What Sgt. Delaney was trying to say, without coming right out and saying it, was that the woman was a prostitute. Similar statements made in October about the other two victims implied the same thing. What Sgt. Delaney was careful not to imply was that in spite of her "risky behavior," the woman was "asking for it." That particular judgment will be made by far too many others in the community.
"If it were a half-hour later, we would have been investigating the city's 15th murder," said Sgt. John M. Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet.
The victim is a white woman with a long history with police, Delaney said, though he did not detail her arrest record.
"I hate to say it, I don't want to make her a victim twice," Delaney said, while cautioning the public that the attack did not bear the marks of a "typical" serial rapist."The general public should know that this was a woman who engaged in risky behavior, not someone who was abducted at random," he said. Stephanie Barry, Springfield Republican.
Women's advocates know that no woman is safe from rape and murder. One out of every six women in the U.S. has been the victim or a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, and the murder rate for women is 1.35 for every 100,00 women.
But yes-- violence against sex workers is way out of proportion to that of the general population.
The most recent victim's brutalization took place exactly ten days after the 6th Annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The event was initiated to commemorate the more than 90 victims of the Green River killer Gary Ridgway, who targeted prostitutes because "I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."
"Violence should not be an occupational hazard!" The Sex Worker Outreach Project, along with many others, believes that laws that criminalize prostitution help to put women in harm's way. Perpetrators often count on sex workers not going to the police for protection (there are occasional exceptions: see my post on Officer Jacobson) and the stigma creates the idea that sex workers, especially street prostitutes, are a disposable class of people.
Sadly, as women as a whole experience less discrimination and greater possibilities, the women's movement, if it even still exists, shows little or no solidarity with women who use their bodies to make a living. Radical movements to prevent violence against women have turned into service providers with close ties to the state. I have heard no outcry from the YWCA, no word from any battered women's shelter or rape crisis center. My own organization, Arise for Social Justice, , used to frequent places where we would find sex workers and pass out flyers about safety and resources, but our own resources have been very thin of late. Thinking about this, I have to ask myself if we could have done something to make these womens' assaults less likely.
The real question, though, is what can we do now?
Photo from SWOP-Tuscon.