Under attack from all sides

More on the misogyny and murder issue:

The police – waylaid for 18 months by a hoax and having only started to take the case seriously once “innocent young girls” (their words) and not just sex workers had been killed – had shifted the responsibility for public safety on to women themselves, urging them not to go out after dark.

But on 25 October, with her boyfriend away in London on a CND march, Lea decided she would not stay at home. She went to the pub to plan her 21st birthday party and after a few drinks walked through Leeds University’s Headingley campus to get her bus home. It was then she was approached by a man who called to her with such warmth that she assumed he must be a friend she couldn’t quite recognise.

Talking to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Lea, now an artist, recalled the “nightmare terror” when she realised the man in fact posed her severe danger.

She turned and ran like hell, but she could hear him running after her, faster and faster. He smashed her over the head and knocked her out, but a passer-by had heard her scream and chased Sutcliffe off, so Lea survived.

The feminist campaigner Julie Bindel was 18 and living in Leeds when Sutcliffe killed his 13th and final victim there: Jacqueline Hill, a 20-year-old student, who was murdered three weeks after Lea was attacked.

Bindel lived less than a mile away from where Hill’s body was found and had been followed up the hill late one night the week before the murder by a man fitting Sutcliffe’s description. She reported it to the police, but they dismissed her.

Jesus, I didn’t know that.

She was involved in a group campaigning to end violence against women in Leeds and described how women felt under attack from all sides – not just by the Ripper, but by the blatant sexism from the press and West Yorkshire police.

“It was toxic,” she said. Headlines stated Sutcliffe made his “first mistake” after killing a 16-year-old walking home from school, Jayne MacDonald. The clear implication: that sex workers or women who had been drinking were fair game. She recalled how George Oldfield, who led the investigation, addressed the murderer on TV in 1979 saying: “There may be more pawns in this war before I catch you, but I will catch you.” That’s what women were to these detectives, said Bindel: disposable pawns.

Police were so fixed in their view of the world and what a serial killer would look like that they missed numerous chances to catch Sutcliffe, said [Joan] Smith: “One of the cops once said: ‘He doesn’t have to confess. The day we have him sitting across the table from us, we will know.’ But they visited him nine times and he never even made it into their top 10 lists of suspects.”

Hooboy, there’s a prize human delusion – that we “know” bad people when we see them. You’d think (you’d hope) cops know that better than anyone.

The Yorkshire Ripper moniker, attached to the case by the media early on, hampered the investigation, said Smith. “Jack the Ripper is the prototype serial killer but we don’t know who he was, we don’t know what his motivation was, what kind of person he was and he’s this mythic figure. If you project this on to an ordinary bloke, I think they were expecting him to have horns or something.”

And it wasn’t just the media who called him the Ripper. The Guardian includes this photo:

DCS Jim Hobson, left, and the West Yorkshire chief constable Ronald Gregory in 1979.

It’s horrifying – it makes almost a joke of the whole thing.

Nina Lopez of the English Collective of Prostitutes helped organise protests outside the Old Bailey during Sutcliffe’s trial and can recall the fury women felt when the attorney general at the time, Sir Michael Havers, said of the victims: “Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women.”

Why yes, that is infuriating.

Sutcliffe contributed to the creation and galvanisation of “a very vibrant women’s movement against violence”, said Bindel. “Because as soon as you pick up the rock and see the misogyny underneath you can’t unsee it.

“We still haven’t got the message about the violence inherent in prostitution; we still haven’t got the message about how women in prostitution are not disposable, that there are no innocent victims because there were no guilty victims.”

Forty years on, not enough has changed, agrees Smith, who now chairs the Violence Against Women and Girls board. “Now we’re now in the situation where women’s organisations are having to take the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] to court for not prosecuting rapists.”

Remember – the rate of rape prosecutions has gone down over time.

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