I read Mary Mitchell’s column in the Chicago Sun Times this weekend with mounting disbelief and disgust. It’s hard to believe that in 2015 a news columnist, an African-American woman no less, was arguing that a sex worker raped at gunpoint by a client was somehow less deserving of protection than any other individual. By arguing that what happened to this sex worker minimized the act of rape (her words not mine), Mitchell perpetuated the worst stereotypes about sex workers and who is deserving of being considered a legitimate rape victim.
In her column, Mitchell not only implied that the sex worker deserved what she got — a terribly harmful stereotype that perpetuates violence against all women — but she basically threw all women who have been sexually assaulted but not grievously injured under the bus. As she implies, if you have been raped but not stabbed multiple times like the “innocent” rape victim she lauds in her column, then you don’t deserve to call yourself a victim. Excuse me, Ms. Mitchell, but do you live in the 21st century where sexual assaults are finally beginning to be treated with the seriousness they deserve?
Mary Mitchell obviously is not aware of the long history of law enforcement indifference to rape victims who happened to be sex workers and how such indifference has led to serial killings and other abhorrent acts of violence against not only sex workers but other women as well. She obviously doesn’t understand that such indifference is part and parcel of a culture that blames women for dressing provocatively or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As I discovered when researching my book, Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law (due out Oct. 6), in countries where prostitution is illegal and sex workers fear coming forward to complain about violence (for fear of being arrested themselves), violent predators can operate with impunity. And those predators target both sex workers and non sex workers as well, as law enforcement throughout the United States will tell you. By contrast, in countries where sex work is decriminalized and regulated to some degree, sex workers feel comfortable reporting violence to police and women experience lower levels of violence.
She may not realize it but Mitchell is arguing for a return to the kind of law enforcement apathy toward sex workers that planted the seeds for notorious serial killers like Gary Ridgeway, Ted Bundy and Thomas Pickton (in Canada). As Ridgeway himself said at his sentencing for murdering dozens of women in Washington State:
“I picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed… I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
Is that the kind of justice you’re advocating, Ms. Mitchell? Shame on you!