Home News Alix Tichelman’s Trial By Headline

Alix Tichelman’s Trial By Headline

Alix Tichelman. (Photo via the freealixt Twitter acount)
Alix Tichelman. (Photo via the freealixt Twitter acount)

Last month in Santa Cruz, 27-year-old sugar baby and fetish model Alix Tichelman pled guilty to manslaughter in the heroin overdose death of her Google executive client Forrest Hayes, and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Throughout the eight months Tichelman was in custody, the media luridly painted her as “The Callgirl Killer,” “The Harbor Hooker,” or simply, baldly, as a “prostitute,” even though she hadn’t worked as an escort since early in 2012 and actually met Hayes on Seeking Arrangement as a sugar daddy. Meanwhile, no article on the case failed to mention that Hayes was an employee of Google X and a father of five. Despite the fact that this was clearly “an accidental overdose between two consenting adults,” as Tichelman’s lawyer Larry Biggam put it, and that the two were known to have been involved in an ongoing commercial sexual relationship involving drug use, most coverage painted the young sex worker as a heartless killer. All of the media I read made sure to quote Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark’s comment to NBC News that “she [Tichelman] was so callous,” and describe the footage on the yacht’s surveillance video in which she stepped over his body to lower the curtains and sip from a glass of wine.

Few news outlets quoted Assistant District Attorney Rafael Velasquez’s words at the case’s conclusion, belying this presentation of Tichelman as a dope-fiend black widow: “This is a manslaughter case. There was no intent to kill and there was no conscious disregard for human life…She demonstrated an attempt to initially try to help him out, crying while holding him, trying to shake him, trying to wake him.”

These two accounts of the surveillance video are so starkly different that one must assume that a lot of the behavior being touted as proof of Tichelman’s inhumanity represents her reaction before she even knew Hayes was dead, when she thought he was merely in a nod—the typical effect of opiates.

What would have happened to Alex Tichelman had she called the police?

Unlike many states, California has a 911 Good Samaritan law, meaning that Tichelman would not have been liable for small amounts of drugs on the property or being intoxicated herself. It’s unlikely she knew that, though, and she would most likely still have been responsible for bringing Hayes the heroin in the first place, and still have been stuck with manslaughter charges for injecting him. In fact, in light of Tichelman’s conviction, police in Milton, Georgia have reopened the case of the 2013 death of Tichelman’s boyfriend Dean Riopelle from mixing opiates and alcohol, an instance in which Tichelman, described as “panicked,” did call 911 for help, stating that Riopelle had overdosed and she didn’t know what he was on.

Discussions of Hayes’ death elide any mention of what Tichelman could have done to keep him alive. One positive thing media spotlight on the case could have achieved is wider public awareness of how Narcan distribution to opiate users and basic overdose prevention skills like CPR could have saved Hayes. Yet the media preferred to focus instead on how cold-hearted Tichelman was to panic in the face of her client’s sudden death and the possibility of her arrest.

When white, upper-middle class men like Hayes use injection drugs, it is at worst a tragic vice, not a marker of sociopathy as Tichelman’s drug use has been depicted. The sex workers these men call upon to facilitate their double lives are the ones that typically get to wear the scarlet A for their addiction. Article after article describes every twist and turn of Tichelman’s drug history, assuming the fact that she used heroin made her more or less likely to have done the right thing, but no investigative reporting seems to have been done to uncover the story of Hayes’ habit. Sex workers are expected to cater to men on benders, fulfilling their desire to get high as well as their sexual needs, leaving us to babysit entitled and reckless users unlikely to recognize their own mortality. Tichelman injected Hayes, suggesting that she was the more experienced user, more familiar with the limits of tolerance. But besides being his supplier, Tichelman was also Hayes’ employee, someone he expected to empower him to enjoy his leisure. How much freedom did she have to tell him that the dose he asked for was too much? As any sex worker can tell you, men do not enjoy being told “no” when they’re taking a load off.

Stigma made Tichelman an easy target for last month’s news cycle, each outlet piling on to tell essentially the same story about the cruel temptress who got a brainy executive killed. Many meaningful details, such as Hayes’ enthusiastic participation in the couple’s drug use (he reportedly used the flashlight app on his iPhone to make sure that Tichelman was able to see well enough to get a good vein when she injected him) and Tichelman’s traumatic past as an inmate in one of Utah’s notorious unlicensed rehab facilities for troubled teens, as well as her numerous attempts to stop doing drugs, were overshadowed by that facile narrative.

But most tragically, the sensationalist coverage ignored discussions on overdose death we should be having, such as the extent sex workers should be responsible for their clients’ drug use, the necessity of passing 911 Good Samaritan laws nationwide, the need for those laws to excuse all drug-related crime at an overdose scene, and the most effective way to provide drug users with harm reduction information to prevent future overdoses. In the meantime, just a week ago, Texas governor Greg Abbot vetoed a 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone distribution bill, preparing the way for more deaths like Forrest Hayes’.


  1. “The sex workers these men call upon to facilitate their double lives are the ones that typically get to wear the scarlet A for their addiction….Sex workers are expected to cater to men on benders, fulfilling their desire to get high as well as their sexual needs, leaving us to babysit entitled and reckless users unlikely to recognize their own mortality.”

    This says it all. When I was working at a commercial dungeon in NYC, I spent many, MANY hours babysitting cokeheads, guys on alcoholic benders who had nowhere else to go when the bars closed & they didn’t want to go home, guys smoking crack, guys snorting pills. Not all of these clients were well-to-do, but a hell of a lot of them were exactly like Forrest Hayes: wealthy white men with “important” jobs and families, living double lives. I was constantly asked to procure drugs or liquor for them (they would be incredulous when I explained that I was a square and didn’t know where to get most drugs). Furthermore, a lot of them expected the domme to partake of the drugs with them. AAAANNND some of them even wanted me (or another domme) to administer their drugs to them, or mix & deliver more cocktails to them.

    More than once, I wondered exactly what I & the dungeon (management) would do if someone ODed during a session. To be completely honest, I think that, depending on which manager was working that night, there’s a very good chance the ODed client would be dumped on the street a few blocks away, and someone would call an ambulance from a payphone.

    I have sympathy for Hayes and it sucks that his children lost him, but it’s his own damn fault he died. Tichelman didn’t kill him.

  2. Blanket statement:
    …’sex workers are expected to…..’

    More accurate to say ‘at times sex workers are…’ Or even more accurate ‘at times I myself have felt I was expected to…’. Yes I think it matters.

    We might want to work to include a variety of perspectives without alienating anyone.
    Don’t want to perpetuate the wrong narratives which end up working against us.

    Are all clients addicts? No. Are all sex workers addicts? No. Is it a good strategy to demonize clients (who have already been targeted by the antis) to counter the drug addicted sex worker stereotype? There must be a better way to battle the stigma without contributing to the stigma.

    Promoting a more compassionate approach to addiction is important regardless of who we could be talking about.

    I have been a sex worker in various capacity from homeless on the street, addicted, nearly died, to recovery and finally healthy platform- since recovery I have always refused clients who are high or drunk. I refuse to to be expected to babysit anyone. Doesn’t matter how much I may be hurting for money I will not compromise that boundary.

    The way we operate and advertise can be effective in weeding out a lot of that crap in the first place.

    But I sure don’t blame you for being angry about double standards where they arise. Double standards piss me off too.


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