BBC would make it known that the veictims had been choosen because they were plumbers.

Who ever is doing this is targeting prostitutes, thats just the facts.

  • 92.
  • At 01:58 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

"When someone's murdered, does it matter what they did for a living?" Apparantly not. On February 14, 1929, Al Capone's henchmen murdered half a dozen members of Bugs Moran's rival mafia gangster mob. Chicago was in an uproar over what came to be known as "The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre." People didn't worry about whether the terminology describing the victims who were dangerous criminals themselves was politically correct, they were outraged by the violence. Get a grip on yourself Britain, prostitue is only a word, there's a dangerous psychopathic serial killer on the loose.

  • 93.
  • At 02:40 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Joanne wrote:

Im far more concerned about giving the murderer a name - 'The Ipswich Ripper'. It gives him / her something to 'live' up to.

  • 94.
  • At 02:42 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Graham wrote:

If all the women had red hair, the fact would be listed as being a common factor, somewhere in the report, rather than as a leading tag, to be used every time one of their names is mentioned.
Emotive words? It is the media and the context into which the words are put that makes them emotive, not the simple fact of someone's profession. It is time that prostitution was legalised and made safe for the people who work in the trade.

  • 95.
  • At 04:10 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • alf banjo wrote:

I think the analogy with plumbers is a fair one. I'm sure that if a serial killer was targeting plumbers then the public would expect the right to know whether the killer was targeting these people bacause of their profession or because they make easier targets is irrelevant. As a plumber of some years standing I always make sure my wife knows which addresses I shall be visiting on any one day should I go missing mysteriously

  • 96.
  • At 04:54 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • leah wrote:

No one should have the right to kill another human being and to name the human being as a prostitute(even if the truth)is victimizing them again by the media. I think all women and girls should be told not to be alone until they find this monster doing this. What is happening to our world. This is just so sad that predators are victimizing all people all over the world. I think I shall go have a cry.

  • 97.
  • At 05:22 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • James Griffiths wrote:

As you editors don't seem to be too good at this let me help you out with a little example:

"Three PEOPLE have been murdered in the Ipswich area.
It appears that the crimes may be linked as all of the victims were working as prostitutes."

Note how the victims are not defined by their profession but the important information is still communicated.
It must be difficult to keep your humanity when you are exposed to the worst that happens in the world but I think I speak for many when I ask you to try and humanise your reports.

  • 98.
  • At 05:36 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Neil Walford wrote:

The BBC, and many others appears guilty of double standards, labelling the victims first as 'prostitutes' rather than as 'women'.

This may reflect prejudice and is innaccurate as the murderer/s appear to have taken no action against male 'prostitutes', 'child prostitutes' etc so one assumes that being a 'woman' puts one more at risk than being a 'prostitute' (all 'women' are women, but not all 'prostitutes' are women). This fits with police advice for'women' to stay indoors, rather than for 'prostitutes' to stay indoors. Such lazy journalism encourages prejudice against the victims - they are not like us,like our sisters/parents/daughters but they are 'prostitutes'

  • 99.
  • At 07:49 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Margaret Gilmore's coverage of this has been excellent, giving us the facts without over-elaborating on the grim details. And giving us highly relevant information, such as the location on a map of the murders, so that people who are 'on the road' can think about whether they have seen things to inform the police about.

Some other are not. I heard one man describing the 'trail of death' and being almost excited by being able to mention the phrase 'red-light district' again. This kind of coverage is drifting to close to the 'if it bleeds, it leads' action news endemic in the US Networks.

He was even in a helicopter for goodness sake - you aren't going to be able to hear people's views and get to the bottom of the story from up there. Although when even the Chief Constable refers to the latest press conference as 'breaking news' then maybe that is the reason some people are getting carried away.

I found the phrase "sex worker" confusing. I heard about the first two murders and then a reference to a sex worker, and believed that the report was about someone who was working as a sort of social worker with prostitutes.

I am all for being careful with language but I have never heard prostitutes being referred to sex workers before.

The profession is relevant now that we know about the series of killings. Was it relevant for the first killing. I don't know, except to say that being a prostitute is a risky business. It's no more judgemental to mention it than to say that a police officer was killed (with the possibility that that's a risky business too).

I didn't judge the woman who was murdered negatively because I heard what she did. I get the feeling that few did. It is far more positive that the deaths of prostitutes are being publicised and the causes of those deaths being taken seriously and investigated properly. That is respect.

