This article describes the recent murders of four women in New Jersey who authorities believe were working as prostitutes at the time of their deaths. So far, only one of the four victims has been identified, her name is Kim Raffo.
The article makes some useful observations about the vulnerability of sex workers: illegality, stigma of immorality, slow responses from law enforcement. However, it also (along with much of the coverage of this case) recycles some of the very beliefs that keep sex workers vulnerable. The fact that prostitutes are easy targets for serial killers is not due “to the nature of their business” and sex work is not “dangerous and illegal under the best of circumstances”. The criminalization of sex work is a choice that our society has made, and the consequence of criminalization is increased vulnerability for sex workers. There are other choices. De-criminalization is a choice that would make sex work safer – less underground, less vulnerable, less stigmatized.
As we mourn the deaths of these four women, I want to remember their humanity (they were women after all, “prostitutes” may have been their occupation but does not describe their beings sufficiently) and I want to remember that their deaths were not inevitable, nor were their deaths the natural consequences of a choice to work as a prostitute. Even if prostitution is illegal, a death sentence is not how our society has chosen to punish it. All murders deserve outrage.
PROSTITUTES HAVE LONG BEEN TARGETS FOR KILLERS
Home News Tribune Online 11/24/06
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ATLANTIC CITY — Since at least Jack the Ripper, 118 years ago, serial killers have preyed on prostitutes.
Prostitutes are not only in the world’s oldest profession, but are among the world’s oldest murder victims, says James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston and the author of five books about serial and mass murderers.
People who have worked or studied the cases say prostitutes make easy targets and difficult cases to crack because of the nature of their business, which is dangerous and illegal under the best of circumstances.
On Monday, the bodies of four women were found near a row of seedy, discount motels just outside of Atlantic City and within view of the resort city’s skyline of glimmering casino hotel towers. Authorities are looking into whether the women were prostitutes — the one who has been identified, Kim Raffo, is reported to have been — and whether they were the victims of a serial killer. Read the rest of this entry »