In February 2001, Marie Jamieson, a 21 year old Auckland hairdresser, was raped and killed. A few months later, I found an article about her unsolved murder in North and South. I was shocked to read that, when it was revealed that Marie had used drugs, helpful calls from members of the public to the Police hotline shrunk to a third. It seems the death, and therefore the life, of drug-taker didn't matter so much - 'moral' people's lives are worth more than others.*
The horrific murder of Christchurch sex worker Mellory Manning left me bracing for a wave of stupid and callous comments. Amongst the first stories published after her body was found was to do with her having assaulted someone with a syringe - a story which is refuted by Mellory's partner. I saw a woman (who may or may not have been a Christchurch City Councillor) mouthing off on TV about the need to regulate prostitution like other industries. I was sympathetic at first; until I realised that she seemed to be motivated by disapproval of sex workers, not a concern for their safety, and simply wanted to get workers off the streets.
Other than these two items of 'news', I've been pleasantly surprised by the respect which the media has shown Mellory and her family. A picture has been drawn of a woman who was loving and loved, and whose loss will leave a large gap in the lives of grieving family and friends. It's a relief to see Mellory, at least in death, treated as a person, not a scandal.
There may be some cynical reasons for this. It's a slow news time of year, and the media looks to string out any stories available to it - including by reveling in human tragedy. After all, the media - and particularly TV - regards the news as a form of entertainment like any other, packaging it so we will know when to laugh and when to cry and when the story's over, as if we were at the movies.
Whatever the media's motivations, its mostly compassionate response to Mellory's death - in contrast to the voyeuristic 'she was asking for it with her lifestyle' bullshit I was expecting - is extremely welcome. If we're to protect the wellbeing of sex workers, regarding them as people worth caring about is a pretty fundamental first step.
* John Donne, in one of my favourite pieces of writing ever (Meditation XVII), disagrees beautifully. His words are worth a read, particularly in light of the current situation in Palestine.
No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.