Roger writing the LAWmag

Smut, Bellfield and Shannon

For seven days and nights, I have had the pleasure of partaking in London life, a visitor to the quant little ‘burb of Twickenham, some ten miles west of downtown London, on one’s way in from Heathrow Airport.
 
On my first afternoon there, seeking a cure to jetlag, I hit a bookstore in Richmond and notice that the "true crime" books, several bookcases full, occupy the spot closest to the cash, a spot reserved for bestsellers.
 
To a store, the rows of magazines are of three varieties.
 
The lowest level is newspaper and mainstream magazines: The Economist and the like.
 
The middle row is for mild smut: lots and lots of almost fully exposed female breasts prominent on the covers.
 
The top row is somewhat out of sight - and certainly out of reach for children. I didn’t check any of the covers but from the magazine titles, that’s the real smut. Hundreds of titles occupying prime real estate in this little store.
 
Ditto for the similar store one block down, and the one another block down, etc.
 
Someone is buying this stuff and lots of it.
 
In the middle row, amongst the mild smut, are a few filth shock magazines and down below, a 72-page local daily, the Richmond & Twickenham Times, established in 1873.
 
It reports that since early 1980s, Levi Bellfield (pictured below) has been breaking the law. As a young offender, he has numerous theft, vehicle and alcohol-related convictions.
 
Like any child in Britain, he would have been exposed to images of naked women everywhere. The inside of just about every phone booth are dotted, as in Las Vegas, with stick-on advertisements of naked women suggesting that a certain phone number be called for "French kissing", etc.
 
"Killed Slipped Through The Net" runs the main headline, describing Twickenham’s modern day Jack the Ripper, a mug shot of a fat, dark haired man Bellfield just under the masthead.
 
Levi BelfieldIt’s the local rag and on March 2, 2008, I feel I should buy it to connect with my temporary home.
 
In 2001, according to the Times, Bellfield started stalking and assaulting young local women.
 
The first to die at his hands was Marsha McDonell, in 2003 although he is also the prime suspect in the 2003 homicide of a 13-year old girl.
 
One survivor of a 2004 attack (she was run over and left for dead) went to the local press to warn others but the night before her story ran, Bellfield struck again, this time killing a young French patisserie worker.
 
At the time, Bellfield, then 36, was apparently residing with his 15-year old girlfriend. He had already been married four times and fathered 11 children. Police believed he has used 42 different aliases over the years.
 
Police were tipped off to Bellfield by an ex-girlfriend, began to follow him, and watched him approach two 14-year old girls at a bus stop, to whom he made sexual comments (he apparently asked them if they were virgins). Scouring close circuit television recordings made on the night of the crimes (CCTV cameras are everywhere in London), police were able arrest and charge him with assault and murder.
 
In October 2007, Bellfield’s jury trial started at the Old Bailey with Bellfield even taking the stand in his own defence.
 
During the trial, he taunted the victims’ families.
 
On February 25, he declined to show up in Court and sent his lawyer to hear the verdict (guilty) and his life sentence.
 
The Times tracked down Bellfield’s mother and tried to get a comment from her. A daughter emerged and told her story to another newspaper, saying Bellfield beat her mother and forced her into a life of crime at an early age.
 
The newspaper articles feature pictures of the victims, beautiful, smiling young girls, all, next to an annotated map of London, captioned "Bellfield’s Hunting Ground".
 
The press reported on the reaction of the poignant and anguished families at the senseless death of their daughters, as if words could make sense of it: "horror that no human being should ever have to be a part of" and "moving on".
 
For all, and especially the French family, Bellfield’s reach continues. The firm grip of depression holds the mother of the French student. A grief-stricken grand-mother died during the trial and the father recovers from a heart attack.
 
"Senseless", "pure evil" and "bring back the death penalty" are phrases used throughout the Times’ seven pages dedicated to the story on March 2.
 
This type of "news" is hard to read.
 
The images of pornography so prevalent in the corner stores; the debasement of beautiful young women, their stripped, young naked bodies exposed on pedestals to be accessed as sex implements and alien fantasy; and of sex, divested of any element of relationship or love, very much as the four letter word readers of smut take it.
 
