Sex Worker Voices
'Nothing About Us, Without Us'
In 1981 Peter Sutcliffe was arrested and charged with murdering thirteen women and attacking seven more, some of his victims were street sex workers in Yorkshire, including some in Leeds. In a police statement in February 1981 he said, 'It was my intention to get rid of prostitutes at any cost'. When Sutcliffe was later asked by his brother Carl why he had committed such awful crimes he replied, "I were just cleaning up the streets, our kid”.
Sex workers, historians and social researchers have long evidenced how people who sell sexual services are stigmatised, discriminated against, socially marginalised, and treated as ‘other’. In her 1994 historical studies of sex work, Nickie Roberts directly linked what she called ‘whore stigma’, to violence against sex workers, and the tendency for law enforcement not to take violence against sex workers seriously. Jon Lowman coined the term ‘discourse of disposability’ after studying the media coverage of sex worker murders in Canada. Lowman drew attention to the language used around sex work in the media, as well as in political, policing and resident discussions on how to ‘get rid’ of street prostitution from residential areas. Lowman observed that such campaigns often focused on ‘clearing up’ and so cast street sex workers as, ‘throwaway people’ who made the world dirtier simply by being in it. Once sex workers are being discussed in terms of social cleansing, a ‘social milieu in which violence against prostitutes could flourish’ is enabled (: 1003). Simply put, there is a link between media, political, and residential campaigns to ‘clear up’ street sex work and violence being enacted against sex workers.