Four weeks ago a sex worker was murdered in Christchurch, presumably by her ‘client.’ He is still being tracked down. Heartfelt tributes from friends in social media to her, the mother of a young child, said how she had such a kind heart, and would do ‘a job’ in order to earn money to give to a friend who was in need, even if that meant going out on to the streets again.
Over a year ago, a 21 year old graduate from the UK went missing. Her body was found in a shallow grave on the outskirts of Auckland, and her Tinder date was arrested for her murder. Anguished outpourings of grief and rage, and cries of ‘how could such a thing happen in NZ?’, reverberated continuously through the media.
Two young women, whose loss was keenly felt by those who knew them. Losing any young life is a tragedy, and particularly in such horrific violent circumstances. Many however were far more horrified by the death of an attractive, successful white tourist from a reputable middle-class family, than that of a young Maori woman from a dysfunctional background, trying to make ends meet through prostitution.
Yet there are many similarities between the circumstances of the two deaths.
Meeting for sex
Both were killed by men they didn’t know who were only looking for sex. Both put themselves in a situation where they were totally at risk from any violent perpetrator. Both entered into a contract of sorts, where sex is the currency. (Yes, there would have been a cash amount paid to the sex worker, but the Tinder date presumably also ‘paid’ for his night by purchasing drinks and food, and by offering his apartment.)
And in each situation there was discussion about the nature of the ‘encounter.’ (In the case of the Tinder date, what emerged later during the murder trial was that the two had exchanged texts about the nature of the risky sexual practices they enjoyed, and wanted to pursue together.)
The trial transfixed the nation
The story of a young girl who goes travelling after graduating is a common one for Kiwi parents. Many would have identified with the situation of a young attractive daughter on her own in a strange country, seeking to have a good time, while keeping in constant contact with family back home. When it became clear that a lack of a contact meant something had gone seriously wrong, most middle-class parents would have held their breath. And the ongoing search for the woman, the finding of her body, the arrest, and the subsequent focus on her family, followed by the trial, has been front page news for weeks and months.
The murder trial for the tourist must have been agony for her family, as the woman’s sexual preferences were revealed, and her lawyer bent over backwards to try and preserve her reputation as an attractive, personable, talented young woman. (Some feminist writers tried to garner some shreds of equality from the case, by saying that the fact that men and women could discuss their sexual preferences on an equal footing before they met up, was a measure of how far women had come.)
What became clear was that Tinder dating was considered a normal way for young people to engage with each other, with hooking up for sex having become the norm on such dates.
Yet when considering both encounters, there are only two main differences – one is the way the two women made contact with their prospective client or date – one went on to the street, the other went online; the second is how the Tinder dates assessed each other through the short time spent over drinks and dinner before going any further.
Where to from here?
A. It is hopelessly naïve to think that anything will change as far as sex work is concerned.
One woman academic, who studied the experiences of sex workers for her PhD, is calling for a change in attitude towards sex workers. “Do not shame the victim,” she trumpets. She and others want to see a day where sex work is ‘normalised,’ where women are not blamed for their actions, or for what they are wearing, and violence against women is no more.
Why won’t there be any change in attitudes to sex workers? Because while there are women who have been abused and who have become drug-addicted, and who are prepared to earn dollars through prostitution, there will always be men who are prepared to pay. ‘Clients’ are not likely to respect the women they ‘use.’
While men continue to be bigger and stronger than women, then women will always be at risk of violence when they choose to meet up with men they know nothing about, whether it’s on a Tinder date or by meeting up with a ‘client.’
While men continue to be abused, at the hands of both men and women, there will always be those who are capable of violence because that’s how they have been treated. Some men will be pro-active in looking for opportunities to disrespect and demean women, so seeking a prostitute is an obvious outcome. To them, haven’t such women already demeaned themselves by engaging in such an occupation?
While guys are being educated about sex through porn-watching from an early age, so that their understanding and treatment of women is distorted and skewed, then there will be continuing maltreatment of women, which is likely to increasingly include violence.
B. What has changed in society is the lack of opportunities for men and women to meet each other where they can form friendships.
Meeting up in bars and clubs still happens, but as these venues have become seedier, many young people don’t see such places as good venues to find someone to date. Apart from work places, or maybe sports and other clubs, once young men and women are beyond student age, how do they meet each other?
And with the dating scene increasingly becoming a hook-up culture, and using Tinder is normal, how can young people engage with each other without sex being the obvious, and sometimes only outcome, of going on a date?
The church is an obvious answer here, but the community of any particular church has to be attractive, healthy, fun, and realistic in the way it involves young people in its activities, and in providing a context for engagement for young people with each other.
What is missing…
Tomorrow, I will be remembering that 77 years ago my parents married. It was war-time, and they were very young, 19 and 20. Six months later, my Dad went off to war and didn’t return till after two and a half years, after front-line service in the Italian campaign. They had met at school, and went on to enjoy over 60 years of marriage.
Their example of making a marriage work has led to a stability for the succeeding generations for which I will always be grateful. Their example is not unusual. It was the norm, and it is what was expected in that society and in recent generations – until recently.
Today, young people are caught up in a culture that doesn’t give them the opportunity for such courtship and marriage. Unless things change, the stability of our Western culture is increasingly at risk, as more young people engage in casual encounters, with a consequent lack of commitment sometimes leading to increasing mental health issues.
It’s no surprise that this culture generates a cast-off mentality, where you meet, then move on to the next contact (as the murderer did the same evening, by going on another Tinder date.)
And it’s no surprise the ultimate way of casting-off someone is murder.
How do we change this culture?
Liz Hay rejoices in living in a beautiful part of God’s creation in a high country mountain basin; and she also rejoices in hearing stories of God at work in people’s lives. One of her favourite activities is reading fascinating biographies that illustrate the wonderful ways God works uniquely with each person.