Speaking Out for Julissa Brisman

Craigslist Killer: Why sex workers are too often the victim

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Speaking Out for Julissa Brisman

Why sex workers are too often the victim

-Judy McGuire

When visiting masseuse Julissa Brisman was shot and killed allegedly by a client named Philip Markoff in a Beantown Marriott, it made the front page, not only in Boston, but all over the Northeast. Because unlike the crimes that don’t make the papers, in the case of the “Craigslist killer,” both victim and accused perpetrator were relatively good looking, middle class, and white.

Not all victims garner such publicity. Gary Ridgway (aka, the “Green River Killer”)   killed approximately 90 street prostitutes (though he was only charged with the murders of 48) in a nearly 20-year killing spree before he was nabbed. After Ridgway was caught he said, “”I wanted to kill as many women I thought were prostitutes as I possibly could.” And because his victims lived on society’s fringes, he was able to get away with his crimes for a very long time.

Markoff has been charged with Brisman’s death and the robbery of another prostitute in Rhode Island. The police suspect there are many more victims that aren’t speaking up, due to the illegal nature of their work. It makes you wonder – what if he’d committed his crime at some by-the-hour motel on the outskirts of town? Or if he hadn’t been a pre-med student? Or if his victim hadn’t been a good-looking white girl? Would we have ever even heard about his crime?

In a recent interview on Wowowow.com, criminal psychologist Dr. Stanton E. Samenow said, “We don’t know the number or scope of injuries or illegal acts that have been committed. More is likely to emerge about this man mistreating other people, including those whom he says he cares about.”  

Former sex worker turned activist Audacia Ray  has heard many stories about sex work gone wrong and is tired of seeing the victims dehumanized in media coverage, often coming off worse than the perpetrators. “People who do sex work are many, many things besides being workers in the sex industry;” she says. “They are complete people and not just sexual entities.”

To that end, she has produced the above PSA, entitled “I Am A Sex Worker.”

“Many of the sex workers I know have, at one point or another, been told ‘you don’t look like a sex worker.’ We made this PSA to humanize and normalize sex workers.”

“The PSA was made as part of a day-long media training developed and held by Sex Work Awareness,”  she tells me. SWA is a media advocacy and public education organization that works with sex workers to reduce the stigma still associated with their line of work. And indeed the women in the PSA are hardly the strung-out street hustlers you see sensationalized on shows like HBO’s Hookers docu-series or glammed out Belle on Secret Diary of a Call Girl; these are women who could be your daughter, sister, cousin, or best friend. Which is exactly Ray’s point.

I ask her how she thinks the legalization of prostitution might help things. “I think prostitution needs to be decriminalized in order to get people in the business authentic access to services without fear of arrest, discrimination, or violence from the state. It is really hard to imagine a sex industry in which there is no exploitation whatsoever, however when sex workers are afraid of police and other state authorities it is difficult to get help for those who need it.”

Maybe it’s a reach, but I can’t help but wonder if more of the Craigslist Killer’s earlier victims had felt safer reporting his crimes, Julissa Brisman might possibly be alive today.

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13 thoughts on “Speaking Out for Julissa Brisman

  1. This is very tragic and I agree that this man was not only robbing these women but very sick. He kept the underwear of the victims and this is definitely an indication it was more than robbery. Police have released little details and am sure that there is much more to this.

    Thankfully, he has been caught, but after how many victims? We will never know probably all of the women that suffered at the hands of this monster!

  2. These stories just are awful about these people. Sadly, I bet Hollywood will turn it into a movie or better yet, a lifetime movie starring Tori Spelling, yuck!

  3. Audacia Ray says,”They are complete people and not just sexual entities.”
    OK, that may be the case, but when I go to work every day, it’s not to go “service” some anonymous person in some downtown hotel. SOrry, but you’re responsible for putting yourselves in dangerous situations. THis is like a mother who says, ” I don’t know why my kid got hit by a car and died–I mean, he always palyed ball in the street.”

  4. I’d love to know if any of these so-called sex workers are reporting their income to the IRS. At least legalizing prostitution might force them to pay income taxes like those of us who aren’t selling our bodies.

  5. It’s not like Nevada fell off the face of the earth because some parts of it legalized prostitution. I think a lot of our society’s condemnation of prostitution stems from these sexist notions embedded in religious beliefs that make man superior over woman. We don’t think twice about why sex workers turned to such line of work. It is easy to sit safely in our homes and judge them as some sex-crazed nymphos that are out to steal our upstanding citizen husbands. But many have been forced into it, others have been destitute with little alternative otherwise, and still others have countless sad stories to tell. At least, if prostitution were legalized, we can admit them as humans, as people, as part of the reality that is a part of our society. And perhaps we can grant them the safety from crime and violence that everyone should have. On a random note, “Dangerous Beauty” is an awesome movie based on a true story. I recommend watching it!

  6. to Toyguymarc-
    Thanks for proving what this article is all about, intolerance, fear.

    How about we replace your line:
    “These are hookers we are talking about!! Good Riddance”
    with any of the following statements:

    These are jews we are talking about!! Good Riddance
    These are blacks we are talking about!! Good Riddance
    These are people with HIV we are talking about!! Good Riddance

    See it’s not nice to dehumanize people is it? The comment you made is equivalent to any of the statements I listed above.

  7. It is a shame that we would talk about women so inhumanely. There is an op-ed article in the NY Times titled “Girls On Our Streets” dated 5/6/09. It would be my hope that we understand better the facts on the ground before we make such harsh judgment on others.

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