“Prostitutes’ Disappearances Were Noticed Only When the First Bodies Were Found” (New York Times, April 7) reveals the danger of devaluing human life. Little attention was paid to missing people until their corpses were found.
The Times report quotes Gary Ridgway, who admitted murdering 48 women, as explaining, “I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
The prospect of being murdered without repercussion is the ultimate point of disempowerment. Sure, serial killers do get caught and ultimately punished, but only after numerous people are victimized.
How do prostitutes become such easy prey for the predators? It is ultimately due to a lack of respect and visibility. As people who exist outside of “respectable” society, prostitutes enjoy few protections from that society.
One cannot overlook the responsibility of “moral” crusaders for this pattern of marginalization. As something that’s “dirty,” prostitution is already off-limits in many forums of discussion, removing the prostitute from consideration. More serious is the extreme condescension shown toward those who trade sex for money. It’s one thing to be a little uppity about the choices you make, but it is quite another to regard someone as below the threshold of consideration because she’s “just a whore.”
Criminalization is a key factor in pushing prostitutes, among others, to the dangerous margins of society. Who can you turn to when the organization that largely monopolizes crime fighting is against you, and the other offers of “protection” are likely to lead to exploitation? The power that cops have over sex workers often manifests itself in the corruption and oppression one could expect from such an unequal relationship.
Criminalization makes further victimization easier in other ways too. A feeling of disempowerment leaves one with a sense of helplessness. Even if the law-breaker has access to weapons, getting caught armed would make just make them more serious “violators.” In the margins it’s difficult to trust, communicate, or bring to bear resources for redress. Fortunately outreach projects bring some measure of understanding and communication to those who work in the sex industry.
One should also consider the economic situation that prostitutes face. Whatever the motivations of the numerous individuals involved, it is clear that there are prostitutes who would rather be doing something else. It is also clear that victims of lower income tend be of less concern to authorities. The squeezing of the workforce by politicians and plutocrats, as well as the obstacles to advancement that regulations and artificially high costs of living create, leave many pursuing more dangerous and less-rewarding jobs than they would in a freer society.
However the story of disappearance and bodies in a swamp turns out, hopefully the victims will at least be afforded the dignity of presentation as people, not mere props. Raising the dignity of the individual, making room for them in a caring society, goes a long way in expanding their freedom to live. When society’s prejudice and state regulations make a person into an unperson, there is a shorter distance to go for a murderer to make her a dead person.