01/31/2021 14:00 EST | Updated 01/31/2021 14:03 EST

Sexual Assault Centre Slams Upcoming Event Named After Serial Killer

The geogame coming to Ontario ‘glorifies’ violence against women, advocates say.

A “Jack the Ripper” detective geogame coming to Ontario cities this spring goes too far in glorifying an infamous serial killer who brutally murdered women, says one sexual assault centre.

“He killed women thought to be sex workers, showed an extreme hatred against women and committed the worst crimes,” Sara Casselman told HuffPost Canada.

She’s executive director of the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, which is concerned that naming the event after a real-life predator “glorifies and romanticizes” violence against women. 

The murder mystery game will take place in Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton and Kitchener in May and June. Teams play detective, using their smartphones to track down clues and virtual witnesses around each city. 

The goal is to solve the case before the murderer “strikes again,” said the event website. “Jack the Ripper” is splashed across promotional materials, featuring a creepy, grinning man wearing a top hat on a cobblestoned street, holding a bloody knife and handkerchief.

A short movie about Jack the Ripper plays at a Museum in Docklands' exhibition in London, on May 14, 2008. The serial killer terrorized the city in 1888, targeting, torturing and killing at least five women, and should not be romanticized, Ontario advocates say.

The serial killer operated in London in 1888, targeting, torturing and killing at least five vulnerable women — Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddows and Mary Jane Kelly. Although he terrorized the city, he was never caught. 

“I think there’s power in a name, and I don’t think that name should be used in association with any games,” said Casselman. “It’s a no-brainer that we don’t glorify someone who was a mass murderer of women.”

She said it would be like naming a game after B.C.’s Pig Farmer Killer or Montreal’s Polytechnique mass murderer.

CluedUpp, the U.K. company offering the event, said the game is not based on the killings in London and contains no references to the 1888 events. 

The storyline is fictional and set in modern times, said CluedUpp’s Chris Boyce in an email. The victims are male and there’s no violence against women “whatsoever.”  

“We very much stand with the support centre when it comes to putting a stop to violence against women,” he said, adding the game tackles topics such as police corruption, abuse of power and social inequality.

CluedUpp chose a serial killer’s nickname as the event’s title to engage people and then will use its platform to tell “important stories that stand a chance of being effective and change people’s perspective when it comes to abuse towards women,” Boyce said.

“As a murder-mystery company, we constantly find ourselves writing about violent crime — and we completely understand our responsibilities when it comes to writing new storylines,” said Boyce. “In this regard, we always do our very best to write a narrative that is both thought-provoking and sends an important message to the consumer.” 

But Casselman said the game’s name and branding in and of itself sends the wrong message, especially as violence against women across the country is rising because of the pandemic.

“They’re absolutely missing the point to say the game doesn’t glorify violence against women, when they’re invoking the name of a mass murderer of women to sell their product,” she said.

The Waterloo Region support centre has seen a 55 per cent increase in requests for counselling in the last quarter of 2020, compared to the same period the year before. The pandemic has caused women to be more socially isolated and vulnerable to abuse.

Demand for a program for women who’ve experienced abuse in their relationship and are navigating family court has increased 158 per cent, Casselman said. Groups and workshops have seen 312 per cent more participation. 

The support centre is asking the Waterloo Region community to forgo the event and instead consider attending workshops and training to learn more about gender-based violence prevention. 

“What we’ve done locally is say to our community, is this the kind of community we want to be?” Casselman said. “A company will do what it wants, but will our community forgo it?”