Over the last week and a bit, I’ve made a concerted effort to wind down, starting with resolutely avoiding the news. Despite this, something has infiltrated my embargo; I’m talking about, of course, the murder of a woman in Bristol.
It totally perplexes me why this particular case has taken the media by storm and caught the imagination of the family and friends who keep bringing it up as dinner-table conversation.
The cynic in me would say that there should be no surprise since judging from media coverage, only physically attractive (usually blonde), talented women, much-loved by families and partners, are ever murdered. Or that it’s a relatively quiet news period so the whodunnit narrative fills otherwise dreary pages (assisted by police maps and pictures – your very own real life Cluedo for the post-Christmas lunch games session!).
The media’s selective obsession disregards the impact on grieving families, or a supposedly innocent-until-proven-guilty person’s public image through accompanying hatchet jobs. A friend of mine is a relative to a woman recently murdered in South Africa (yes, that one). It’s only once speaking to someone affected that I began to understand how traumatic careless media speculation and false reporting is. In short, the media abdicate their responsibility for basic decency.
I couldn’t help but point out over the aforementioned dinner-table that on average two women are killed every week by a partner or ex-partner in the UK. That’s two other female murders since Christmas Day – where are their stories?
Traditionally domestic abuse and sexual violence both spike during the festive period – causes often suggested are tensions rising at family get-togethers, increased alcohol consumption, or general financial strain. Whatever the reason, such attacks (primarily against women) rocket during this period – last year’s festive period across Avon and Somerset resulted in 1400 domestic abuse reports alone.
I note police representatives are assuring concerned TV interviewers that they have a total of 70 officers working on this individual murder case. I wonder how many other murders warrant this level of resources, and whether there’s a broader correlation between media interest and police officers assigned to an investigation. Meanwhile the only advice A&S Police can offer the many people suffering from domestic abuse over the festive period is, helpfully, “don’t be a victim”, and for women in the Bristol area to lock themselves away in their homes.
I still can’t quite understand why intimate details of this woman’s life and death are being flogged like a soap storyline for gossiping about. Why can’t we afford her dignity and grant the police trust to just leave it be?
There is something perverse about raking up details of a murder victim’s life in order to encourage and feed idle public consumption; the victims and their family should receive more basic respect. Meanwhile, the orchestrated frenzy interest demands suspects and their oddities to keep the story going – and these will be found and sacrificed through a trial by tabloid, with or without tangible police progress on the case.
It’s too late to wish the tabloids will back off on this one, but until we stop being complicit speculative gossip, the papers won’t stop producing it. I hope she and others get the privacy, support and peace they deserve.