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Prostitution Crossroads on
Santa Rosa Avenue

Girl Children for Sale, Inc. Santa Rosa, CA
Recommendation #1
Protecting the Community from Violent Sexual Predators - Or Not
Recommendation #2
Angela's Story
Recommendation #3
Notes on Gary Ridgway, the Green River Serial Killer
Recommendation #4
A Guide for Mothers, Grandmothers, and Others for Helping a Girl Caught in Prostitution or Sex Trafficking
Sweden's Prostitution Solution: Why Hasn't Anyone Tried This Before?
Prostitution Links
What You Can Do
April, 2003 Letter to Law Enforcement

In memory of
April Lynn Misenhimer
July 24, 1981 to January 17, 2003

On January 17, 2003, the body of 21-year-old April Lynn Misenhimer was found strangled in a Santa Rosa Avenue hotel room. The murder still hasn't been solved.

April's family all describe her as celebratory and loving.
And they miss her very much.


Throughout the year 2003, prostitution emerged again and again from the shadows of Santa Rosa Avenue into the pages of our local press.

The year began with the January 17, 2003 discovery of the body of 21-year-old April Lynn Misenhimer found strangled in the avenue's Redwood Motel. It continued with an unprecedented number of law enforcement stings and sweeps for prostitution and a concurrent spree of very violent attacks against the women and girls on the avenue. The year ended in the last two weeks of December with three more knife attacks and a sexual assault against three women in the avenue area. Two of these women were prostitutes. The third may have been a prostitute, or as happened in at least one other attack during the year, she may have been mistaken for a prostitute.

Sonoma County law enforcement responded to the avenue with a dual strategy. On the one hand, in coordinated efforts by Santa Rosa Police and the Sheriff's Department (both agencies have jurisdiction over the avenue) police carried out an unusually high number of ten high profile sweeps of prostitutes and johns. On the other hand, violent crimes detectives from both departments worked to solve the ongoing spree of felony rapes, abductions, assaults with deadly weapons, attempted murder, child prostituting, child rape, and other violent crimes against the prostitutes, including the murder of April Lynn Misenhimer which today remains unsolved.

What may at first seem to be an all encompassing law enforcement approach, we believe is a contradictory set of strategies working at cross purposes. One effort undermines the other, and community safety is compromised rather than enhanced. At year's end, scores of prostitutes and johns had been arrested for misdemeanor prostitution. The serious violent crimes on the avenue remain mostly unsolved or unresolved. And the prostitution goes on unabated.

"The problem is we can't get the prostitutes to talk
with us." SRPD Detective

Early in the year, a detective expressed his frustration in solving the violent crimes. "The problem is," said the detective in a conversation on the status of the Misenhimer murder case, "We can't get the prostitutes to talk with us." It's a frustration we heard as a constant refrain from different detectives, on different crimes, from both departments, throughout the year.

The problem of prostitutes' reluctance to talk and cooperate with police and prosecutors is no small matter. Contrary to the impression given by TV crime shows, solving violent crimes depends not so intensively on high tech forensics as it does on high quality police communication and cooperation with the people in the communities where the crimes occur.

This booklet is not an argument for or against decriminalizing prostitution. Nor is it an analysis of prostitution causes and cures. What we hope to do is to open debate on the immediate prostitution situation in our own community. We present some of the year's events that shaped our thoughts and suggest some alternatives that can better enhance public safety. But we start with something of even greater concern that we discovered along the way - the thriving business of selling under-aged girls in Sonoma County.

Girl Children for Sale, Inc.
Santa Rosa, CA

In early April 2003, a 14-year-old-girl ran into Santa Rosa Police Department frantic to get help for her twin sister and a friend. She begged police to please hurry because her sister and friend were being held and prostituted in a Santa Rosa Avenue hotel room and she was afraid for their lives. On April 17, police arrested a 41-year-old Santa Rosa man who has now been charged with 19 felony counts ranging from pimping minors to child sexual assault. Police believe there were more child victims who went undiscovered.

