Murder as an occupational hazard

I wrote this piece – Murder as an Occupational Hazard – in 2007 when 5 women’s bodies were found in Atlantic City, NJ.  I really wanted to stress how misogyny plays a role in serial killers who target women. Certainly, there are other “vulnerable populations” that these killers could target: runaways, drug dealers on the street, the elderly, the disabled, male prostitutes, etc. — but all too often the common denominator is gender, and profession, although clearly a factor, is secondary.

Recently, the bodies of 10 female sex workers were discovered in NY. Hopefully, it will spur more debate about legalizing (or not) prostitution, a culture that ‘permits’ gender-based violence, devaluing people (for whatever reason), impunity, and making heroes out of serial killers. I just want to add that in this discussion/debate, people need to address the prostitution of minors (johns that use them) and sexual trafficking.

Lust murder: Prostitutes as victims of throwaway capitalism

This is David Rosen’s take:

Many of the female victims of these horrendous murder sprees have been prostitutes. They tend to be young women in their 20s, lost to their birth families and community, and often on drugs. They seem like lost souls who have nothing left but their bodies to sell. They are throwaway living commodities of capitalism.

Getting away with murder on Long Island

This is Nancy Goldstein’s take:

It’s not yet clear whether one killer or multiple killers are responsible. No suspects have surfaced. But that’s not what makes this story really tragic. Some of those 10 people might be alive today if it hadn’t been for the lackluster response of law enforcement and the press coverage of the case — much of it sensationalist and dehumanizing — all because of the first victims’ sex-worker status.

Only one thing in common?

2 Prior Long Island Serial Killers Also Stalked Escorts

One smoked crack with his victims before bludgeoning them to death in his apartment. Another was caught after a police chase that ended in a crash outside the courthouse where he was later convicted of murder.

Now, a new Long Island serial killer has dumped at least four bodies near Gilgo Beach in December while forensic scientists work to identify four more sets of human remains found recently and police continue to search for more bodies possibly hidden in the brush.

All three murderers have one thing in common: They all targeted prostitutes…
Actually, what they all had in common was they targeted FEMALES. Males and transgender folks can prostitute, too, the serial killers didn’t target them, they targeted females.
At the very end, they say this:
“He’s targeting women who are either using drugs or engaging in prostitution or both, which are the traditional victims of serial killers because they’re usually loners that are not going to be missed by their families and they’re not going to put up much of a struggle,” Klein said of the current serial killer.
If writers are going to write about killers that target women – at least they should focus on that in the article (not save it for last) and put Violence Against Women into context.

The glorification and whorification

I’ve often thought, in a very general sense, we glorify men (fathers, soldiers, even serial killers) and whorify women (by hypersexualizing women and girls). That probably stems from gender roles that expect men to be strong and agressive and women to be pretty and sexy – but the media, to me, really exagerates these roles. In particular, they can treat violent men with fanfare, whether it’s the “nice guy” that kills his wife and kids (the most common serial killing) or the serial killer that tortures and kills unrelated women (but is not treated as gender-based violence). Here’s an interesting article in Salon about why women fall for serial killers – they are, afterall, treated like heroes in the media, often with super hero names like Green River Killer – argh! – or BTK (he named himself, actually) – or the Eastside killer.

Here’s a thesis about serial killers portrayed in the NY Times: 

Serial killers as heroes in the media’s storybook of murder

Read the piece in Salon here.

The nice guy in the mirror

I’ve written about how shocked I am about news stories that refer to “nice guys” that “snap” (quite inexplicably!) and kill their wife or girlfriend and sometimes their children.  Well, here is another like-minded writer that puts her thoughts about media bias down on paper, er, the keyboard, and gets slammed by a bunch of white guys (read the comment section): Why Are We Surprised When White Preppy Guys Turn Out to be Serial Killers? 

The New York Daily Newsdescribed Markoff as “clean cut” and “a high-achieving dentist’s son.” The Boston Globealso described the shaggy-haired Markoff as “clean cut” — as did countless other media outlets. Politico.comcalled Markoff “all-American,” while the Associated Press and dozens of others called him “handsome”; PR Insider said, simply, that “by all appearances, he had it all.”

“By all appearances” – superficially, maybe, but reality tells another story:

After all, given the available information, Markoff could have been painted as weird, anti-social, woman-hater, irresponsible, deeply in debt, broke and in the midst of eviction from his apartment. He could have been presented as a stone-faced, emotionless creep who scared classmates by forcing kisses on them and had a long history of strange behavior.

Well, that would be dependent on your own perspective (how often have you heard men talk about other men being “woman-haters” or misogynist?) and who you interview (neighbors, class mates or those who are actually close to the person).

I’ll say it again, in plain language: In the mythology of white male editors, guys like Markoff don’t kill. They golf. With newspaper editors. Most of whom look like Markoff.

Yeah. I’ve yet to read about a Black male who commits violence described in the media as “charming,” or “clean cut.” Editors are not as kind with Black criminals as they are with White criminals and it comes down to their bias, which is then spread like an epidemic to readers.

The media has long been in the business of selling perception over truth, especially when it comes to issues of race, socioeconomic class and sex. If you wish to know the myths and prejudices of a time, read its newspapers. If you wish for the truths, read its poetry.

Well said.

The stripper, the prostitute & the dancer

The Stripper

If you’ve ever noticed, when the news involves strippers, prostitutes or dancers, the reporters will refer to their job titles more often than their gendered titles (woman/wife/sister…). This first came to my attention when I was researching the deaths of 5 women killed in Atlantic City. All 5 were prostitutes and most of the time the reporters chose this title over ‘women.’ The result is that we place a value judgment on their profession, and we give them less sympathy. Reading “5 Prostitutes Killed in Atlantic City” is far more titillating — and less sympathetic — than reading, “5 Women Killed in Atlantic City.” Yet, they are women, no? 

Here’s an article on the “Craigslist Killer” that refers to a woman as a stripper. We’ve already been told repeatedly that the killer attacks women who post ads under erotic services on Craigslist, so this is not providing a service to the readers:

A law enforcement officialsaid Friday that Markoff’s fingerprint was found on a wall of the Holiday Inn Express in Warwick, R.I. where a stripper has said she was tied up and held at gunpoint by a man she met through the site.

Read the full article (“Craigslist founder isn’t closing ‘erotic’ section” by Eric Tucker)  here.  

The Prostitute

Investigators Say Prostitute and Brother Killed Canadian During Robbery

This news story refers to the woman as a prostitute in the headline, then goes on to call her an “alleged prostitute” in the article. BUT, her convicted activities are listed as: 

…burglary, possession of controlled substances, forging or signing as a fictitious person and other identity theft crimes.

We really don’t know if this woman is a prostitute or not. She claims the man that was killed had made “obscene requests” for sexual acts. But, if they are going to be fair enough to refer to her as an “alleged prostitute” in the article, shouldn’t they give her the same benefit of the doubt in the headline? Why do they refer to her as a prostitute and the man as a “brother”? They could have said, “brother and sister,” or “siblings” easily enough. I suppose that’s not as exciting? And, since her brother was the one that actually beat the guy and put a plastic bag over his head (she stood by), why are they considered equal in the crime, per the headline? Here’s the first paragraph:

An alleged prostitute, who along with her brother, is suspected in the stabbing death of a Canadian man who owned a vacation home in Indio, pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder and other felony charges.

This is what witnesses report:

Nearly one year later, witnesses said they saw two men beating Dobbs at the apartment as Jackie Dunson stood by and watched.

“They said they could hear Robert yelling at a subject telling him that the pin number had better be the right one,” Patterson wrote. “They saw Robert dragging a white male subject by his shoulders from the living room area into the kitchen. They said the subject was bleeding from the back area and they saw Robert place a black garbage type bag over the subject’s head and tape it around his neck.”

Now, since murder is the #1 cause of death of a prostitute, it’s quite easy to find news stories about homicides of women who work in prostitution:

NJ Man Charged with Killing Prostitute

 A Paterson man is under arrest on charges he killed a prostitute. 

This is common language used by a batterer for minimalizing the damage he does:

Aguiar told police that during their altercation, he tried to restrain Berry by holding her throat and that she fell unconscious and died, Giaquinto said. He said Aguiar carried Berry from his apartment, down the stairs and put her body on the street.

Heights Man Charged in Murder of Prostitute

Woolbright died of blunt force injury.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Heath Velliquette said the killing is believed to involve drugs and said Woolbright worked as a prostitute.

The Dancer

Ex-Vegas Dancer Going to Trial for Husband’s Killing

In this headline, the woman doesn’t even work in the profession anymore, but still gets called a dancer. She’s 47 years old – How long ago did she dance? She’s accused of killing her husband. His profession? He was an art dealer. I guess “Wife kills Art Dealer” isn’t attention-grabbing enough.