Another local rag interviews a local 46-year old mother who describes the excitement of "NSA sex", for "no strings attached". The article – complete with quote from a local psychologist - describes in glowing terms several instances of NSA sex including an online chat room encounter during which the mother invited the stranger to her flat and they had sex and have never seen each other since.
 
Those buying and actually reading smut magazines seem to have company in the attraction to harmless but nonetheless NSA sex, sex without emotion.
 
On the highway of feeling-free behaviour and the law, the thin line between the station of NSA sex, permitted and in some cases, cherished in our society, and psychopathic sex at large, no holds barred, including the use of violence or the disposal of the nameless and non-consenting partner after the act, is called consent.
 
In the history of the law, the brave and the wise manage its reach, making sure to prohibit as little conduct as possible, just enough to ensure peace and order. 

Like religion, too much law is considered a bad thing. The gap between a wide range of conduct and the disinterest of the law is growing, fueled by a conversion of what remains a lofty goal (the elimination of discrimination against certain groups in society), to the emergence of a vigorous hands-off approach towards any law at all.

The law seems overwhelmed and at the altar of consent, errs on the side of caution.

Is there a link between the prevalence of pornography and the expectation of sociopathic or psychopathic entitlement of the Bellfields of Twickenham? Is there any cause and effect? In the long term, would the public display of male penises make the night safer for women?
 
The fact of law-making, circa 2008, is that sex policing notions like that bring on a fast and violent rebuke and protest from every special interest group, faster and more aggressive than Greenpeace at a whale hunt.

In that same issue of the Times, set out as it was at the corner store just below the smut, other articles tell of that day's sociopaths: Andrew Lock, convicted of possession of child porn. Anosh Ahmed is charged with attempted rape after a violent assault against a 21-year old woman. With Bellfield done, Karl Taylor’s case is now the cause celebre at Old Bailey. He is accused of stabbing his girlfriend 31 times.

But scariest of all was what I pick up in the London tube the next day, the Sun newspaper. It was the criminal law's version of a "catch and release" program.Shannon Matthews

First, right inside, on page 3 is a full length colour picture of "Katie , 22, from Liverpool", naked in all her Page 3 Girl glory.

This image is sandwiched between the cover and the story about the ongoing disappearance and suspected abduction of nine-year old Shannon Matthews (pictured), freckled and all of four feet tall, last seen near her home on February 19th, in Dewsbury, a small village hundreds of miles north of London (Ed. note: Shannon was found alive on March 18th and the abductors given 8 year prison sentences). In spite of its rural location, the Sun dug up sex offender registry statistics:

"Nearly 1,400 registered sex offenders live within 25 miles of Shannon Matthews’ home, the Sun can reveal. Many are based just a five-minute drive away. A further 400 live just 30 miles away in Manchester."

Bellfields are accepted as unavoidable evils of our society, a price of doing business or of being alive, outside the preventative reach of the law, a small black mark for Twickenham but just an anomaly that beckons no law reform. From the safety of their living rooms, in spite of the horror on their TV screens, the people say: the law is not broke; why fix it?

Increasingly, the law’s interest in sex – like the line between porn and erotica - slowly but surely recedes, like an outgoing tide. Ask any parent why they set up supervision of their child’s every step outside the house or why most young women are deprived the wondrousness of walking alone in the dark.

But let’s not hide our heads in the sand.

This omission is not without consequences.

We brew them and once they offend, we return freedom to convicted sex offenders.

Is it the paradox of the heap: if a small amount of offensive sexuality is OK, then though successive, more small amounts can't be any worse?

REFERENCES:

  • Gillepsie, Kellie, "Craving Casual Climaxes", Metro Newspaper, March 5, 2008, (London), p. 19.
  • Richmond & Twickenham Times, February 29, 2008 (one-time at http://www.richmondandtwickenhamtimes.co.uk/news/localnews/display.var.2084862.0.killer_slipped_through_the_net.php)
  • Wheeler, V. and Taylor, A., "Shannon Circled by 1,400 Sex Beasts", the London Sun, March 5, 2008, p. 6-7.

Posted in Child Sexual Assault, Crime and Criminal Law, Sexual Assault
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