There is barely anything written in ELT/TEFL pages about the horrendous death of Lindsay Hawker in March 2007. A google check will reveal that Lindsay Hawker and ELT/TEFL will only provide one such connection, which is surprising given the fact she was a TEFL teacher murdered by a client. Arguably this could be for four connected reasons. Firstly, the connection with ELT/TEFL is completely random and therefore is of no particular interest to the industry. Secondly, that interest in such occurrences is only satisfying the macabre tastes of some interested in the gruesome events of horrible crimes. Thirdly, that tales of “white women” being victims of “Asian men” plays easily into tropes of racism (“yellow peril”) and should therefore be avoided. Fourthly, that when talking about personal safety (outside the standard workplace) it is easy to slip into victim blaming, suggesting that the victim was in someway responsible for events because of the choices they made. We believe that Lindsay’s story should be told within the pages of ELT, and that it can be told without reference to macabre details, racist tropes or victim blaming.
Lindsay Hawker was a bright student (she achieved a first-class honours degree in biology) who decided to travel to Japan and work as a TEFL teacher for a short-time before returning to the UK to undertake a Masters. Tragically, while in Japan, she was murdered by a student soon after doing a private class with him. She had accompanied the student to his apartment as he “had forgotten his wallet” and wanted to pay her that same day. She had asked taxi driver to wait for her but he left after only waiting seven minutes. Once inside the apartment she was raped and murdered.
The murderer managed to escape police and was on the run for two and a half years. Her distraught family not only had to face the loss of Lindsay in such grotesque circumstances but the fear that the authorities in Japan were not doing enough to capture the man believed responsible for the crime. Finally, the perpetrator was aprehended in November 2009 and stood trial in July 2011, where he pleaded guilty to rape and murder.
The fact that the perpetrator published a book about his time on the run from the police and this was made into a film only serves to deepen the family’s pain so we will refrain from mentioning the title of the book or the perpetrator’s name. What interests us here is to remember that a young life was cut incredibly short in horrendous circumstances and we would want as far as possible to avoid this happening to anyone else, let alone another member of the ELT community.
Echoes and diffences with the Suzy Lamplugh case.
In 1986 a British Estate Agent, Suzy Lamplugh, went missing after leaving her office to show a client around a property for sale. In 1994 she was officially declared dead, presumed murdered. Her case (still unsolved) generated much interest to the general public. This was a woman presumed murdered going about her duties as an Estate Agent; duties which appear to have put her at risk.
Now what is both startling (and reassuring) about this case is how one tragedy turned into a national campaign to protect workers from the risks incurred in visiting clients outside the normal workplace scenario. Indeed, her mother set up the internationally renowned “ Suzy Lamplugh Trust” dedicated to helping workers like Suzy stay safe. Estate Agents and other organisations put new policies and practices into place and provided training in order to minimize the risks to their staff.
This is why the silence inside ELT to the tragic death of Lindsay is so unacceptable. We ask why the industry has not addressed the vulnerability of its own staff and sought to devise ways of helping to keep each other safe. One such explanation of the same, is that Lindsay was doing a private class and therefore it is not the responsibility of the industry. The risk here becomes privatised because the teacher “chooses” to take on work outside the normal school setting. Interestingly, Lindsay had consulted her employer (Nova) prior to accepting the class which would lead to her death ( a great example of her conscientious attitude) and Nova had raised no objection to her doing a “private class”.
However, this is too glib an answer to a serious problem which exists in the industry. Those attracting new recruits into the industry (TEFL Training Courses) will often mention private classes as both a good way to boost earnings but also develop as a teacher. Moreover, it is often the desperately low wages of ELT teaching which drive teachers into “private classes” in the first place.
We believe the industry should either actively discourage “private classes” or take concrete actions to minimize the risks of teachers when following such a path.
The “Yellow Peril”
We can understand some of the frustrations with the reporting of this case in the British media as we can understand a repulsion to the way the story has been sold elsewhere by highlighting its most macabre elements. One of the positive parts of the reporting in the British media, however, has been to highlight the qualities of Lindsay and pay tribute to her character. There has also been a lot of emphasis on the impact the case has had on the family and how they have stayed remarkably strong in the face of all these ordeals. Unfortunately, as detailed in a Guardian article written by Jenny Holt, many articles in the English speaking press have reverted to racist tropes. She gives one such example below:
Typical of the response was the Daily Mail, which sent a reporter to the Roppongi entertainment district of Tokyo (hardly the place to find a cross-section of Japanese society) to get the lowdown on Japanese men from foreign bar hostesses. They rattled off the old stereotypes of the men as ‘”strange, uncomfortable and unpredictable”, “so very different to us”, impossible to understand and having an unhealthy attitude to foreign women. The paper announced that the murder had “cast a sinister shadow” over Tokyo’s entire female expatriate community. “In Japan,” it proclaimed, “British women constantly have to put up with unwanted male attention – such as the endemic groping on the trains”. Later, it interviewed another British teacher who cautioned women to be “wary” before travelling to the country.
