Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dying on the Job: Sex Work

I strongly recommend Nancy Goldstein's article "Getting Away with Murder on Long Island." She sets the stage:

"I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed," Mr. Ridgway said in his statement. "I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."

-- Gary Ridgway, the "Green River Killer," who admitted in 2003 to killing 48 women (quoted in Silja J.A. Talvi's Nov. 13, 2003 AlterNet story)

A terrible story has been unraveling on Long Island since last December. That's when the remains of four bodies, disposed of in separate burlap bags 500 feet apart on a scant quarter-mile of beach, were identified as belonging to young women in their 20s who advertised themselves as escorts on Craigslist. Just weeks ago, six more victims were found nearby.

It's not yet clear whether one killer or multiple killers are responsible. No suspects have surfaced. But that's not what makes this story really tragic. Some of those 10 people might be alive today if it hadn't been for the lackluster response of law enforcement and the press coverage of the case -- much of it sensationalist and dehumanizing -- all because of the first victims' sex-worker status.
Well worth reading and thinking about, including asking ourselves why the public's response to hearing about a murdered prostitute is often different from the general reactions to murder.

Prostitutes count for less, especially if prostitution itself is illegal, and the illegal nature of prostitution increases its risks, as Goldstein describes.

At the same time, a murderer focusing on prostitutes doesn't cause the same fear among people who are not prostitutes (unless and until the murderer widens his focus to, say, all women). That latter possibility also raises some very uncomfortable questions about what the social functions of (illegal and unprotected) sex work are supposed to be.
For some data on the murder rates of sex workers, see my earlier post on dangerous jobs.