Remembering The Prostituted Who Perished to Keep An Obsolete Practice Going

On this day, the 5th of October, we remember the women, transwomen, and children who perished in the global sex trade, whether their engagement in it was by choice or coerced by force or circumstance. Their exact numbers are unknown because euphemisms — alcoholism, drug overdose, depression, suicide — often hide the actual cause of their dying: grievous stress on body and soul. The constant violence in the trade sees women in the sex trade 18 times more likely than the general female population to be murdered in Colorado, 60–80 times more likely to be murdered in Vancouver, and 12 times more likely to be killed in London.

And these are in places where presumably women’s rights have been fought for and are presumably advanced, compared to areas of feudal and theocratic rule.

We refuse to see this high rate of homicide of the prostituted as mere collateral of the practice of prostitution. Instead, we see it as an expression of the inherent violence of commercial sex exploitation, where the body becomes a commodity, labor, and a profit-generating site. As the Colorado Study stated: “few of the women died of natural causes, as would be expected for persons whose average age at death was 34 years. Rather, based on proportional mortality, the leading causes of death were homicide (19%), drug ingestion (18%), accidents (12%), and alcohol-related causes (9%).”

From a high of 70,000–80,000, arrests for prostitution per se have gone down, but the accurate numbers hide behind such legal euphemisms as vagrancy, disorderly conduct, drunkenness. FBI statistics showed that in 2012, 25,000 women were arrested for prostitution while 12,000 men (clients, pimps, and male prostitutes) were arrested. Some 70% of the arrested were female prostitutes and madams, 20% male prostitutes and pimps, and only 10% were johns. The female is blamed for prostitution — a demand-driven trade — and she is readily punished for her presence in the sex trade.

A New Zealand study of street-level prostitution (75% providing services on the street; 67% in cars) showed 85% experiencing violence, and only 35% reporting such incidents to the police. The most common incidents were physical assault (65%), rape with a weapon (40%), and rape without a weapon (33%).

The perception that an exchange of cash nullifies consent, that transactional sex has little or no boundaries for the client makes this violence acceptable. Monto’s study found that 19.6% of clients surveyed agreed with the statement “I like rough, hard sex,” while 53.2% agreed that “I like to be with a woman who likes to get nasty.” 3. Those in the sex trade are deemed disposable.

This perception continues, despite the hard work of advocates and campaigners for the prostituted. In mid-April this year, two transwomen were shot dead in motel rooms in Charlotte, North Carolina. Two weeks later, a Baltimore man killed two women after making “dates” with each using an app. He strangled one in her apartment, the other in a motel room. The most recent incident occurred in Sept.; a woman, a teenager, and a man were killed in St. Louis. “Sex workers have been targeted and have either been shot or shot at by unknown suspects,” St. Louis police said in a 17th of September statement.

AF3IRM NYC demands that the rights of those who are the commodity in the sex trade be protected, that any criminal record of solicitation is expunged, that minors be treated as survivors and not be made to answer for crimes committed by their pimps and/or traffickers.

AF3IRM NYC also demands a significant expansion of programs to enable the bought and sold to exit the sex trade, including — in addition to economic support — psychological treatment, particularly for PTSD.

AF3IRM NYC also expects that any effort to reduce violence and criminality in the sex trade would be accompanied by school-based education on grooming, trafficking, and risks and hazards of and within the trade.

There can be no question of equality as long as women are converted into a commodity to edify a minority of the male population who comprise the johns. — ###

1. Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women by John J. Potterat, Devon D. Brewer, Stephen Q. Muth, Richard B. Rothenberg, Donald E. Woodhouse, John B. Muth, Heather K. Stites, Stuart Brody. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 159, Issue 8, the 15th of April, Pages 778–785

2. Violence in Prostitution by Serena Maszak. CUNY John Jay College. CUNY Academic Works, Spring 2018

Ordinary or Peculiar Men? Comparing the customers of prostitutes with a nationally representative sample of men. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 58(7).

AF3IRM is a national grassroots organization of women engaged in transnational feminist, anti-imperalist activism, fighting oppression in all it’s forms.