by Dr Adam Lynes, criminologist at Birmingham City University

Stephen Port, forty-one and a chef from East London, is currently on trial for the murder of four men who were found dumped within 400 metres of Port’s home in Cooke Street over a 15-month period. In particular, Port is accused of luring the four young men to his flat after meeting them on gay social media websites such as Grindr. It was also revealed during his trial that while there, he allegedly spiked their drinks with high doses of the date rape drug known as GHB in order to have sex with them while they were unconscious.

Whilst this particular case is still on-going, it is important to reflect on past cases of serial murder in which gay men were targets. For example, Michael Copeland murdered three gay men in the sixties, Dennis Nilsen murdered a total of fifteen gay men in the eighties, and both Colin Ireland and Peter Moore both targeted gay men in the nineties. When examining these victims within the context of serial murder within Britain, gay men are often targets along with other groups such as sex workers; the elderly; and, runaways and throwaways. Why is this the case? What is it about these groups that make them vulnerable to serial murder?

When examining such questions it is important to consider Young’s (1999) theoretical discussion on the transformation of Britain from an “inclusive” to an “exclusive” society. Young’s (1999) The Exclusive Society argued Britain was, at one stage, a society that placed great emphasis on community, locality and employment. This, according to Young, changed during the 1980’s where Thatcherism’s antisocial welfare policies de-emphasised these very principles. As a result of the more “exclusive” society, which emphasised materialistic consumption, individualism, anonymity, and less about ‘traditionalities of community and family’ (Young, 1999: 6), certain groups became increasingly marginalised in society. With Government policies that have, over a period of time, weakened the economic and social protection of the elderly, gay men, runaways and throwaways, children, and women involved in prostitution (Wilson, 2007).

Wilson takes Young’s theory of the “exclusive society” and uses it in an attempt to understand serial killing patterns beyond victim selection. Wilson’s research suggests that, of the 326 victims murdered by 19 identified serial murderers between 1960-2006, the majority were indeed part of these marginalised groups; a result of a society that ‘moved inexorably from production to consumption’ (Wilson, 2007: 184). Wilson further reinforces his argument by incorporating the work of Jenkins (1994), who states that there were no serial murderers during the 1920’s and 1930’s, a period before society became “exclusive”, and seven confirmed active serial murderers in the 1980’s – the height of Thatcherism.

Taking this into consideration, the various groups targeted by serial murderers in Britain have been marginalised and ignored by society. For the elderly, in which it is estimated that Dr Harold Shipman murdered two hundred and fifteen over the course of twenty-three years, they are perceived as a burden to a capitalist-driven economy as they cannot contribute. Sex workers engage in activities that are considered as morally and legally wrong and, as demonstrated by the murders of “Yorkshire Ripper” Peter Sutcliffe in the seventies, the public generally lacked interest in apprehending the killer. Runaways and throwaways lack a stable home and, as such, are ignored when they go missing. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the murders of Fred and Rose West, who would often offer young women who had no home of their own a place to live prior to killing them. For gay men, the victim group most recently targeted, they are vulnerable to hate crime and, when considering the case of Colin Ireland in the nineties, the gay community and the Police have historically struggled to communicate, trust, and assist each other – leading to further men being targeted and killed by the serial murderer.

To conclude, the examination into the phenomenon of serial murder reveals society’s failing to be inclusive of all individuals and groups. As a result of this failing, particular groups continue to be marginalised and ignored – with very few noticing or caring if they go missing or are victims of crime such as murder. While I understood the attraction in “analysing the mind” of the serial killer, perhaps we should take time to think of how we can move our “exclusive” society back to an “inclusive” society, in which all lives matter and preventing serial murderers from targeting those individuals marginalised and ignored.

References

Jenkins, P. (1994) Using Murder: The Social Construction of Serial Homicide, New York: Aldine de Gruyter

Wilson, D. (2007) Serial Killers: Hunting Britons and Their Victims 1960-2006, Winchester: Waterside Press

Young, J. (1999) The Exclusive Society: Social Exclusion, Crime and Difference in Late Modernity, London: Sage Publications

 

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