Since the case hasn't been finalized, we call this man Steve. Press and other sources indicate Steve ran a well established business pimping underage girls in Sonoma County. It seems he operated out of Julliard Park at the north end of Santa Rosa Avenue and that he used a team of runners to cruise the bus terminal and other areas in search of vulnerable girls. The runners would invite the girls back to party. Then step-by-step he would move the girls into a hotel room to perform sex in order to get more drugs, while Steve collected the money from the johns. When the girls' resisted, Steve, like other pimps, held them in place with threats or implied threats. Also, like most other pimps of underage girls, he kept the girls hidden away in hotel rooms and off the streets, and Steve delivered the johns to the girls.

A Flourishing Market for a Vintage Santa Rosa Business

Though Steve won't likely be operating on the streets again anytime soon, there's another even more disturbing aspect of this case. Steve, it seems, has been running his business unimpeded in the same place for at least the last ten years. In the course of looking into this case, we talked with two women, now adults, who ten years ago as teenagers were also recruited by Steve in essentially the same manner.

How is it that the institutionalized sale, serial child rape, and the serial destruction of young girls' lives, could go on undetected, for at least ten years, headquartered in an open park, in the middle of downtown Santa Rosa, not three blocks away from Santa Rosa Police Department? And with all the intense law enforcement effort in recent years targeting prostitution in the area, how is it that Steve and others like him weren't snared in the effort? Why did it require that a 14-year-old-girl escape his grip, and that she have the fortitude and presence of mind to go to police before Steve came to police attention?

Over the last ten years, how many girls' lives have Steve and his customers destroyed? And in order for this business to thrive as it apparently has, how many men in our community are willing to pay to sexually assault a child?

Part of the answer to these questions is evident on the face of things. Law enforcement is proactive and very aggressive in its enforcement of misdemeanor prostitution laws while it is mostly passive in its enforcement of felony sale and serial raping of girls.

The stings are designed to catch prostitutes or johns in the act of misdemeanor prostitution on Santa Rosa Avenue. They are not designed to capture the pimps of either adult or child prostitutes. Nor are the sweeps designed to find child prostitutes, since the minors being prostituted are rarely pimped on the streets. In fact, the sweeps, as they're designed, are very unlikely to link police to any aspect of what is the most heinous and felonious aspect of prostitution, the sale and sexual enslavement of children.

Law Enforcement "Stumbles On" Other Cases of
Girl Children for Sale

It took only a quick internet search of Press Democrat archives to find that, in addition to Steve, there have been at least four other persons in Santa Rosa charged with pimping underage girls in the last four years. In each case the operation came to the attention of law enforcement quite by chance, or as the Press Democrat expressed it in a July 19, 2003 article, law enforcement has "stumbled on" these cases. For example, two of the cases came to police attention when a child victim reported to police as in the case of Steve. In another case a patrol officer noticed minors while canvassing a hotel on an unrelated matter, and in another case, officers "stumbled on" child prostitutes, and then to the pimp, in the course of shadowing a sex offender, etc.. The average age of the girl victims in these cases is about 14-years-old. (The names of the persons charged in these other cases are Barbara Thomas, Lawrence Barnett, Antoine Blessett, and Harvey McPeters.)

If law enforcement accidentally "stumbled on" four of these operations in four years, how many more of these operations are out there right now carrying on with impunity? Given the number of underage girls that get ground up by each one of these pimps, why isn't law enforcement carrying out proactive stings against these felony perpetrators?

According to an SRPD sex crimes detective who has taken an interest in the problem, "We know how to design the stings to get these pimps of underage girls. But we need the funds to pay for a specialist detective to do the job." "And right now," he says, "we don't have the funds."

But if there aren't sufficient funds to root out the pimps who sell underage girls, can there be any question as to what needs to be done? The law enforcement funds currently used for the repeated, high-cost, revolving-door, misdemeanor prostitution sweeps must be shifted to stings designed to capture the pimps and johns who ruin young girls' lives.

Sexual Slavery Begins at Home

In the last couple years, national and international press and human rights groups have focused on the sex slavery of girls around the world. It's estimated that at any one time there are upwards of 15 million girls and young women trapped in sex slavery worldwide. And while these investigations generally highlight the organized sex slavery rings in Asia, Russia, and Latin America, they also make very clear that one of the principal markets, if not the principle market, is American men. Still, few of these investigations have looked at the lucrative enslavement and sale of local young girls that originates right here in our home towns. It's a thriving local business that is only likely to grow as border crossings become more difficult, and as long as local law enforcement continues to turn a blind eye.

