Deborah Orr: Sexual abuse: a warning we mustn't ignore

Share
Related Topics

Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing. But it is still striking that even though Steven Wright does not appear ever to have even been arrested for violent behaviour, prior to his spree of murder in Ipswich just over a year ago, there now seem to have been plenty of witnesses to his attacks on women, and copious awareness of his fetishistic reliance on prostitutes. None of it – not the habitual kerb-crawling, nor the physically abusive relationships – ever did get him into trouble with the law, though.

The same cannot be said of Mark Dixie, who was yesterday found guilty of murdering Sally Anne Bowman, and who, it turns out, had a string of other convictions for sexual assault and rape. None of this appears to have offered sufficient warning that this man was a huge danger to women. It seems you have to kill a woman, and smear her with your DNA, before your violent and compulsive misogyny is treated with any seriousness.

In the case of Dixie, questions will justifiably be asked about how a man with his history of violence was allowed to carry on walking the streets. Yet even Wright's less obvious proclivities could and should have stopped him in his tracks years ago. There has already been some criticism of the Suffolk constabulary, who twice stopped Wright, then let him go about his murderous business unhindered. There has also been much speculation about other murder victims who have now been connected to Wright, with Suzy Lamplugh's name the most instantly recognisable among the dead.

Most vocal of the retrospectively wise heads is one of Wright's ex-wives, Diana Cole, who catalogues a litany of abuse corroborated by another witness, who in turn tells of her own husband having to intervene and pull Wright off his young wife. Yet this case is by no means the first to illustrate that the tendency to consider what is still cosily referred to as "domestic violence" to be a private affair is deeply mistaken and places other women in peril. Even now, after the seriousness of violence against partners is supposed to have been understood, the police seem unable to protect a worrying proportion of the women who seek their intervention.

Yet since it is well documented that sexually motivated violence tends to escalate, it is clear that the victims of violent men should understand how important it is to come forward, and should also be able to feel confident that their bravery will be rewarded rather than squandered. The Dixie case demonstrates graphically that it is the latter that occurs all too often in the criminal justice system.

Wright's assaults of 20 years ago, unlike Dixie's, went entirely unrecorded, so there was nothing at all to connect Wright to the murder of three women in the red-light district of Norwich, one of whom was a regular at a bar he ran. Again though, it turns out that Wright was notorious among the local prostitutes, one of whom now says he was a notably strange and frightening character. Then as now, however, vulnerable street women, too addicted to work in a massage parlour any more than they could a bank, have no incentive to alert the police to customers they believe to be dangerous. This hugely salient fact is barely addressed in the flurry of debate around the legal status of prostitution that has erupted since the Ipswich murders.

Whether Wright had anything to do with these further murders or not, it is clear now that his possible involvement needs to be investigated. It is worth remembering that he would not, by 2006 or even by 1988, have been considered such a "boring" guy if people did not persist in the savage belief that it is within the ambit of "boring" guys to attack or frighten either their wives, or women selling sex on the streets. As for Dixie, the fact that he was able to travel the world attacking entirely random women, passing it all off as part of his "party lifestyle", is nothing but a terrible indictment of how far away we are from really grasping what an unassailably accurate predictor of future crimes all assaults on women really are.

The ultimate invasion of privacy

It's a truism that simple ideas can work tremendously well, and so it was with Sue Bourne's film, My Street. By entering the homes of her neighbours, with whom she'd lived side-by-side for 14 years without knowing any of them, she made reality television for people who think they are above all that, and invited voyeuristic Channel 4 viewers like me to have a literal peer through the net curtains into all sorts of grand, affecting, shocking, but everyday dramas.

I dare say that if Bourne had known her neighbours better, she might have been less cavalier about invading their privacy, for again and again the people interviewed in the film said things that they probably shouldn't have been sharing with millions of people. This feeling that too much was being revealed became very strong towards the end of the film, when we witnessed Adam, an articulate and lonely 25-year-old Tourettic and obsessive-compulsive, suffering a flamboyant and meticulously-recorded breakdown, for which he was hospitalised.

It was perfectly clear that in his awful situation Adam was in no fit state to sign a release form authorising broadcast. Since he had already said how little contact he had with other people, and how much he missed the mother and father he rarely saw, it was obvious too that he had no one close to him to offer good, protective, advice. So there was clearly a major ethical issue with how this footage came to be on television.

The explanation was simple and shocking. Adam had been found dead in his home three weeks after filming, so no agreement to screen those last months was needed, as its subject no longer existed. Adam's tragedy made a literally awesome end to this fly-on-the-wall film, of course, and one that proved its point about modern urban existence. But it's a strange world indeed when a young man can live and die without knowing his neighbours, except for the one who made the movie of his demise.

[See Sue Bourne's reply.]

* Sanity is gradually returning to the Orr household, now that we have had our puppy for three whole months. We took the nipper for its first visit to its mother in the country at the weekend, where Mr Orr, who has been labouring under the delusion for some while now that he is the pup's "daddy", began to show signs of recovery. Previously he had totally ignored Cyril, who being a dog does not care that she has a boy's name. Now that she has gifted him with his adored furry bundle though, he wanted to firm up his acquaintance with her. "Hello Cyril," he said, "I'm like... oh, I suppose I'm like.... er... your husband." Back off, Cyril. He's taken.

* Cate Blanchett is up for two Oscars tomorrow, one as best supporting actress for playing a man, and one as best actress for playing a woman. I didn't see her portrayal of the Tudor queen in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, so I'll have to take the word of the pundits – which is that she has no chance. But I did see her as "Jude" in I'm Not There, Todd Haynes's multiple-personality portrait of Bob Dylan, and I have to say she came across more authentically than Bob ever quite manages himself.

The film's great moment of wisdom came when Jude explains to a journalist why he stopped writing protest songs. He realised, he says, that the songs were counter-productive, a means whereby people could pat themselves on the back, then dissociate themselves from the political problem pinpointed in the lyrics. I'm no idea if this is an accurate reproduction of anything Dylan ever claimed himself. But the argument is spot on.

The degree to which people now seem to believe they can go to the concert, buy the record or the T-shirt, and thereby be "part of a movement for change' is striking. Lots of people think Dylan has "sold out" because he has appeared in a Victoria's Secret advert and sold his records through evil Starbucks. But he won't really have sold out until he does something self-deluding, like signing up as a UN Ambassador to do "look-I-care-about-suffering" self-promotion.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
David Cameron and Ed Miliband officially launched their election campaigns yesterday after Parliament was dissolved  

All-or-nothing simplicities are going to blight this election

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor