For Prostitutes, Is Murder an Occupational Hazard?

From Mother Jones:

By Titania Kumeh
Fri Mar. 18, 2011

As MoJo reporter Mac McClelland pointed out earlier this week, murdered prostitutes don’t often make the news these days. When they do, their deaths may be dismissed as more occupational hazard than crime. Here, for example, is how St. Francis County sheriff Bobby May explained the fatal shooting of trans prostitute 25-year-old Marcal Camero Tye: “You know, prostitutes, these types of folks—it’s a risk. Whenever you’re soliciting, things of this nature happen sometimes.” Translation: If Tye hadn’t been trans and/or a prostitute, the murder would have most likely never happened. But why is it so easy to deny a prostitute’s right to safety?

Some sex worker advocates say that if the media did more work to humanize prostitutes, violence against this demographic would occur less frequently. Cyndee Clay, the executive director of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, is one. The Washington, D.C.-based counseling and outreach center reaches about 7,000 sex workers a year and has a 24-hour crisis assistance center for sex workers who have been victims of crime and/or who want to transition out of sex work. A few years ago, HIPS submitted its study of police abuse and misconduct cases against trans and female clients to Amnesty International. And recently, it helped prepare a United Nations report vying for sex worker rights in the United States. Clay spoke with me about prostitute safety, decriminalization, and the real reason people get into sex work.

Mother Jones: Based on the people you’ve worked with at HIPS, why do most people get into sex work?

Cyndee Clay: There’s not one story of why people do commercial sexual exchange for money, whether that’s formalized sex work or whether that’s entering into a relationship where you know that being intimate with someone means that you’re going to receive some financial assistance or shelter. I think what we do see is that the more economically disadvantaged or educationally disadvantaged, or the less power you have in the community already, tends to increase the likelihood that you’re going to be or feel coerced into sex

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