My thoughts are with the families of those women.

Mary

  • 101.
  • At 10:30 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Your rationalisations are hypocritical. As with most news media, you have learned nothing about reporting the serial killing of women since the "Ripper" case. For the sake of a simple story you take it as sufficient that the police warn girls to stay off the streets, whilst knowing they are high on drugs and incapable of rational decisions. You use the dehumanising, de-gendered, judicial label of "prostitute" when the true commonality is their being women: girls, daughters, sisters, sometimes wives or mothers. There are no male prostitutes amongst the victims, are there? And so you deny those who will mourn their deaths their dignity too. And you disregard the empathy and the fears this engenders in other women, and those who would mourn other women.

If a girl not known to be a sex worker disappears in Ipswich, or turns up dead, how will you now stop yourselves or your audience speculating that she too was a "prostitute", as happened with the "ripper" case? The one solid fact about this killer, as with too any of our serial killers, is that he only kills women, so far.

  • 102.
  • At 11:56 PM on 12 Dec 2006,
  • Monjo wrote:

If a woman works as a prostitute and is found murdered, the likelihood is she was killed because she was a prostitute. This could be because the killer finds prostitution immoral, because the killer feels guilt after paying for sexual pleasure, because the killer has a need to kill and picks an easy target.

In any case the fact that the woman is a prostitute is important. In the terms of the Ipswich murders to just say "Another woman found dead" would not say very much, to say "Another prostitute body found" and immediately the reader associates this new story with the existing stories.

I think that using the word 'prostitute' with every news bulletin implies you have already made some assumption about this killer's motives.

Maybe the availability of certain women (prostitutes) who would get into the car of a stranger is purely the opportunity rather than the sick, psychological drive.

Although in this case the categorisation of these women may be relevant, I worry about the general trend of 'the media' to try and force an angle on every story. Regarding this weekend's murder in Henley-on-Thames, I'm sure I heard on Saturday that two 'students' had been arrested. Now they have become 'youths' and the murdered man had become a 'businessman' (he had a job in sales).

I really don't care for these assumptions of how us consumers of news feel about social standing. The man in Henley had a young daughter who will be broken hearted and the women in Ipswich had parents, friends, and even children who have seen their world ripped apart.

People are rarely one thing (e.g. prostitute) but have many aspects (mother, friend, carer, maybe even a drug addict). By branding people with a single label you are doing them a disservice.

  • 104.
  • At 10:45 AM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

J Westerman wrote: EMOTIVE WORDS - Emotive words have been a major part of the journalist's stock in trade for as long as I can remember. Why the sensitivity now?

There always was "sensitivity", but now we have in some senses "bidirectional media", and also, since there is wider choice of news and entertainment sources, those who were arrogantly insensitive now pay the price in lost audiences, lost profits, and ultimately even lost jobs. However, since those who enjoy the insensitivity form hardcore audiences, in the interim there is polarisation.

Some of us would count that as an improving situation. In the past those who used language sensitively were denied media jobs; it is not clear that situation has changed yet though. Insensitivity is entrenched at a high level, and it may still be regarded as a great way to attract an audience. Baiting the women and then making fun as they complain in "shrill" tones can make for a good laugh in the pub after work.

  • 105.
  • At 11:59 AM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Louise Johnson wrote:

I think the problem, summed up in a number of the posts above, is that the reporting comes across as '3 prostitutes murdered (don't worry, you nice middle classes can all rest easy)', and the fact that they ARE prostitutes is mentioned repeatedly and forcefully.

I suspect that if the report was worded along the lines of 'The bodies of three women have been found in the Ipswich area. All of the women worked as prostitutes', then people would be less inclined to be responding angrily to the reporting. The perception is that these women's lives are somehow of less worth than if they were women, all of whom had different (non-prostitute) jobs, and all of whom happened to have been murdered.

You can't change how people perceive a story, and how they interpret the information they receive, but you can gently lead them in certain ways. The, seemingly, constant use of the tag 'prostitute' does effect the judgments of others, no matter what any of us might claim, and no matter what we may think of prostitution and it's status in society. See posts 74 and 78 for some very differing viewpoints in this regard.

A further point to note, which many of the people here appear to have misunderstood, is that prostitution per se is NOT illegal.

