Violence against prostitutes

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Violence against sexworkers deals with the violence suffered by sex workers, who are predominantly women, including in extreme cases murder. Sex trafficking should not be lumped in with sex work, since it is non consensual and a separate issue.[1]

Licensed brothels vs street sex workers[edit]

In 2004 the homicide rate for female sex workers in the United States was estimated to be 204 per 100,000, although this figure mixes illegal work with legal work.[2] This figure is considerably higher than that for the next riskiest occupations in the United States during a similar period (4 per 100,000 for female liquor store workers and 29 per 100,000 for male taxicab drivers).[3] However, there are substantial differences in rates of victimization between street prostitutes and indoor sex workers who work as call girls, or in brothels and massage parlors.[4][5]

Women who work legally in licensed brothels are much less likely to be victimized as are indoor workers in countries where sex work is legal. [6] However there are rare attacks or murders of sex workers in licensed brothels. For example, in June 2003, a Thai sex worker was murdered with a knife by a customer in the Pascha brothel in Köln, Germany. She managed to press the alarm button in her room and security personnel caught the perpetrator. Violence against male prostitutes is less common.[7]

Violent clients, pimps and police officers[edit]

Perpetrators may include violent clients and pimps. Sex workers themselves are often forced by laws on sex work to take their clients to out of the way places where they are less likely to be interrupted, which is very convenient for their attackers. In jurisdictions where sex work is legal but has laws (on the books) criminalizing working together for safety, solo sex workers are forced to work alone, increasing risk. The criminalization of clients has similar effects.[8] In countries such as the United States where sex work is illegal, they are often treated as criminals rather than victims. Stigma also means in certain countries the police are less likely to investigate attacks on sex workers.[9] According to a study conducted on one hundred and thirty people working in San Francisco as street sex workers, 82% had been physically assaulted, 83% had been threatened with a weapon and 68% had been raped while working as prostitutes.[10]

The decriminalization of sex work in New Zealand has shown that violence is reduced when sex workers are not forced to work alone, or in isolated places. Sex work was always legal in New Zealand but decriminalization removed laws that increased danger. [11]

Serial killers[edit]

Sex workers (particularly those engaging in street prostitution) are also sometimes targeted by serial killers, who may consider them easy pickings and less likely to be missed, or who use the religious and social stigma associated with sex workers as justification for their murder.

The unidentified serial killer known as Jack the Ripper killed at least five sex workers in London in 1888. Due to the frequent murders of prostitutes at that time and place, however, it is difficult to be certain of the number killed by Jack the Ripper. These particular murders are distinguished from other murders of sex workers during the same time period due to the post-mortem mutilations that occurred, and it is for that reason that other murders of prostitutes are not usually attributed to the Ripper, or are disputed.

Peter Sutcliffe (aka the Yorkshire Ripper) murdered 13 women, some of whom were sex workers, from 1975-1980 in Northern England.

Gary Ridgway (aka the Green River Killer), confessed to killing 48 sex workers from 1982 to 1998, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in American history.[12]

Robert Hansen murdered between 15 and 21 sex workers, near Anchorage, Alaska, between 1980 and 1983.

Joel Rifkin confessed to killing 17 sex workers in the New York area between 1989 and 1993, without there having been a missing persons report filed on any of the women during that time.

More recently, Robert Pickton, a Canadian who lived near Vancouver, made headlines after the remains of numerous missing sex workers were found on his family farm. He has now been convicted of the murders of 6 women who went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and is suspected by police of killing at least twenty more (though no charges have been filed in relation to their deaths). In December 2007 he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

In December 2006, Steve Wright murdered five sex workers in Ipswich, England (see Ipswich serial murders).

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "UN Women reaffirm that they stand with sex workers: "sex work is not trafficking"". Global Network of Sex Work Projects. 
  2. ^ Potterat et al. 2004.
  3. ^ Castillo & Jenkins 1994.
  4. ^ Weitzer 2000[verification needed]
  5. ^ Weitzer 2005.
  6. ^ Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity: Embracing Diversity - Page 527, Janell L. Carroll - 2009
  7. ^ Dynes, Wayne R. (1990), "Prostitution", Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, Chicago: St. James Press, Vol 2; pp. 1054–1058
  8. ^ "New research shows criminalization of clients endangers Vancouver sex workers and violates their human rights". Pivot Legal Society. 
  9. ^ Wong, Holroyd & Bingham 2011.
  10. ^ "Prostitution Research & Education Website". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  11. ^ "New Zealand Parliament - Prostitution Law Reform in New Zealand". 
  12. ^ Retrieved on 10-27-07


  • Potterat, John J.; Brewer, Devon D.; Muth, Stephen Q.; Rothenberg, Richard B.; Woodhouse, Donald E.; Muth, John B.; Stites, Heather K.; Brody, Stuart (2004). "Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women". American Journal of Epidemiology 159 (8): 778–85. doi:10.1093/aje/kwh110. PMID 15051587. 
  • Weitzer, Ronald (2005). "New directions in research on prostitution". Crime, Law and Social Change 43 (4–5): 211–35. doi:10.1007/s10611-005-1735-6. 
  • Weitzer, Ronald (2006). "Moral crusade against prostitution". Society 43 (3): 33–8. doi:10.1007/BF02687593. 
  • Castillo, Dawn N.; Jenkins, E Lynn (1994). "Industries and Occupations at High Risk for Work-Related Homicide". Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 36 (2): 125–32. doi:10.1097/00043764-199402000-00006. PMID 8176509. 
  • Wong, William C.W.; Holroyd, Eleanor; Bingham, Amie (2011). "Stigma and sex work from the perspective of female sex workers in Hong Kong". Sociology of Health & Illness 33 (1): 50–63. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9566.2010.01276.x. PMID 21226729.