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Murdering a ‘certain kind’ of woman

Working conditions in prostitution are inherently dangerous and the key is to criminalize purchase of sexual services

On July 18th a woman was found lying dead on the ground in Tel-Aviv. She was outside the apartment of Marwan Moreh, a man who had approached her on the street several hours earlier and offered to pay her in exchange for sexual services. The two had struck an agreement and walked together back to his apartment. Several hours later he threw her and her belongings from his balcony; left his building, walking past where she lay sprawled on the ground in critical condition; changed his clothes and shoes, and returned home half an hour later. He told the waiting investigators that he had been at the beach.

We have heard many stories of killers who target prostituted persons. In 2003 Gary Ridgway, aka the Green River Killer, pleaded guilty to murdering 48 prostituted women in Washington. He boasts that the real number is 71. In 2006, in Canada, Robert Pickton, a pig farmer, was arrested and charged with the murder of 26 prostituted women. Most of their bodies were never found, perhaps because he is rumored to have strangled, gutted, and bled his victims before feeding them to his pigs. Then there is the recent unsolved case of the Long Island Serial Killer, who is believed to have killed the 10 – 15 prostituted women whose bodies were dumped along Ocean Parkway.

This recent murder in Tel-Aviv is another in a long string of murders of prostituted women, so commonplace we hardly register them. In order to be noteworthy someone has to kill 10, 26, or 48 women, feed their bodies to pigs, or cover them with garbage, explaining, “She’s garbage, so I put stuff over her that was garbage.”

While we may not concern ourselves with the ordinary murder of a single prostituted woman, those imprisoned in prostitution are constantly, painfully aware of the possibility they will fall victim to this fate. In countless studies and interviews, prostituted persons express their well-founded fear that a sex buyer will kill them. One U.S. mortality survey reported: “No population of women studied previously has had a… percentage of deaths due to murder even approximating those observed in our cohort.” In this survey, murder accounted for 50% of the deaths of women in prostitution.

In order to protect the women we love from rape, violence, and murder, we instruct them not to walk alone at night, ride in cars with strangers, go to someone’s house they don’t know, or invite men into their home when they are alone. Prostitution requires women to do all these things. Prostituted women regularly find themselves in vulnerable situations with sex buyers who are prone to violence.

Sex buyers’ tendency to abuse prostituted women likely stems from their belief that prostituted women are inherently less human than “regular” women. Sex buyers, even those who aren’t killers, explain they use prostitutes because they love their wife/girlfriend/mother of their children and don’t want to treat them like whores. They say that they purchase sex because it “gives them power” over women and because they “like to beat women up.” These men aren’t purchasing sex, they are purchasing the right to rape, abuse, humiliate, and degrade. So why are we surprised when they start killing off the women for whom they show such contempt?

When Moreh walked out of his apartment past the dying woman he had been with a few hours earlier, he didn’t help her or call anyone who could. This monstrous act of indifference highlights the dehumanization with which sex buyers view prostituted persons. Still, we insist upon continuing a conversation about how best to regulate and legalize prostitution. Isn’t it clear that any profession in which employees are consistently targets of rape, assault, and murder is not a profession?

Rather than seek to regulate the systemic abuse of women, Israel must pass legislation to criminalize the purchase of sexual services. The Prohibition of Consumption of Prostitution Services Bill was proposed first in 2010, but has yet to be passed into law. How many more bodies do we need to see piled up before we decide to abandon legislating this form of violence against women and outlaw it altogether?

About the Author
Rebecca Hughes is a project assistant for the Task Force on Human Trafficking of ATZUM - Justice Works