Many of you may have read or heard the story of Philip Markoff, the “Craigslist Killer” who murdered Julissa Brissman and attacked three other working girls. Lifetime has made a killing (no pun intended) off its movie portrayal of Philip Markoff. Tellingly, the movie barely even mentioned the lives of the girls Markoff brutalized.
Recently, another young Long Island prostitute who advertized on Craigslist, 23-year-old Megan Waterman, was murdered. Her body was found on Giglo Beach. Waterman is the fourth young prostitute to be found dead on Giglo Beach in the past three years. The police say this is the work of a serial killer.
But let’s focus on the victims before we focus on the killer.
The Craigslist victims deserve justice. Justice will not come until we learn to view prostitutes as individual citizens who have the same rights as everyone else.
This isn’t the case today. Because of the way we view their chosen profession, we don’t see prostitutes as human beings whose welfare is important. Because they work in an illegal profession, we deem their lives to be of little value. This has got to change. We must accept that the world’s oldest profession will continue to exist.
Especially in these bad economic times, many young girls are turning to the sex industry as a way to support themselves and their families. If prostitution were decriminalized, these women would have legal protection. They would be able to call the police when someone attacked them and not be worried about going to jail. They would be able to use their voices to prevent other working girls from becoming victims.
When I ran for governor of New York as a protest candidate last year, I at first proposed legalizing prostitution and talked about why legalization would be safer for both sex-workers and Johns and would drive the pimps and those who exploit women through violence, intimidation and drugs out of the industry. I also spoke about the way that legalization, regulation and taxation could fill the state’s empty coffers at a time when New York is deep in debt.
I am realistic about the prospects of legalizing prostitution in the United States, although our experience with it in parts of Nevada has been positive. That’s why, in the short term, we should work to decriminalize prostitution. Women continue to be arrested, charged, jailed and even deported for engaging in prostitution. These women are stigmatized for life with criminal records, making it impossible for them to find jobs when they get older and leave the industry (if they live that long).
Meanwhile, the Johns are rarely prosecuted. Instead, they are allowed to return to their lives and careers and families. In some cases, they become highly-paid CNN talk show hosts. Their lives are not ruined. Their livelihoods are not threatened.
Sex workers should be treated the same way. Instead of being jailed, they should be fined. Lives can be saved if we decriminalize prostitution now.
Kristin Davis is an ex-madam who founded and ran the highest grossing escort service in the world. She served four months in prison and her probation recently ended by Court order. She ran for governor of New York on a radical libertarian platform last year as a protest candidate. A former hedge fund vice president, Davis is an entrepreneur, writer and activist.