The search for the supposed Long Island Serial Killer began in December 2010, when the bodies of four women who had worked as prostitutes were found in the course of the search for a fifth who had disappeared that May. No suspect has been found to date. I spoke with New York contributing editor Robert Kolker via chat to talk about his first book, Lost Girls, which is a study of the five women who disappeared there and their surviving friends and family. Chat edited from its raw form.
Bubbles: Did your personal attitude about prostitution/prostitutes change a lot over the course of reporting this book?
Kolker: When I first reported on the serial-killer case, I was coming into the subject with no real knowledge of sex workers or sex work. In hindsight, I had a lot of preconceived notions. My first impulse, as a reporter, was to join the crowd and try to report on the whodunit aspect of the case. I didn’t occur to me to learn much about the victims at first because I assumed, naively, that they had no stories at all—that they were “dead” long before they were really killed. (I actually thought of Season 2 of The Wire, in which the bodies of trafficked girls are found in a shipping container. I thought these women were like that—people who were social outcasts who might never be identified.)
Then I quickly learned they all had families, of course, and loved ones and friends. And as I got to know the families I realized that sex work, in part because of the Internet, attracts a very different sort of person from the stereotype. I wanted Lost Girls to be about that change—about the lives of these women—as much as I wanted it to be about the case itself.
About that change in their lives?
About the change in the world of escorts. How the shift from outdoor to indoor sex work has allowed a wider variety of people to find the work appealing.
The ease of entry.
Now, I’ve talked with plenty of escorts who say that the Internet has actually made their work safer—that they can do background checks on clients and so forth—and so I didn’t want this book to beat up on the Internet itself. But I do think the field has changed and the professional challenges have changed, even as the risks remain in place. [READ MORE]
(Photo by the Edinburgh Eye)
Last week in Cleveland, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Amanda Berry escaped from Ariel Castro’s “house of horrors” where he imprisoned the women in a nightmare of rape and torture for almost a decade. Castro has been arraigned on four charges of kidnapping and three charges of rape. The courageous women escaped with the help of Charles Ramsey, a neighbor who broke into the home after hearing Berry’s screams. A charismatic man, Ramsey became an instant celebrity after declaring he knew “something was wrong” when he saw that a “pretty little white girl ran into the arms of a black man.”
Everything about the Cleveland kidnapping case—from Ramsey’s critique of race to the captive women’s histories of abuse—has stirred important conversations about domestic abuse, sexual abuse, police incompetence, and race. Unsurprisingly, for those of us who follow trafficking hysteria, it’s also inspired a lot of talk about sex trafficking.
I was excited to read and review Off the Street. The true story of Las Vegas vice cop Christopher Baughman, leader of the Pandering Investigation Team (PIT) and Human Trafficking Task Force, it seemed like the perfect read for a sex-work-loving, law enforcement supporter such as myself.
The story begins when a prostitute on the Strip is beaten for two days by her pimp, who’s also the father of her son. Baughman becomes her crusading investigator, despite the victim’s objections to leaving her attacker. Baughman seems to understand the cycle of violence and abuse with which he’s so familiar, and acknowledges the woman’s reluctance to assist in the case. He acknowledges that there are indeed “bad” cops:
“I understand that the power of the badge can only amplify qualities in a person. For instance, a good man with a badge can only amplify qualities in a person. … There are others who carry a badge and feel an automatic sense of entitlement. They might bend over backward for some citizens, but declare in the same breath that any ghetto is just a self-cleaning oven. These men have also become my enemies. I have no use for them. They have dishonored their position, slighted the city I love and tarnished the badge that I carry.” [READ MORE]
Can you say busted? The news articles are entitled “New Mexico Judge Charged with Raping Prostitute.” However, it seems the case isn’t so cut and dried.
In Bernalillo County, Judge Pat Murdoch is apparently well-known and highly respected for serving the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in New Mexico for 26 years. Allegedly, he met and paid an unidentified woman for sex on at least eight occasions. The woman alleges that on at least two of those incidences, Murdoch “forced himself on her” and also “forcibly performed oral sex on her, despite her objections to oral sex.” After this occurred once, the woman returned for another meeting and secretly taped the next assault, which she then presented to undercover police. [READ MORE]
By now the New Jersey Donut Ho is national news. How couldn’t she be? She was allegedly turning tricks at a Dunkin’ Donuts. You couldn’t pick a place with more cops if you were working inside an actual police station. To summarize: A woman who worked the late shift at a DD in Rockaway, NJ would leave her post at the drive-though window to entertain customers in their cars. She was arrested (and released) after six weeks of undercover investigation, a typical waste of public resources on pursuing victimless crimes. Well, not victimless; if anyone has standing for damages in this instance, it’s her employer, yeah?
Her choice of venue was unusual and entrepreneurial, though she wasn’t the first person to choose a nontraditional venue for selling sex. Here’s some other stories about similar go-getters in the sex trade. [READ MORE]