(Image: Top, L to R: Mathew Cherrington, Mateusz Kosecki, Michael Wenham.
Bottom L to R: Robert Fraser, Steven Mathieson, Nicholae Patraucean)
Prostitution is not safe for women. Women who sell sex face regular physical and sexual violence. More than half of women involved in prostitution in the UK have been raped and/or sexually assaulted – the vast majority of these assaults committed by sex buyers (Hester & Westmarland, 2004). Last year, 2014, six women who sell sex were murdered in the UK: Maria Duque-Tunjano, 48; Karolina Nowikiewicz, 25; Rivka Holden, 55; Yvette Hallsworth, 36; Lidia Pascale, 26 and Luciana Maurer, 23. They were all killed by johns, that is by men who buy sex.
Prostitution is often framed in the context of women’s choices, those of us who oppose prostitution accused of denying women’s agency, their capacity to choose and their right to do so. But a choice based on necessity, on a lack of viable alternatives isn’t really a choice. Five of the six women above were not born in the UK, coming from Colombia, Poland, Israel and two from Romania. The only UK born woman had a problem with substance use. Poor women, migrant women and women with problematic substance use are disproportionately represented amongst women who sell sex. And whilst some men sell sex, women do so disproportionately. Men are also overwhelmingly, regardless of the sex of the seller, the buyers.
Mathew Cherrington had been exercising his consumer choices. The 26-year-old man’s phone records showed he had contacted several women who sold sex before arranging for 26-year-old Lidia Pascale to visit his flat. She suffered at least 11 blows to her head and had injuries on her hands, where she’d put them on her head trying to defend herself. After killing her, Cherrington put Lidia in a black bin bag and into a bin. The final insult, the bin, the destination of unwanted, broken, expended consumables, rubbish.
Mateusz Kosecki chose Yvette Hallsworth because she was “slightly built.” At 18 he was already a predator who preyed on women in prostitution. He had attacked at least three women who sold sex before he killed Yvette Hallsworth, luring her into a secluded alley before stabbing her 18 times using a knife that he had taken out with him. A judge described him has having a ‘fascination, if not an obsession” with prostituted women. His attack on Yvette was described as cruel and savage.
Habitual sex-buyer and frequent consumer of pornography Michael Wenham had spent £15,000 on trying to enlarge his penis but instead lost two inches. He had been married eight years and had three children. He phoned in sick to work and bought a Stanley knife, gloves and plastic sacks. He contacted Karolina Nowikiewicz after the first woman he called wasn’t available. After asking Karolina to undress and get on all fours, he attacked her from behind, slashing her throat, cutting through her major arteries and spinal cord and almost decapitating her. In court, the attack was described as “premeditated, planned and clinically executed.” Karolina was a student, selling sex to fund her studies.
40-year-old ex-banker Robert Fraser was deemed an “ongoing and very real danger to women” by Judge John Bevan. Diagnosed as suffering from paranoid-schizophrenia he is said to have believed that god represented men and the devil represented women. He attacked a 27-year-old prostituted woman in January last year, convincing her that he was going to kill her, shoving her underwear in to her mouth before twisting her head as if he was going to break her neck. 10 days later he bludgeoned Maria Durque-Tunjano to death, she was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Colombian born British national Maria had been financially supporting her family in Colombia through prostitution. She was still wearing a black corset and high-heeled shoes when her body was found.
Father of two, Steven Mathieson, was in debt due to the extent of his use of phone sex lines. His partner, who knew of neither the phone sex or the debt, was out for the evening and he made arrangements for three women to come to his home. Luciana Maurer was the first to arrive. With his four-year-old son asleep in the house he stabbed her 44 times and cut her throat in an upstairs bedroom. When the other women arrived, he took them in to the room where they immediately saw her dead on the bed. He forced them to strip and to dance for him and raped them both. The naked women were able to escape when Mathieson thought he heard his partner returning. Mathieson dialled 999 and said “I’ve been high on drugs and killed a prostitute.” According to his legal advocate, before that evening, Mathieson had been of “impeccable character.”
Nicolae Patraucean, 21, like Michael Wenham, chose to use a Stanley knife to slit the throat of and dismember Rivka Holden after strangling her following his celebrations at having obtained a national insurance number. Patrucean’s attitude to women in prostitution was illustrated in his statement to a friend “I killed a person … not a person, a whore.”
All women should be safe from men’s violence. With the exception of those whose misogyny infused denial runs so deep that their immediate reaction to that statement is anything on the continuum of ‘what about the men’ responses, there are few who would disagree. Similarly, I don’t know any feminist with an opinion on prostitution that believes women who sell sex should face or fear violence. If abolitionists, harm-reducers and free-choice free-market celebrants of prostitution agree on one thing, surely it is this.
Having a market of women – whether we are selling sex or whether our modified and culturally idealised images are used to adorn adverts of other products – commodifies women. It makes us into objects. As objects we become ‘less than’, less than fully human, not equal. Our value is set by our worth as products on the scale of marketability. This affects all women, whether or not we are those for sale or those used to boost sales. It’s no coincidence that we talk about purchasing power. Regulating the sale of sex doesn’t empower women, it further endorses men’s power over the women by giving them consumer status, rights and choices. Women, on the other hand, become commodities, interchangeable and disposable.
We need to change men’s attitudes to women, we need to eradicate the misogyny and entitlement that fuels men’s violence against women. Inequality between women and men is a cause and a consequence of men’s violence against women. We simply cannot achieve equality between the sexes, let alone the liberation of women from men’s oppression, whilst one sex is for sale, the consumable, and one sex is the buyer, the consumer. Women’s rights to safety must always be greater than men’s rights as consumers.
Six men: A Nick, a Mick, a Steve, a Bob and two Matts. All Johns. Six women: Maria, Karolina, Rivka, Yvette, Lidia and Luciana. All dead. Women should not be for sale.