In the News
Speaking Out for Julissa Brisman
Why sex workers are too often the victim
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.