Various activities surrounding prostitution (the advertisement of services, the running of a 'brothel' etc) are illegal and it is this which makes it a dangerous occupation. If all prostitutes could work in houses in small groups of 3 or 4, or even in groups of 2 but with a 'bouncer' then the whole profession would be much safer. But working in groups/brothels is illegal, and this is why so many prostitutes end up on their own on dingy street corners, where they are at an infinitely greater risk of being attacked or abused.

I can see why the BBC needs to report that all the victims identified so far are prostitutes. Other prostitutes (who are entitled to be protected as much as anyone else) need to be aware of the even more increased risks to themselves.

I would want to know if someone was murdering classroom assistants, vicars, opticians or web designers (occupations of my close family members) so that I could warn them to be vigilant.

However, the occupation doesn't need to be screamed as part of the headlines, or on screen 'tag'. More respect and less sensationalism would help us to believe that the BBC really is acting from a neutral and unbiased position.

  • 106.
  • At 11:59 AM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Simon Jones wrote:

I understand the need for context and therefore the occasional requirement to refer to them as 'prostitutes'

Yet, in your top story at the moment you refer to them as prostitutes in virtually EVERY line.

Even at the end when you talk about religious leaders holding prayers for the 'families of the prostitutes'.

Could you not, even in the last sentence, have the vague sensitivity and respect to have said 'families of the women' or victims?

BBC journalism at its utter worst.

  • 107.
  • At 12:27 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • J Sharp wrote:

TV news can never give us just the facts....we get someone's perspective of events, the reporter's, the editor's etc. Emotive language is sometimes used and, although the use of the word "prostitute" is essential in reporting the story accurately, the word is over used which I think subtly suggests that these women were first and foremost prostitutes, not women, and secondly that there is more justification for their murders because they were prostitutes.I also think that the TV news has taken on tabloid style reporting and sensationalised these murders.

These are gruesome murders and the person(s) perpetrating these murders are sick to the core. Whatever one thinks of prostitutes one has absolutely no right to go out and butcher them indiscriminately. Obviously the man-hunt will result in the culprits being found. Once caught they should be given very stiff punishments which would deter others from following the same example. Prostitutes are trying to make a living: perhaps they should be weaned from this profession with social workers making greater efforts to find alternate jobs for them so that their lives are not compromised or put in grave danger. Every life is sacred.

  • 109.
  • At 02:23 PM on 13 Dec 2006,
  • Laura wrote:

I would like to comment that it is not an insult to refer to someone as a prostitute if that is in fact what they are. Furthermore, by informing people of this fact, it is not only alerting fellow prostitutes of the current danger but it is also raising awareness of the danger of prostitution in general and could possibly serve as means to invoke a change to protect and prevent these women ending up in such situations.

  • 110.
  • At 12:03 AM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Neil Walford #98; there's always a double standard with Europe. I remember 30 odd years ago when I lived there and people would refer to the US as that place of high crime and racism as though there was something peculiar and dangerous about America and Europe was somehow superior. Well now the shoe is on the other foot. Get used to it and figure out how to deal with it, it's a cinch Europe will not study how the US coped with the problems. They'd rather go through hell than admit they'd learned anything at all from America.

  • 111.
  • At 10:23 AM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

I think that anyone who feels that calling these poor women prostitutes is in any way dehumanising them should take a long hard look inwards.

Prostitutes are human just like the rest of us, calling someone a prostitute isn't dehumanising them. It isn't even an insult. It is often the same people who are calling for the press to not refer to these women as prostitutes who look down on them for being prostitutes in the first place.

  • 112.
  • At 01:02 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

The issue here is surely that these victims were primarily vulnerable young women with a drug addiction.
They were also prostitutes or sex workers, whichever you prefer.
The activity that funded this addiction is relevant since it exposed them to particular risks, but it should not dominate the continued description of these women.

  • 113.
  • At 01:35 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Rosie wrote:

This morning I heard Radio 1's newsreader say some of the prostitutes in Ipswitch were ignoring police advice to stay off the streets because they had to "feed their habit". Whatever interpretation of this, it is a disgusting and unfair sweeping generalisation.

