Prostitutes have rights too

The recent manhunt for a serial killer in Long Island, N.Y. has revealed a slacking standard in equal treatment by the Suffolk Police Department.

According to The New York Times, the disappearance of a prostitute, Shannan Gilbert, 24, in May started an investigation that led to the recent discovery of the remains of four other prostitutes. Gilbert is still missing.

The four other prostitutes disappeared between July 2007 and September 2010. But “each disappearance drew little or no notice.”

Women forced to work the streets, and sex workers in general, have always led dangerous and potentially violent lives.

But when one of them disappears or is suspected to be the victim of a crime, we expect the police to treat the case as seriously, or with the same diligence, as if it had been anyone else.

"Whether they're prostitutes or not, we don't care about that in our community," said Jose Trinidad, a resident near where the bodies were found, according to the Associated Press.

But Gilbert’s mother told The Times in an interview that she felt the police, “failed to protect her daughter and … did not take her disappearance seriously until she became part of Long Island’s latest serial-killer case.”

“I think they look at them like they’re throwaway,” she said.

This is actually the third serial killer from Long Island to target prostitutes in recent years.

In the 1990s, Joel Rifkin, an unemployed landscaper, killed 17 prostitutes, and Robert Shulman, a former postal worker, killed five, according to The Times.

So why are prostitutes victimized so frequently?

The Green River Killer from Seattle, Gary Ridgway, who admitted to killing 48 women, said, “I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”

Then, if prostitutes are so vulnerable to violence and murder, why do the police take their disappearances so lightly? Where are the high-profile investigations­­ — where are the resources necessary to bring the perpetrators to justice?

Are they not also citizens of the United States? Are they not human beings?

The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution reads, “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Yes, that even includes women who exchange sex for money. If only they could form something like a union, to collectively protest for their civil rights, perhaps they would start being protected equally under the law, and stop being killed.

As Patricia Barone, the mother of another murdered prostitute, Gina Baron, aptly noted, “If one Vassar College girl was missing, we would have had cops all over the place.”

The Constitution calls for the government to protect all of its citizens equally, regardless of gender, race –– even occupation.

So where were these young women’s rights?

Contact Danny at djoconn1@asu.edu


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