Indeed, to highlight that this was not restricted to what is often termed the “sensationalisat press,”she points out that the BBC hosted a radio play which:
………….was loosely based on the Hawker case and which trotted out the same xenophobic caricatures about an uptight society with an underlying streak of insanity that refuses to co-operate with western forces of reason and justice.
Culture and social norms are important, as are the laws of a country and the extent and manner in which they are enforced. This, however, is completely different to making crude racial stereotypes about certain ethnicities and communities. In the UK, for example:
In January 2013, An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, the first ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office, revealed:
- Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men (aged 16 – 59) experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 of the most serious sexual offences (of adults alone) every hour.
- Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence report to the police
- Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence
Japan has relatively (in comparison to other “advanced” nations) low levels of rape but this has been down to a reluctance to actually report rape to the police. Following changes to the definition of law in 2017 reports of rape increased by 27% in the first half of 2018 alone. Which all goes to show that rape and sexual violence are a widespread problem throughout all so-called modern societies and we should concentrate on specific measures to tackle the problem rather than indulge in unhelpful racial stereotypes or outmoded hydraulic models of sexuality.
The honorable exception to the lack of coverage of Lindsay’s case was the now sadly difunct blog TEFL Blacklist. This blog was a pioneer in fighting for students and teachers rights within the industry. It was an exposure of the worse schools in the industry and a platform for teachers and students to report bad practices. It was no surprise given its concern for the ELT community that at the time of Lindsay’s death it posted the following:
I’ve posted this article from the BBC, in memory of Lindsay Ann Hawker, the English teacher from Coventry, England, murdered in Japan this week. Her family must be going through absolute hell and I’m sure that I speak for all EFL teachers around the world in offering them my sincerest condolences. May this tragedy serve as a warning to us all to be extra vigilant when far from home and our loved ones.
Unfortunately, and in our opinion, the article posted by TEFL Blacklist drifted in some parts too easily into victim blaming. For example:
Sarah Ono, 30, who runs her own English school in Kochi and has a Japanese husband and two children, said foreign women are often unaware that they will attract unwanted attention by the way they act.
“Japanese women are reserved. In a bar it doesn’t take much for a Western woman to start talking to a man in a bar, but Japanese women would not do that.
“It is normal for foreign women to chat with men they don’t know on a friendly basis. But in Japan, if you did that, the man may assume they wanted something else.”
Being aware of these differences would help to prevent women entering risky situations, she said.
“The crime rate is low here, but things do happen. People should remember they are in Japan and maybe be aware that their behaviour may be misread.”
Clearly, cultural misunderstandings can lead to considerable discomfort for both parties but they cannot in any conceivable way account for nor be used as an excuse for rape and murder.
This said, the article does also raise the point:
Another former teacher who also worked in Hokkaido, who did not want to be named, witnessed a man snooping around outside her apartment, and on another occasion had an intruder enter when she was not there.
“As a foreigner you are an object of intrigue and interest and that comes with a certain responsibility – you have to be careful about certain people’s motivations,” she said.
“There is a certain fascination – which may have something to do with how foreigners are portrayed on the TV – and you are probably the closest thing some people have to meeting such people, particularly in more rural areas.”
She felt safe walking around in the day or night and was warmly accepted by her Japanese community.
But she said it was important foreigners did not forget about taking the same precautions they would in any other country.
“You attract people, but it is how you deal with that. If you use the same degree of savvy you do in Britain, you will be okay.”
In many ways Lindsay did exercise more than sufficient caution but we have to ask how issues of “trust” and “building rapport with a student,” impacted on her decision to travel with the perpetrator in that taxi and accompany him up to his flat to collect the payment for the class he said he had forgotten. Remember, she did ask the taxi driver to wait but he left after seven minutes. We have no idea of what was passing through the taxi driver’s mind but we do know he wasn’t priotising issues of a woman’s safety over other considerations.
Paying Tribute to Lindsay Hawker
Like Suzy Lamplugh, Lindsay Hawker is a name we should never forget. Lindsay and Suzy both died as a result of carrying out their jobs; jobs which put them at risk. Many lessons have been learnt from the Suzy Lamplugh case and much effort has been put into training and supporting staff in order to mininmize risk. We ask that Lindsay’s name be honored in the same way. Lindsay was a precious and talented young woman who was lost to us in the most horrendous of circumstances. Remembering Lindsay and her tragic death is not to concentrate on the macabre and indulge in dubious ideas of “foreign men” but to value each other as teachers, recognise the dangers teachers doing private classes might face, and act as a community and support each other in trying to be the best we can be. This continual silence inside ELT/TEFL about her case is not only a betrayal of Lucy, it is a betrayal of ourselves and our humanity. They may be called “private classes” but we tackle risk by socialising it and certainly not by privatising it.