Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gold Coast Murder Leads to Victim-Blaming

A woman was found murdered in a hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast this week, and the tone of the media coverage has been deeply disturbing. The woman was likely the victim of a crime, and yet all reports have centered on what she may have done to deserve it. Why would the media be so cruel? For one reason: this woman had also been arrested for prostitution.

Reports about the murder assert that the woman lived a“high-risk” lifestyle because of her involvement in the commercial sex trade. Certainly it’s important for the public to know that the murder could possibly be connected to prostitution, and it’s true that prostitution is dangerous for many women involved. The deeply disturbing detail that’s being left out is this: the most frequent perpetrators of violence in the prostitution are the customers, often called “johns.”

In her study, Sisters Speak Out, Jody Raphael of DePaulUniversity interviewed 222 women in Chicago about their experiences in the sex trade. The women said that customers were the number one perpetrators of violence, both in indoor sex trade venues and on the street. Even women in escort services reported high rates of violence; more than half reported being raped. Instead of having compassion for prostituted people, our culture tends to blame these women for the harm they’ve endured.

Johns have also remained invisible as the public expressed surprise that prostitution could take place at a high-end hotel. In reality, most men who buy sex would have the means to pay for that hotel room. Ourresearch of 113 johns in Chicago found that most johns earned more than $40,000 a year, with 17% earning more than $80,000. These are men with disposable income, and they are facing few deterrents to their crime. Only 7% of men interviewed had ever been arrested for solicitation.

When conversations about women in prostitution come up, it’s time to stop stigmatizing women and start talking about johns. To learn more about efforts to create accountability for johns in Illinois and resources for survivors of the sex trade, visit