How many of us know of 'Angela' or a woman like her? Is her story familiar to you? Have you come across her in your professional life? Does she live on a street you know? Have you seen her in the off-licence?
To many people at Nacro working in settings such as social care, resettlement, criminal justice, prisons and substance misuse, Angela is a familiar case. She is the woman who has been labelled 'hard to reach', she's the drinker that 'doesn't want to engage', she is the woman that has been to prison and felt safe there, she makes false claims to the police, she's probably had her kids taken into care. An Angela is vulnerable, has a possible history of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and domestic abuse, a victim herself. She may have been in care, been a dependant drinker, had mental health problems and all of these complexities and vulnerabilities relegate her to the sidelines.
This case would have gone largely unreported had it not been for the fact that two teenagers have just been convicted of her brutal murder. Two teenage girls, who drank heavily, who were known to the police because they were in care of the local authority and may also have been at risk of sexual exploitation.
The 'Angela' that we all know could have died alone in her flat from alcohol-related illness or an accident, or peacefully in her sleep, she could also have died at the hands of an abusive partner, or vindictive adults. The point is would this case have made headline news if she hadn't been murdered by two teenage girls?
The social conditioning that underpins views of women, especially those who drink, or commit crimes, or are vulnerable and have mental health issues contribute to the social isolation that women like Angela face. It increases their vulnerability, complicates recovery and it needs to be challenged. Women and girls are often portrayed negatively across public life and in the media. This is reinforced in criminal proceedings, by women's experience of the police and an increasing disparity in sentencing based on gender. It needs to be challenged. Having and displaying compassion and empathy is a vital requirement of our work at Nacro and in the wider social care arena. It can open the door to positive engagement and bring people in from the outside.
I have no magic formula or pearls of wisdom to impart on the social lessons of this tragic case, only to remind you to constantly reflect upon your values and integrity and not close the door to the Angelas we all know. Angela was well supported by professional external agencies but lacked family and human contact. Finding alternative ways to connect with people we come into contact with in our professional lives is key and may help people make the necessary changes to build confidence, move on and re-join society. Challenging and reflecting on our own values and practices every day can often be a good place to start to help others change.
This case has brought public attention to the Angelas we know and I would ask that we see this as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issues vulnerable women and girls on the sidelines face on a daily basis.