How the failed response by Police officers to the Yorkshire Ripper Murders uncovered police discrimination within Great Britain
Serial Killers are a societal phenomenon that shock and enamor the world. . From 1975 to 1981, a serial killer called the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, murdered 13 women and attacked many more leaving Great Britain shocked.1 The murders would inspire a onset of investigations by women into how the police handled the murders.2 What they would find was clear: the Yorkshire police displayed clear discrimination during the investigation3.
In total, 13 women were murdered and 10 more were attacked, of these 23 women 13 were presumed to have been involved in prostitution or leading a more promiscuous life style4. The first victims Wilma McCann and Emily Jackson were presumed prostitutes, which would allow for the police to categorize him as having a hatred for prostitutes5. During this time the investigation into their murders was minimal and more women would continue to be murdered and attacked with little evidence being collected.6 Until a young girl named Josephine Whitaker was murdered, she would be described by Superintendent Jim Hobson as a “innocent” girl, the first victim to not be involved in prostitution or promiscuous activities7 This would create a mindset of a guilty victim, one deserving death, or an innocent victim, not deserving of death. Jim Hobson would also say that the police understood that the public did not like prostitutes and would continue to arrest them8. This would assure the idea that the victims who were prostitutes were complicit in their own deaths whereas Josephine Whitaker was undeserving of her death. The murders of the women who were involved in Prostitution would garter little attention from the Media with a police force not fully determined on catching their murder.9 It wouldn’t be until Jayne Macdonald, a young girl not involved with prostitution died that the police would form the Prostitution Murder Squad, or better known as the Ripper Squad.10 The women who were murdered or attacked and were involved in prostitution were not given the same investigation a “innocent” victim was.
In the wake of the murders, sexism and misogyny that was previously normalized within institutions began to become Increasingly criticized by the public. At the time violence against women began to become normalized, especially sexual violence due to the emerging world of violent pornography.11 Media at the time would begin to examine this mindset, saying that most men hated women thus Sutcliffe must have also hated women.12 It would also examine the men’s sympathy with Sutcliffe, stating that men felt like they couldn’t blame Sutcliffe for hating women, and that it was his wife’s fault because his hatred for her made him kill women.13 Police officers who interviewed Sutcliffe following the Stone-in-Sock attack said that it wasn’t his fault he was just mixed up in “birds and booze” instead blaming the woman because she knew what she was getting into by being a prostitute. 14 This is likely because of something called ‘cop culture’ a mix between a savior complex and machismo complex, in this case its the idea that the Police were right and everyone else was wrong.15 If a woman reported being attacked by someone who they thought could not be the suspect, Sutcliffe, they would disregard the report.16 These mindsets would allow the victims to be blamed and some victims to be totally disregarded throughout the investigation.
After 23 attacks and murders, the public began to notice issues within the investigation and began to asking questions. Sutcliffe had been interviewed nine times within the investigation and twice before the murders began.17 Being interviewed twice in 1977, 1978, 1979 and three times in 1980, yet all of those did not produce any substantial evidence and he was released each time.18 At one point Sutcliffe was seen in a Red light district 36 times before being interviewed and this interview did not lead to substantial evidence.19 Another issue within the case was the Wearside Jack letters and tape, after receiving a letter from a man claiming to be the ripper the police would change the entire trajectory of the case.20 This would have been helpful had Sutcliffe wrote the letters and the tape but he did not, it was a hoax that diverted attention from the murders letting Sutcliffe evade police for two more years.21 If women brought attacks up to police with evidence describing Sutcliffe they would be disregarded because they did not fit the profile of Wearside Jack.22 These further issues within the case allowed Sutcliffe to continue his crimes for years.
Ultimately discrimination amongst the Yorkshire police department throughout the investigation would become evident in the years following. Today the case is known for its mistakes and is used as a learning tool on how not to handle an investigation.