  • 114.
  • At 03:17 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • Carl wrote:

Nope, don't agree.
During the Yorkshire Ripper cases it was reported as "prostitutes" - but eventually it was found not all were prostitutes.
Years later, most people think Sutcliff only killed prostitutes. He didn't. He "only" killed women. Some were and some were not sex workers.
But all got tarred with people who carry out an illegal and "dangerous" profession.
Any by the suggestion that it's okay to say prostitutes are more likely to meet a murderer - yes, and a child is more likely to be raped by a parent, a woman is more likely to be killed by her partner. A soldier is more likely to be killed by another soldier. But none of those words have any negative connotation behind it. Prostitute does.
Sex worker doesn't.
They're people first, women second. Their "jobs" are not justification in just calling them "murdered prostitutes".
As Simon in #106 said, your even saying religious leaders are saying prayers for the "families of the prostitutes".
Sorry lads, you just can't defend that away with fluffy lines about "not bearing much scrutiny".
Otherwise I expect reports like "Insurgants in Iraq have now killed around 100 Government employees who get paid to do a dangerous job, and often kill other people as part of their job requirements".

  • 115.
  • At 04:24 PM on 14 Dec 2006,
  • llui wrote:

Matt:

I definitely agree...
"prostitute is a negative word and should no be use whether descriptive or plain language.

thanks....

llui, Philippines

  • 116.
  • At 08:07 AM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • Janet wrote:

The emerging connection in the deaths of these young women is the use of narcotics and poisoning. To exploit the term 'prostitute' is to mask the harm these women have suffered in their lives let alone their deaths.

The term 'wife' is a more legally secure contractual arrangement for women socio-economically. That is what single women do not have. But the terms of the contract are based on the same act.

Temporary or Permanent?

Real status for Women in our own right, please.

The Feminists who remember that women died for the right to Vote and this is all we have got.

Why give out rape alarms when the only place a man really fears a woman more than she fears him,is the divorce court or custody battle, and that this is the only leverage women are still prepared to use to increase their wealth and status in society. Sorry the workplace doesn't cut it. It depends on the low paid labour force. Guess who?

The alternatives are before us. The press are not bewailing the loss of young women whose potential as 'super models' has been lost as in previous assaults. The values we place on the female use of the body is hypocritical. Selling is selling and this is a commercial society in which the commodity is sex. The sex which young women provide in various forms, is based on the remuneration of the male and female.

Women are condoning this as much as men.

  • 117.
  • At 01:27 PM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • Mike Stephens wrote:

What I object to is the over-emphasis on their profession; the news stories being headed by, for example 'A third prostitute has been found dead'. Of course it's relevant and newsworthy that all the victims have been prostitutes. But... surely the main significance is that people, women, are being murdered. I suspect that the BBC's 'tabloid' desire to describe these poor women primarily as a tally of prostitutes will only be confounded if (god forbid) another victim is found who is not in the so called sex industry.

  • 118.
  • At 02:48 PM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • ChrisC wrote:

I am the last person you could refer to as a 'do-gooder', however the BBC news has been a disgrace regarding these poor girls. I have no objections to anyone saying that they were prostitutes, however during the course of this investigation, I've heard over and over again that the bodies of the "prostitutes" have been found etc. No, the bodies of these "victims" have been found. They are not just mere prostitutes, they are daughters, wives, mothers, more than that they are humans.

The BBC should think long and hard about how you describe a victim of crime. When someone is killed on a Friday night out, you don't refer to them a drunken p*ss head do you? However more often than not, that's what they are and we all know it.

  • 119.
  • At 03:39 PM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • Fran Bottoms wrote:

I think the point is that they are women who work as prostitutes! All women are vulnerable to rapists and murderers, selling sex is just more so, Mona Siddiqui's thought for the day expressed this very well.

  • 120.
  • At 04:29 PM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • Nirmal Malik wrote:

well, all of the above is true from one perspective to the other. To assimilate and reach a conclusion would be hard.wondering if the headlines can say"another life's abrupt end" and then continue with the story.

  • 121.
  • At 04:43 PM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • Jack Rowley wrote:

It is absolutely vital that news should be reported accurately and in full. It follows therefore that the victim's profession should also be reported, be it "prostitute", "plumber" or whatever.

There is however a limit. I cannot believe that there is anyone in the United Kingdom with the ability to read or hear, that cannot now know the profession of these unfortunate ladies.

For everyone's sake - but in particular for the families and friends of the bereaved - cease with the "P" word.

