A woman was brutally murdered in an inner city suburb of Melbourne on Monday. At this stage, police are not sure if she knew her attacker, but they do know the vicious attack may have had a sexual aspect and occurred in her home. Her boyfriend has been ruled out as a suspect.
CUE: MASSIVE OUTPOURING OF PUBLIC GRIEF, FRONT PAGE STORIES ON EVERY PAPER IN THE COUNTRY, PROTEST MARCHES, CANDLELIT VIGI… Oh, hang on, wait a minute, she was identified in the media as a “St Kilda Prostitute”.
The Age, The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Border Mail, The Australian, The Courier Mail, Perth Now and every other news outlet that ran the story used a combination of “St Kilda” “Prostitute” (so we know she wasn’t even just a "prostitute", she was a street "prostitute") and “homicide/murder” in their headlines. The story dropped off the front page of every website within a day.
Remember Jill Meagher? Of course we do, how could we forget her? So young, so beautiful, so beloved, so normal. The way she died was grotesquely evil, what that knowledge must do to the people who loved her is unimaginable. It hurts those of us who didn’t know her. Because she became a person to us. That gorgeous photo of her, her poor heartbroken husband, the shocked and trembling voices of her colleagues at the ABC, the barrage of media coverage of those things was unavoidable and gave her personhood to all of us who didn’t know her as a person.
What about the “St Kilda Prostitute” though? Isn’t she just as much a person as Jill was? Her name was Tracy Connelly, she was 40 years old – that’s younger than I am – and she lived just a few streets from me. My cousin lives so close to where she was killed that she could have almost seen it from her window. Tracy was real, she had a community who valued her, a boyfriend who loved her, why isn’t she given personhood in death?
The answer is, of course, all too obvious: she wasn’t a person, she was a "prostitute". No one wants to feel a sense of community or sameness with her. She was something other than us and therefore we don’t need to feel fear or grief at the fact or the manner of her death.
The media (both mainstream and social) are easy targets of blame because they are our only source of information about what happens outside our immediate circle. And the way they frame that information influences, if not dictates, how we think of it. Jill Meagher, ABC staffer, was one of their own, she was real to every journalist and editor in the western world, so none of them thought to blame her or report her death as anything other than the tragic event it was.
Tracy Connelly was a "St Kilda Prostitute", there’s some underlying sense that she, in some way, deserved what happened to her, she should have known better. The first three paragraphs of the story in The Age read as follows:
Tracy Connelly had walked St Kilda's red light district for at least a decade and knew her work was dangerous. In 2005, her minder was run over by a man who was angry that she refused to get in his car, Ms Connelly once told a court.
She tried to survive without sex work, but needed the money.
On Sunday, Ms Connelly was murdered in the van she had lived in with her boyfriend. It had been parked in Greeves Street across from St Kilda Gatehouse - a safe haven for sex workers.
What if, instead of “St Kilda Prostitute”, the headings on all those articles had been “Tracy Connelly, Brutally Murdered in Her Home Yesterday”?
What if they’d led with a photogenic image of Tracy’s beautiful, pale, smiling face and this paragraph:
Tracy Connelly’s traumatised boyfriend discovered her body in their home yesterday afternoon. There was no sign of forced entry and Police believe she may have been killed by someone she knew. Tearful friends talked about what a caring, loving person Tracy was, and how devastated their community is by this fearful crime.
Would Tracy be a person to us then? Would she be so easily forgotten? Or do we have to wait until her killer, a la Adrian Bayley, attacks a nice, white, middle class woman for the world to remember that any murdered woman is a person? That no person asks for or deserves murder, or any other form of attack? That blaming the victim is never acceptable, regardless of their profession, clothing, activities or housing circumstances?
Vale Tracy Connelly, whoever you were, you deserved far better than this.
If you want to do something meaningful for Tracey Connelly's memory you can, please read this and share it.