Indiana Sex Slayings Highlight Society’s “Throwaway Women”

At least seven women’s bodies have been found in Indiana since Friday in what appear to be serial, sex-related murders of women in high-risk lifestyles. Hammond police are holding Darren Vann, a convicted sex offender, in connection with the murders and say charges are possible in at least six other murders still under investigation.

Many in the Chicago and northern Indiana area remember similar killings in the 1990s which produced a veritable reign of terror for women in high-risk lifestyles and their families. At least four men arrested in Chicago during that time — Gregory Clepper, Geoffrey Griffin, Hubert Geralds and Andre Crawford — were linked to the deaths of women in high-risk lifestyles who were often found in abandoned buildings. The women had often become lost to their families and were not reported missing.

Some women who survived the Chicago scourge appear in a documentary called  Turning A Corner, by the “PART” network of survivors and public agencies in 2006. The film was produced by Salome Chasnoff of Beyondmedia as part of a Chicago Coalition for the Homeless campaign and efforts to enact legislative change.

One woman in the film says nothing could break her addiction to the high-risk lifestyle of sex work 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 woman’s wake up call happened, she says, when her friend was found dead in a nearby alley–and sexually mutilated. A third woman in the film says, “If I risk a date again, I’ll use, and if I use, I’ll die,” referring to a drug habit.

Drugs are both a lure and the downfall for women on the streets say many sources. In 1996, a woman told the Chicago Tribune that her cousin, who was murdered, “would get high with anybody.” The woman who spoke to the Tribune said she knew the suspect in her cousin’s murder and even had used drugs with him herself. “I didn’t know he would kill her,” she added.

Chicago sex worker Pamela Bolton did not survive the streets. But before she was murdered in1995, by a man in a red car according to witnesses, she told the Chicago Sun-Times, “Prostitution is one of the worst addictions you can have out here. This street life is more addictive than cocaine. More addictive than heroin.”

Murderers who seek out women in high-risk, sex worker lifestyles are not limited to the US. Eight years ago, at least five women were found murdered within ten days of each other in Ipswich, England. In 2007, in Vancouver, British Columbia, pig farmer Robert Pickton was convicted of the second-degree murders of six women and charged in the deaths of 20 more, many who had been involved in high-risk lifestyles.

Even online contacts have proved deadly for such women. Masseuse Julissa Brisman was killed in 2009, allegedly by medical student Philip Markoff who had seen her ad on Craig’s list. Markoff, who was also suspected of robbing two other women, took his own life in jail. Women who hook up online are at risk of being robbed, cheated, raped, knifed, shot, beaten up, extorted, abducted and murdered just like women on the street.

Crimes against sex workers decreased in New Zealand, says the BBC, after sex work was decriminalized and up to four women were allowed to work from the same property to increase security. In many countries, police are changing their focus from enforcement to protection of sex workers and social services are providing “exit strategies” like counseling and help with housing. Sadly, the reforms are too late for the Indiana victims.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus Books. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Martha.