Shame on all of us for the Long Island sex worker serial killings. The criminalization and marginalization of sex workers is what makes it so easy for people like this to kill them - and for prison guards to ignore them to death. We need to stop punishing people who support themselves in that industry if we are to have any hope of protecting human rights on the streets, as well as in our homes. Let's try to watch our brothers' and sisters' backs a little better, folks. No one should grow up in this country thinking that any group of human beings is disposable.
The NYT did a good job with this article, which is proceeded by a press release about the killings by sex worker's rights activists. Our thoughts are with all the men and women out there, whatever type of sex trade they're in, who are subjected to the brutality of our misogynistic, homophobic, abusive society.
SWOP-NYC and SWANK have produced a press release (below) and there is a media analysis up at Best Practices Policy Project. www.bestpracticespolicy.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, April 8, 2011
SEX WORKER GROUPS RESPOND TO LONG ISLAND MURDERS
New York -
Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK) and Sex Workers Outreach Project NYC (SWOP-NYC) are dismayed that four more bodies were discovered on Long Island earlier this week. Police believe that a serial killer is responsible for murdering at least eight people found on a remote Suffolk County beach since December. Reports indicate the murder victims were in the sex trade. As sex workers and allies, SWANK and SWOP-NYC mourn the lives of these individuals and extend our sympathies to their families and communities.
"Sex workers are targeted for violence because of the stigma against what we do," Dylan Wolf, a SWANK member said, "People think they can do whatever they want to us and they won’t get caught. And because of bad laws, social isolation and discrimination, they get away with it all the time. But like those murdered, we’re not disposable, bad people - we have lives that matter and people that love us. No matter who we are or what we do to make ends meet, we don’t deserve to die - we deserve good lives."
A recent New York Times article suggested that dozens, if not hundreds, of people in the sex industry have been murdered in New York State since 1990. "Stories like what’s happened on Long Island make us fear for our safety," said SWANK member Michael Bottoms, "As sex workers, we already know that stigma puts us at risk for being targeted, and so we take as many precautions as we can. But if we do experience violence, most of us can’t go to the cops, because we could get arrested, they might not take us seriously, or they could have been the ones who were violent to us in the first place."
"When we ignore violence against sex workers, we support a culture where a serial killer can murder eight, twelve, or even dozens of sex workers without the media, the police or the general public being outraged or even thinking twice," said Maryse Mitchell-Brody, a SWOP-NYC organizer, "We won’t end this violence by keeping the sex trade illegal, because it isn’t going anywhere – this just drives people further underground and makes them more vulnerable to violence. Murders like these show that we must use new strategies to create safety and dignity that don’t reinforce stigma or discrimination."
To learn more about what you can do to support the rights of current and former sex workers and those with experience in the sex trade to safety and well-being, visit
New York Times
April 7, 2011
To those who loved them, the four prostitutes were daughters, sisters, friends. To the person or persons who killed them and dumped their bodies in the desolate brush off Ocean Parkway on Long Island, they were disposable.
The four young women discovered off Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach — Megan Waterman, 22; Melissa Barthelemy, 24; Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27 — vanished between July 2007 and last September. Each disappearance drew little or no notice. It took the prospect of a serial killer, and the subsequent discovery of four more bodies, for that to change.
The investigation was set off by the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert in May. Ms. Gilbert, 24, of Jersey City, was last seen in a seaside residential community a few miles from the first four bodies, and she is still missing. Ms. Gilbert was a prostitute, but much more: She was an aspiring actress, and the oldest of Mari Gilbert’s three daughters.
In an interview, Mari Gilbert said the police failed to protect her daughter and, along with the press and the public, did not take her disappearance seriously until she became part of Long Island’s latest serial-killer case.
“I think they look at them like they’re throwaway,” Mari Gilbert said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “They don’t care.”
Living in the margins of society, often trading sex for money with anonymous clients in anonymous places, struggling with drug addiction and estrangement from their families, prostitutes have long been invisible, vulnerable prey for the wicked and the depraved. Few notice them when they are alive, fewer still when they are missing or found dead.
