Saturday, 16 December 2006

When Progress Is Not

WHILE Christmas should normally be a time of merrymaking for most families, sadly it will not be to five families in England this year. In a gruesome tale of murderous frenzy, not seen since the time of the infamous London killer Jack the Ripper, five women have turned up dead, killed in similar circumstances by what is most likely a single individual.

All women had one thing in common — they were all “working girls” — the term euphemistically given to females who are in the business of exchanging sexual favors with clients, for a fee.

Prostitution is technically not legal in the United Kingdom, but its existence is tolerated by the authorities. Overall estimates vary but there are thousands and thousands of females and males — often young and vulnerable individuals — who are in the trade.

Invariably, their circumstances will have certain similarities—broken homes, sexual abuse as children, and more often than not substance and alcohol abuse as adolescents and teenagers. Selling their bodies for cash is often their only means to finance the dire circumstances they are under.

The trade normally operates “under the radar” of the police. When things are under control and no crimes are committed, normally law enforcement officials look the other way and leave the workers and their customers on their own.

However, when killings of the sort that just took place occur, things really start happening.

Not since the height of the London terror bombings has such well covered police activity taken place in the country. Forensic teams from all over the UK have been brought in to bring their expertise into the case, in an effort to catch the daring murderer before he could strike again.

Such was the bravado of this individual that even when the police had already started with their investigation a week ago, he still had the audacity to kill two more women under their noses.

The irony, of course, is that with only a fraction of the resources now at the disposal of the police to solve this murder mystery, these tragedies may not have happened at all.

Men and women in the flesh trade are perhaps the most vulnerable to this kind of tragedy. Though their activities are generally tolerated, they are shunned by the communities where they live and work, and are not really given priority by the police in terms of protection.

Intervention to get them out of the trade they are in is often ineffective — by the time they go into the profession, their problems will have been too complicated to solve.

Their stories are not unlike what we have at home in the Philippines — of young children left to fend for themselves or look after others, young people led into crime and drug addiction by the misery of their circumstances, and a society too apathetic to heed their cries for help, until it is too late.

Despite the progress many societies have made, especially over the last few years of expanding globalization, many of our young people are still as vulnerable as ever to neglect and abuse.

Left on the margins of progress, there is no hope for them in terms of social mobility, and the only recourse is to crime, drugs and prostitution.

It is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed, whether in Europe, or here at home in the Philippines. For no progress can really be considered as true advancement if it leaves the weakest and most vulnerable members of society behind.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, December 16, 2006 (

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