No Holiday Season for Women in High Risk Lifestyles

A year after English prostitutes Tania Nicol, Gemma Adams, Anneli Alderton, Annette Nicholls and Paula Clennell were found murdered within ten days of each other, Ipswich is breathing a little easier.

Only six women are still working the streets, down from 40, thanks to the drug rehabilitation and financial services offered by the charity the Iceni Project.

Over 100 johns–kerb-crawlers as UK calls them–have been arrested through license plate recognition cameras. And a suspect, Steve Wright, 49, of London Road, Ipswich, is in custody and goes on trial in January.

Vancouver, British Columbia, is also breathing easier with the conviction of pig farmer Robert Pickton for six of 50 prostitute murders he is suspected of after a ten month trial with 128 witnesses.

Hopefully they are the only murderers!

After arresting Gregory Clepper for the wave of grisly sex worker slayings in the 1990’s in Chicago–he allegedly confessed to strangling 40 women–police had to arrest Geoffrey Griffin for seven more murders of women in high risk lifestyles, Hubert Geralds for six and Andre Crawford for 11. And no one feels safe even yet.

Nor is Atlantic City, New Jersey back to normal.

Key suspect Terry Oleson, 35, was released and not charged with the murders of Kim Raffo, Barbara Breidor, Molly Jean Dilts and Tracy Ann Roberts, who were found murdered a year ago behind the $27-a-night Golden Key Motel where he was staying, on Black Horse Pike road.

And women continue to work the area.

Like Shorty, a sex worker from Philadelphia, PA who told the Associated Press she stills works Pacific Avenue but not Black Horse Pike.

“I try to stay in control,” she says. “I tell them where I’ll go with them. Lose control, and you’re done.”

Caution was also the watchword for China soon after her cousin Kizzy Macon,17, was murdered in Chicago, thought to be one of Gregory Clepper’s victims.

“She [Kizzy] thought it was a game. I kept telling her to slow down. It ain’t no game. But Kizzy would get high with anybody,” China told the Chicago Tribune in 1996 while admitting she also got high and was intimate with Clepper and was still on the streets taking risks after he was arrested. “I didn’t know he would kill her,” China said.

But others say, you only feel safe–that street prostitution is a daily subpoena to death.

You get in a car to get high, say drug-using women who’ve survived, and when you emerge not robbed, cheated, raped, knifed, shot, beaten up, strangled, abducted or arrested but paid–that’s an even bigger high.

And you do it again.

It’s cash, love, sex, attention, drugs and the thrill of getting away with it rolled into one is how prostitute Pam Bolton described it to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1995, weeks before being fatally shot herself by a man in a red car. “This street life is more addictive than cocaine. More addictive than heroin,” she said.

For years Hollywood has shown prostitutes in movies like Pretty Woman, Risky Business and Trading Places as victims of pimps, johns and bad childhoods who just need a little love. Even the news media like to focus on women who are trafficked and forced into sex work. But the truth is women don’t get in cars because they have low self esteem, abusive parents or bills to pay. And even the 12-year-old prostitute Travis so famously saves in Taxi Driver would likely be back on the street tomorrow. Mom and Dad, stuffed animals and homework are no match for a street addiction.

Some women who survived the Chicago scourge appear in a documentary, Turning A Corner, by the Prostitution Alternatives Roundtable (PART), a network of prostitution survivors and public agencies advocating for legislative change, produced by Salome Chasnoff of Beyondmedia as part of a Chicago Coalition for the Homeless campaign last year.

Nothing could break her addiction says one prostitute until a john dragged her two blocks with his car while fleeing the police and she almost lost an eye and had her face nearly scraped off.

Another’s “wake up call” happened, she says, when her friend was found dead in the alley–and sexually mutilated.

“If I risk a date again, I’ll use,” says a third. “And if I use, I’ll die.”

It’s not easy leaving the street behind agrees Brian Tobin director of the Iceni Project which is helping women recover from the streets in Ipswich,

“I have got a lot of respect for the women who after many years, are working

so hard to live a healthy and better existence,” says Tobin. “We have the easy part. It is the women themselves who are having to elicit so much change and I think that is fantastic.”

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her latest book is Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Lies (2023). Her first book was Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health. She can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net. Read other articles by Martha.