Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. /
24 December 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:02am

The prohibitionists and serial murder victims

Do the criminal laws around sex work make it easier for sex workers to be killed?

By David Allen Green

Nobody seems as pathetic as a serial killer in want of notoriety. There may be individuals more evil; there may be people who are far more cruel on a far wider scale; there may be human beings of whom we should have a lower opinion. But, for many, there is no one more sickeningly inadequate as a member of our species; no one more worthy of our disgust and contempt.

Why is this so? Why is a serial killer in search of fame so much worse than one who wishes to go about their murders without seeking attention? After all, it is the latter kind of repeat murderer – a Dr Shipman or a Fred West – who is actually more dangerous, for they are less likely to be detected. Part of the reason is perhaps that such figures also reveal something awful about ourselves: our morbid curiosity, our willingness to bestow celebrity, and our casual disregard for the lives that were taken. No victim of a serial murderer is more famous than the person who took their life: their names, if recorded at all, are footnotes.

Take Susan Rushworth, Shelley Armitage and Suzanne Blamires. They are now dead, but I suspect you will not remember their names the moment you finish reading this sentence. They were the ones killed by a Stephen Griffiths, whose dear wish to be known by some nickname was sadly granted by the mainstream media. All that you may know of these three victims was that they were “prostitutes” or sex workers.

Sex workers are easy targets for those seeking fame as serial killers. Sex workers are also easy targets for those who just want to kill or injure other human beings. Sex workers are simply soft targets for any person wishing to treat another human being in any inhumane way.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

And the criminal law makes it easy for this to be the case. Though sex work itself is not a criminal offence, all those around the sex worker are likely to be at instant risk of arrest and prosecution. This is the worst possible situation, as it means the sex worker often has to operate without any effective support or supervision. There can be no one there to protect them, whether it be from a serial killer or some punter who wants to slap someone else around.

Whatever the problems posed by sex work, the solution is not the use of criminal law. Prohibition merely makes the human beings engaged in sex work (whether by compulsion or by choice) more likely to be subjected to the inhumanity of others. Aspiring serial killers may well wish to dehumanise their victims, but there is no reason for us to do so, too.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. He is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for blogging in 2010.