Protect, Don’t Prosecute

In the week leading up to December 17, 2010 – the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – the remains of four women who were killed while doing sex work were discovered on a beach in Long Island. Over the past two weeks, the remains of six more bodies have been found in the same area. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer has requested that anyone involved in the sex industry who may have information about the disappearance of colleagues come forward and share this information with the police. But there remains a rather large barrier: prostitution is criminalized, and sex workers have no guarantee that we will be protected from prosecution if we step forward. Because of this situation, we launched a campaign calling for amnesty for all prostitution related offenses in Suffolk County until the killer is apprehended.

The precedent: In 2006, when the “Suffolk Strangler” case was developing in Ipswich, England, the police department responded positively for a demand for amnesty put forth by the English Collective of Prostitutes. While the homicide investigations were underway, British police didn’t arrest sex workers. Here is a piece about the request, and a follow up piece in which Assistant Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer is quoted saying, “The welfare of the prostitutes working in Suffolk is my priority at this time.” Let’s put pressure on the nearer Suffolk county to respond similarly.

The result: In August 2012, the SCPD agreed not to prosecute any sex worker who comes forward with information about the case. Though this is not the amnesty we advocated for, and the SCPD took a very long time in making the decision, it is a powerful testament to our advocacy efforts. Unfortunately, the killer remains at large.