  • 122.
  • At 05:42 PM on 15 Dec 2006,
  • Tim dennell wrote:

Probably much more relevent would be the information that they were all drug addicts. That was why they were operating as prostitutes when they - presumably - met their murderer.
During the day they were probably also shop lifters, con artists etc but those activities were much less likely to lead to their deaths.
They were also daughters, sisters (and possibly mothers) but that isn't why they were out on the street, in the most vulnerable position it's possible to imagine.
Drug addiction was why they were there. Tragically many more like them will be out on the streets, in every city, every night of the week.
And as a society we haven't a clue what to do about it.

  • 123.
  • At 04:22 PM on 16 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

I agree entirely with Simon Jones's post above, no. 106.

The fact that these women worked as prostitutes is, of course, of the utmost relevance. But decency and respect should limit the use of the word 'prostitute' to those parts of a report where it is essential. I have seen many news items where long after the women's occupations have been established, and long after the fact that the risks of that occupation have been made clear, they are still referred to as 'the five prosititutes'. Reports that treat prostitution as 'just another job' and 'tell it as it is' are callous and naive.

It seems that a lot of people have found the news reports offensive and disrespectful. The BBC should take note. Perhaps the writers should write their reports imagining that one of the victims is a close relative. Maybe then they would be more sensitive.

  • 124.
  • At 11:12 AM on 18 Dec 2006,
  • Trevor wrote:

Both my wife and I agree that the headline '5 prostitutes murdered...', as was used this morning by John Marsh is offensive. The primary line is '5 women murdered...'. The fact of their occupation is relevant, certainly to police and to other prostitutes, but should not be used as part of the headline. These are primarily human beings who did not deserve this ending to their lives.

  • 125.
  • At 03:25 PM on 18 Dec 2006,
  • Andrew wrote:

Having seen the BBC TV news position change (and been explained on NewsWatch over the weekend) to reflect the position, apparently accepted by TV news editors unanimously, that the victims were women first and prostitutes only when that was relevant to the discussion, for example of the risk to others, it is strange to see and hear BBC online and Radio 4 still using headlines such as "Man held over prostitute murders". Although the second line of the stories usually says "women" it is noticeable that the policy is now quite different from the TV news. Is this a deliberate difference?

  • 126.
  • At 04:53 PM on 18 Dec 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

Why all the fuss about describing these murdered women as prostitutes? After all it was their profession.

I could understand there being uproar if they had been described as whores...

  • 127.
  • At 01:16 PM on 19 Dec 2006,
  • Ron wrote:

I agree completely with Mark, comment 120.

What you are doing with the way you are using the descriptive noun "prostitute" is creating a different category for these murders. So: there are "murdered men", "murdered women" and "murdered prostitutes". The implication that comes off the page, whether intended or not, is that the latter category is different from the others. One mentally then asks "why?", and one mentally, perhaps subconsciously, answers, "because they're less important, perhaps" or "because that sort of thing is always happening to these people".

Your headlines should refer to "women", and the bodies of stories should for the most part use the word "women". You can and certainly should report and discuss the fact that the women were prostitutes, but you should not use the word continually as you are doing, almost as if it were a pronoun.

  • 128.
  • At 03:37 PM on 19 Dec 2006,
  • hakmao wrote:

I think the problem, summed up in a number of the posts above, is that the reporting comes across as '3 prostitutes murdered (don't worry, you nice middle classes can all rest easy)', and the fact that they ARE prostitutes is mentioned repeatedly and forcefully.

I suspect that if the report was worded along the lines of 'The bodies of three women have been found in the Ipswich area. All of the women worked as prostitutes', then people would be less inclined to be responding angrily to the reporting.

Louise (108) and others are right. Obviously the fact that all five victims were prostitutes is relevant to the story and should be reported, however 'prostitute' should not be their primary identification, and there's no need to repeat it five times in a story.

  • 129.
  • At 06:26 AM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Pony wrote:

"It suggests, if nothing else, that prostitution is a dangerous way to earn a living and that a prostitute is more likely than most people to meet a murderer."


I trust you will soon be writing an editorial concluding that most women, regardless of profession or occupation, (whereabouts, mode of dress or social status) are murdered by men.

  • 130.
  • At 12:15 AM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Ed Manning wrote:

Prostitute has the stigma that it has because association, therefore calling them a sex worker makes no difference.

The fact that annoys me is that sometimes you felt that they could not see beyond the fact that they were prostitutes. I think it probably also relates to the dumbing down and repetition of news, you feel like you are being bombarded with the word.

They were prostitutes but they were human beings who became involved in prostitution and died tragically.

