True crime has always fascinated society. Though the topic has recently risen in popularity amongst media consumers, there have always been instances of public speculation and spectatorship of horrific events. However, in recent years, there has also been an increased public awareness and consciousness of sex worker rights. Though these two ideas may at first seem separate entities, they are intrinsically linked.
Unfortunately, many known high profile serial killers targeted sex workers. With unsolved cases like those of the Long Island Ripper still fresh in the collective mind, it is clear that sex work, though becoming more accepted, remains dangerous.
Staggering Numbers, Staggering Inaction
A recent Indiana University study found that between 1979-2009, 22% of confirmed serial killer victims were sex workers. This number jumped to 43% over the last decade. Considering that less than 1% of the American population is in sex work, it is clear that something isn’t right.
Unfortunately, much of this tragedy is due to stigma around sex work. Though sex-positivity has increased in popularity, the general public perception of sex work is misguided and negative. However, this issue is most pervasive within police forces. Oftentimes, those tasked with solving murders carry these stigmas with them to work, and it has disastrous effects.
In the case of the serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper, the LAPD officers involved in the investigation coined the term “N.H.I.” (“no humans involved”) to describe the cases. Because the victims were Black sex workers, investigators considered them disposable. Police consider these cases as wastes of resources. Lack of police action and investigation led to many other deaths; at least 12 women died between 1988-2002. The killer remained free until 2010.
Criminalization of the Victim
The criminalization of sex work also contributes to disinterest in investigating murders of sex workers. Most sex work is a criminal offense. Sex workers are less likely to be reported missing by friends and colleagues. They are also less likely to report instances of violent attack. Until we can ensure that sex work is no longer a crime, the stigma and fear of arrest can can prevent people from speaking up.
When deaths or disappearances are reported, police rarely jump into action. The criminalization of sex work, along with chauvinistic attitudes that run rampant in the American justice system, leaves officers with little sympathy for sex workers. They are considered “criminal”, their disappearances and deaths usually go disregarded until multiple sex workers go missing. How can we accept a reality in which multiple people must die before action is taken?
Changing the Narrative
But, as true crime fans, how can we reconcile this reality with our interests? In order to have a healthy relationship with true crime and the horrors of our reality, we must uplift and fight for the rights of sex workers. Without giving victims proper respect, we are doing little more than celebrating a killer. Learn their names, support sex workers, and reach out to governmental organizations about decriminalizing sex work. No one should fear for their life on the job.