Ash Cooper was born in the Bahamas. The son of a croupier, he was brought up in various countries in North America, Europe, the UK and the West Indies. He is an M.A. student at the University of Bradford and the proud father of two grown-up sons. A few years ago I was working as a pawnbroker. We had customers from all walks of life: mostly ordinary working folk, some business people, even the odd teacher and local politician. Some of our customers were down on their luck, of course, borrowing a few pounds on the strength of a little gold ring or bracelet until their next social security cheque arrived. Of this last group, a handful were street workers – prostitutes to you and I.
Between June 2009 and May 2010 three of my customers were picked up off the streets while working and murdered. Their bodies were dismembered, and at least partly eaten by a man, Stephen Paul Griffiths. The remains of one of the victims were never found, and only parts of the others.
The serial murder of street workers is a thing that happens in other places to other people. But I had known these women for several years. Not just their names and faces, but to stop and say ‘hello, y’alright?’ to them if I saw one or the other as I walked from the shop to my car. The end of my working day, the beginning of theirs: the two oldest professions in the world.
For the people of Bradford, the cases brought back traumatic memories of serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, who murdered thirteen women in and around Bradford and Leeds between 1975 and 1980. More recently, in 2006, five prostitutes had been murdered in Ipswich in Suffolk. How was it, people asked, that a generation after the Yorkshire Ripper murders, women were still routinely running the same risks of assault and murder on the streets?
Nothing has changed for women who work the street since 2010, or indeed since 1975. They still face the same risks of rape, abduction, assault and murder, day after day, night after night.
So if I imagine a Bradford at peace, it is a Bradford where these women were not the victims of a cultural violence which condones and ignores violence by one gender against another. I imagine an England where they were not the victims of a cultural violence that condones and ignores violence against the poor, the marginalised, the unimportant. I imagine a city where these women were not the victims of a structural violence which somehow led them, through poverty, ill luck or unfortunate decisions, to find such a risky way to earn a living, and then kept them there at the bottom of the social pile.
I imagine a Bradford where no other women will meet the same fate as Susan Rushworth, Shelley Armitage and Suzanne Blamires. RIP.
Ash is a coursemate in my African Politics class. He is extremely intelligent in world politics and to think he is not offering that course as a module just beats me. This post definitely gave me the shivers.