Lust Murder: Prostitutes as Victims of Throwaway Capitalism
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The serial killings of female prostitutes on Long Island and in Memphis are ongoing police investigations. Sadly, these women may well join the increasing number of female sex workers found dead in Atlantic City, Albuquerque and other parts of the U.S., victims killed by perpetrators never arrested, prosecuted and punished.
There appears to be no federal or NGO data on the annual murder rate of prostitutes in the U.S., nor serial murders targeting prostitutes. A cursory review of the nation's popular press reveals that, since 2000, there has been an apparent increase in such murders taking place throughout the country. Scanning this literature, one can only ask: Are prostitutes the proverbial canaries in the coal mine?
Does the apparent increase in serial killings of female prostitutes foreshadow the socio-economic crisis now besetting the nation, of capitalism stripped bear of all restraint, regulation and sense of humanity? Does this extreme culture of human barbary encourage a social environment in which self-serving greed becomes the dominant moral rationale and the killing of female sex workers the most extreme expression?
Prostitution represents a contradictory moral vortex in capitalist society. It is the quintessential expression of the "free market"; sex workers are the most free "free" labor, not slave or captive labor, selling their services to the highest bidder. Yet, western civilization, with its religious and philosophic roots going deeper than capitalist economic relations, prohibits selling one's body or body parts, thus acknowledging that people are more then their labor power.
Sexual engagements are super-saturated expressions of self-hood, of meaning or significance going beyond the narrow dictates of the sex act engaged in. In commercial sex, two people are involved in the exchange of a commodity or a service. A prostitute sells more than her body, her service; she sells her self.
Personhood is rooted in self-hood, a sense of identify involving a complex of historically determined attributes. One of these attributes is labor power, that combination of brain and/or brawn that locates one in the production process. However, these attributes also involve a personal sense of gender or sexual orientation, of race or religion, of citizenship or national origin, of familial and personal relations and a lot more.
Prostitution is the classic example of how commodification debases the most traditional of gift exchanges and its giver. Sex can be the most intimate expression of human communication, a bond of love. Sadly, with prostitution it becomes the most exploitive.
The prostitute's sexual exchange is the purest expression of capitalist alienation, the relation between buyer and seller. However, the exchange of a sexual service for money or other goods and/or services is more than an exchange of reciprocal values. It is the forsaking of self as a person, a subject, a gift and its replacement with a self as a commodity, a monitorized value. Under such conditions, self become alienated, objectified.
The female prostitute is not a passive object but as an active subject selling her labor power. But she is among the weakest, most vulnerable, segments of wage labor force. As the bodies pile up on Long Island and in Memphis, she is revealed as the most disposable of living commodities.