It's a Screwed-Up World When Prostituted Women Are Arrested More Often Than the Johns Who Abuse and Kill Them
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“News coverage like this continually perpetuates victim blaming and fails to see this as a social injustice that needs addressing,” Durchslag said. “It’s appropriate to say, here is another example of how prostitution harms people who are in it. What’s not relevant is to say, this is a person in a high-risk lifestyle—it doesn’t address the system.”
ABC Chicago anchor Chuck Goudie opened his segment on the murder by mentioning Gardner’s multiple arrests in her hometown of Dallas, Texas, and in Chicago. He does not stop there. He goes on to say, “Gardner was also looking for work on West Hubbard Street in River North, standing in the street and on the sidewalk, waving her arms, curbing cars, stopping pedestrians and soliciting single men for sex, according to police.”
By linking the notion that Gardner was inviting attention from potential johns with the story of her death, Goudie suggests that her behavior killed her. This narrative does not account for the behavior of the person who shot her in the head—likely a customer, according to authorities. Goudie goes on to cite Gardner’s appearance on the show “So You Think You Can Dance” when she was just 18, saying, “One of the judges said that she merely ‘squirmed around the floor’ and looked like ‘a very bored stripper,’ a prophecy that came true and may well have lead to her murder.”
The negative anecdote serves no purpose in the report other than to further disparage the character of the young victim. It is significant that the Chicago Sun Times acknowledged that Gardner’s murderer was likely a john because, according to Durchslag, the role of the buyer is seldom mentioned when crimes against people in prostitution are covered.
“The media can help reframe the issue that these are women in need of services, not criminal consequences,” Durchslag said. “If you know law enforcement has no respect for you, why would you come forward? I wouldn’t. We do a real disservice to women in the sex trade because they rarely feel comfortable reporting the crimes against them.”
It should also be noted that although most people who work in prostitution do experience violence, it is not always appropriate or accurate to describe someone who does this kind of work as a victim; some have alternative job options and continue to work in prostitution without being harmed.
Rachel Ramirez works with individuals who formerly worked in prostitution at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless as a SAGE (Survivor Advocacy Group Empowered) organizer. She said that prostituted people often don’t report abuse for fear that they will be arrested. Given that 97% offelony arrests for prostitution in Illinois between 2000 and 2009 targeted women, those fears are not unfounded.
A group of SAGE survivors organized a vigil on August 22, just a few days following Operation Buyer Beware. The evening, which honored survivors and those who have lost their lives while working as prostitutes, was planned long before Gardner’s tragic murder and coincidentally took place near the hotel where she was killed.
“There are always women and men getting killed in prostitution, so when we were planning it things like this would always come up,” Ramirez said.
Many of the survivors with whom Ramirez works were disturbed by the relative lack of coverage surrounding the death of Tiffany Gooden, a transgender woman who was killed one day after Gardner. Ramirez said they attributed this to the fact that Gooden was murdered on Chicago’s West Side, in a predominantly poor black neighborhood.
“The media reflects the realities of our attitudes, and it’s a really big deal for people who live in these communities when the woman killed in the Gold Coast got so much more press,” Ramirez said. “Prostituted people don’t matter to the media, or in the public consciousness. A poor black prostitute in a poor black area matters even less and the people I work with are so acutely aware of that fact.”