SWOP-Chicago Response to the Murder of Two Chicago Sex Workers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, August 17, 2012

Contact: Kris Morgan, (312) 252-3880

info@swop-chicago.org

CHICAGO – Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-Chicago) is saddened by the recent murders of Donta Gooden and Brianna Gardner, two young women involved in the sex trade. As fellow sex workers and allies, SWOP-Chicago extends its sympathies to their family members and friends.

SWOP-Chicago applauds the Chicago Police Department for their quick work in catching and questioning a suspect in Gardner’s murder and in taking proactive measures to investigate Gooden’s case. However, SWOP-Chicago believes that much work is still to be done and hopes that the Chicago Police Department and service providers working with individuals in the sex trade will take proactive measures to reduce and discourage violence against sex workers.

Street workers on Chicago’s south side experience violence, on average, once a month1 and less than four percent of American sex workers report sexual violence to the police.2 Although many organizations provide services to individuals involved in the sex trade, not one organization provides a bad-date-list service for outdoor workers or collaborates with reporting to existing blacklists used by indoor workers.

“Simple things – like the de-prioritization of prostitution and drug-crimes, prioritization of crimes against individuals in the sex trade, taking police misconduct seriously, creating a bad-date list – would make a huge impact,” Meg Foster, an organizer with SWOP-Chicago says. “We need to react to violent incidents proactively, before yet another person is murdered.

SWOP-Chicago members also emphasize that criminalization specifically alienates individuals in the sex trade from law enforcement protection. “When prostitution is criminalized, sex workers become alienated from law enforcement and as a result, vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, assault, and murder. Because sex workers fear entrapment and arrest by law enforcement, they come to fear law enforcement representatives and also, perhaps, to feel that while engaging in sex work, they do not have the same right to police and law enforcement protection and support as all American citizens.” says Hannah Talos-Roddam, an organizer with SWOP-Chicago.

It is important to remember that sex workers are people. They are parents, siblings, spouses, and friends. Like most Americans, many sex workers are trying to get by in tough economic conditions and provide for themselves and, often, families and friends. Criminalization of prostitution dehumanizes the sex worker and makes them unprotected targets of violence.

We need to work towards a harm reduction approach, and rather than trying to eliminate the sex trade, we need to focus on making it safer for those involved.

For more information, please contact SWOP-Chicago at sexworkchicago@gmail.com

1Levitt, Steven, and Venkatesh, Sudhir. 2007. “An Empirical Analysis of Street-Level Prostitution.” Unpublished. Retrived Jan. 20, 2009 (http://economics.uchicago.edu/pdf/Prostitution%205.pdf).

2“Sex Worker Health, San Francisco Style: The St. James Infirmary,” UCSF Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, San Francisco Department of Public Health, St. James Infirmary. Presentation by Deborah Cohan, MD; Charles Cloniger, FNP; Johanna Breyer, MSW; Cynthia Cobaugh, Jeff Klausner, MD, MPH. November 2001.

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