The quarter-mile stretch where the four women were found is 23 miles from where another prostitute, Tiffany Bresciani, 22, was found wrapped in a blue tarp in the back of a pickup truck in Mineola in 1993, and about 30 miles from where yet another prostitute, Kelly Sue Bunting, 28, was discovered in a trash bin in Melville in 1995. Ms. Bresciani was strangled by Joel Rifkin, an unemployed landscaper who confessed to killing 17 prostitutes. Ms. Bunting was one of the victims of Robert Shulman, a former postal worker convicted of killing and dismembering five prostitutes.
In Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Kendall L. Francois admitted strangling and murdering eight prostitutes from 1996 to 1998, and storing their bodies in the home he shared with his family. In a courtroom in Seattle in 2003, Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer, who admitted to killing 48 women, seemed, when a prosecutor read his statement of guilt, to be speaking for all serial killers throughout the decades and centuries who have victimized prostitutes.
“I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed,” Mr. Ridgway said in his statement. “I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
On Thursday, a Suffolk County police spokeswoman said the search for evidence and additional bodies would expand over the Nassau County line starting Monday. Richard Dormer, the Suffolk police commissioner, told reporters that the search of the brush and grassy dunes on the Suffolk side was about to be completed. The police have no immediate plans to return to the Suffolk area, though Mr. Dormer left open that possibility. He had a message for what he described as women in the escort business: “They should be very careful with their contacts.”
The oldest profession is also one of the most deadly. The bodies of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of murdered prostitutes — women, men and transgender people — have been found in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut since 1990.
“It really feels like there’s just an open war against this population,” said Sienna Baskin, a lawyer and co-director of the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project, which provides legal and social services to New York City sex workers. “I think it makes all sex workers feel vulnerable to violence. Even if they’re working in a safe way, they live in a world where this happens regularly. From sexual assaults to stalking to theft to police brutality, these are really daily experiences that many sex workers face.”
On Dec. 17, six days after the first body was found on Long Island, former and current prostitutes and their supporters gathered at the Metropolitan Community Church of New York on West 36th Street for a candlelight vigil. The names of 70 sex workers killed in 2010 in the United States and around the world were read, as part of the seventh annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. People took turns reading the names: of Amy Lynn Gillespie of Pittsburgh and Monta K. of Berlin and Alicia Lee of Las Vegas and dozens more.
Audacia Ray, 30, helped organize the vigil. Ms. Ray is a former New York City sex worker who, like the four women found on Long Island, advertised for clients on Craigslist. “It’s always frightening,” Ms. Ray said of the Long Island case. “It feels like that could have been me. It could have been one of my friends.”
Before she retired about five years ago, Ms. Ray took precautions. She would call a friend on her cellphone when she arrived at a date with a client. Her friend on the other line already knew the address, and Ms. Ray made it a point to make the call in front of the client. Ms. Ray would tell her friend what time she would call back when the date was over. If she did not call back at the appointed time, the friend would wait 10 minutes and then call her. If Ms. Ray did not answer, the friend was instructed to call the police immediately.
“Sex workers often work in isolation because of the criminalized status of the work, but I don’t think sex workers live in isolation,” said Ms. Ray, now program director for the Red Umbrella Project, which helps sex workers tell their stories publicly. “There’s an assumption that if your life has gotten that bad, you’re expendable. That’s not true. A lot of people do care. We’re just not listened to.”
After her daughter went missing in late 1996, Patricia Barone, 67, tried to get news media outlets in Poughkeepsie to cover the story. Most declined. The body of her daughter, Gina Barone, 29, was discovered nearly two years later, in September 1998, in Mr. Francois’ ramshackle house a block from Vassar College.
Patricia Barone is raising her daughter’s child, who turns 17 next month. Gina Barone is buried in Poughkeepsie. The priest who baptized her in 1968 is the one who offered her funeral Mass in 1998.
“If one Vassar College girl was missing, we would have had cops all over the place,” Patricia Barone said. “Every one of these women is somebody’s child, and people don’t kind of get that. Your children are your children no matter what they do out there.”