If a plane filled with plumbers crashed killing 50, you would report 50 dead. Not 50 plumbers dead.

  • 131.
  • At 12:28 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Peter Cuddehay wrote:

I have not read all of the comments concerning the relevancy of job description in respect of the victims but I have been amazed that the BBC have chosen not only to name the suspects arrested (for what is only now questioning), by the police but also to reveal their precise addresses.
Surely, this is not necessary until the suspects have been charged.

  • 132.
  • At 12:45 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Cal wrote:

It isn't the word prostitute that is the problem, or indeed the fact that their work in prostitution is reported. Those are indeed the facts.

The problem is that it is the headline, time and time again. 5 women were murdered. Those women worked as prostitutes. They lived in Ipswich. Some were mothers. All were addicts. The headlines aren't 'addicts murdered'. Or 'Ipswich women murdered'. It's 'prostitutes murdered'.

Stop deluding yourselves that there is no judgement attached to this. There clearly is.

Mind you, since the BBC board of governers assured me that I 'need not be offended' by their staff using the term 'gay' to mean 'rubbish', I expect little more from the BBC. Language matters. Reporting facts matters. Report the fact that these women were prostitutes by all means. It is relevant. It is also relevant that they were addicts. But it's the byline, not the headline.....stop making it the headline. It's insulting to the women involved and implies that the work they did was the most important, most relevant piece of information about them. It give a clear message that they were in some way to blame for their own demise by 'chosing' prostitution. As your editor said, it sends a message that prostitution is dangerous. Wow, who knew? Of course it's dangerous. But by reporting in this manner, you encourage people to blame the victim.

Would you run a headline saying 'tartily dressed teen raped' if a 14 year old in a short shirt was raped in the street? Of course not. You might mention her attire in the report. But the headline would be 'teen raped' or 'girl raped' or 'child raped'. Because you wouldn't dare imply blame lies with the girl in your headline. You would, of course, mention it in the report, subtly shifting the blame to the victim in the mind of the reader. And that is my objection. The fact that you claim this shift doesn't exist and that you are not responsible for affecting public opinion - but you are. Stop reporting in such a way that the victim is portrayed as culpable.

  • 133.
  • At 02:52 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • jck_maclean wrote:

It is at a time like that when it comes down to it,'Auntie'is after all quite a conservative institution and a champion of some of those otherwise execrated 'traditional values'. No sex please, we're still British.

  • 134.
  • At 01:25 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • prem wrote:

These recent murders were of women not of prostitutes. In reality each had a family and people who loved and cared for them, and so that is what should be rememberd of them instead of the fact that they were prostitutes which is a more venomous way to describe these women.

  • 135.
  • At 01:34 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Lizabeth wrote:

everyone is clearly missing a major point. Call these women prostitutes once.. mention it.. everyone knows that they were prostitutes, but it doesnt change the fact that 5 women have been murdered. True they were prostitutes, but they were women before, during and after that. perhaps the BBC could have made a point salient to the case, that they were all in the sex trade, and then moved onto the discussion of who would have killed 5 Women, not five hookers.

  • 136.
  • At 11:27 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • pippop wrote:

My question was not about their occupation which might be relevant to the reason for the murders, even had they all been plumbers that still could have been a motive for the murders, but the reporting of the fact that they were naked! Why tell us? It's not of any use to us except as salacious goulish interest.

It's important to the police and relevant to the pathologists, but for us what will it do, what is it intended to do? Are we to help the police in looking out for naked dead women and do we ignore clothed ones?

This information was I believe very disrespectful to the dead women, and to their relatives. Hard enough to know that your wife, daughter, girlfriend is murdered, and then for the world to know that she was a prostitute, but to add to the indignity of her death the fact that she was naked is a step too far, beyond common decency. I would be outraged if the personal details, not essential to the inquiry, of a murdered relative of mine were given out in this glib and salacious manner.

  • 137.
  • At 03:42 PM on 11 Mar 2007,
  • Alison Smith wrote:

The victims were women who happened to work as prostitutes. My recollection of the BBC's reporting was that they were identified by their profession BEFORE being given the courtesy of having been described as young women. The media often puts a value judgement on the relative worth of victim's lives; expressing such as "popular father of 3" " promising young lawyer" are used to create an emotional response from the viewer/reader/listener. A life is a life, and a life cut short by murder is awful - whoever the victim.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.