How is the Community Best Served?
A street sting of the type routinely carried out for misdemeanor violations of prostitution laws on Santa Rosa Avenue requires the coordination and shift time of about ten police officers. In addition, even greater amounts of time and money are consumed by the jailers, courts, judges, prosecutors, probation, and other officials in processing the high volume of these cases. And since the crimes are misdemeanors, the final punishment is usually a fine, or at most a short jail term, and the prostitute or john is back on the streets in no time.

In huge contrast, a single arrest of one pimp who deals in underage girls likely results in multiple felony charges, as in the case of 'Steve' who is charged with 19 felonies. And the pimp will likely be sent to prison for a very long time. Scores of girls' lives are saved with just one arrest. Scores of child rapes are prevented. And an entire enterprise grinding out the next generation of prostitutes is shut down. But at present, local law enforcement doesn't carry out proactive stings designed to capture these pimps.


Recommendation #1
Wherever your views on prostitution, it seems that as a community we all can agree on this starting point. We need to stop the selling of underage girls for sex in Sonoma County.

We need to be at least as aggressive and proactive in stopping the pimps and johns who deal in child sex as we are in stopping misdemeanor adult prostitution. And if there aren't sufficient resources, then the substantial law enforcement resources that are currently going into street stings and sweeps of adult prostitutes for misdemeanor violations should be immediately reallocated to support stings designed to capture the pimps and johns who commit felony sex crimes against girls.

NOTE: The average age of entry into prostitution for all prostitutes is 14-years-old in one study (1985; Children of the Night: A Study of Adolescent Prostitution, Lexington, Mass.) and 13-years-old in another study, (Silbert and Pines, 1982; "Victimization of Street Prostitutes", Victimology: An International Journal). Clearly, if we want to end prostitution, one essential step is to stop the men who sell girls.

Protecting the Community from
Violent Sexual Predators - Or Not

On January 31, 2003, an 18-year-old Santa Rosa girl who is not a prostitute, was brutally raped in the Santa Rosa Avenue area. Police believe the teen was attacked because the rapist mistook her for a prostitute. A man with a long history of violent sex crimes against women was arrested and has been ordered to stand trial for the crime.

Of particular interest in this case is that in the course of investigating this girl's rape, police came across two prostitutes who had also recently been raped by the same perpetrator. In fact, the prostitutes had been raped by this man in the months prior to his attack on the teenager. But neither of the prostitutes had reported their rapes to police.

If either one of these two prostitutes had reported these rapes to police, and if police had taken those reports seriously, it is almost certain that the rape of the non-prostitute teenager would never have taken place.

Violent sex offenders of all kinds frequently use and abuse prostitutes. They rape, beat, abduct, bind, torture, and kill prostitutes. According to a number of studies on violence against prostitutes, the average prostitute is raped and beaten multiple times a year by both pimps and johns. Studies also find that the vast majority of prostitutes never report these serious violent crimes to police. (See the Oregon Study of 800 Prostitutes)

Of the many violent attacks against prostitutes in our community that came to police attention in the year 2003, most came to police attention either by chance, or in the course of a detective investigating another case. One can only assume that many, many more such attacks never come to police attention under any circumstances, leaving the perpetrators free to attack again and again.

As Fragile As Lifting a Footprint From the Sand

Given the high incidence of serious violent crimes against prostitutes, if the women and girls felt free to report these crimes to police, it would serve as an immense protection not only for the prostitutes themselves, but for the entire community as well. Many, many serious violent criminals would be taken off the streets. But arresting these violent men requires first and foremost that prostitutes feel comfortable and safe talking with law enforcement. And, as things stand now, they do not.

In general, the prostitutes perceive police as hostile to them. They feel that police are constantly harassing them. They fear police. They fear that if they report a rape to police, the police will just as soon turn around and arrest them for prostitution or drug use. They fear police won't take them seriously, and that police will respond, even to the most violent attacks against them, with the attitude of "Well, what do you expect doing that kind of work?"

Both the prostitutes we talked with on Santa Rosa Avenue, and the service providers who work with the prostitutes, affirmed that, indeed, many police harass the prostitutes. Not every officer does this. In fact, a number of violent crimes detectives are making efforts to establish good communication with prostitutes.

But a sufficient number of police officers do treat prostitutes so badly that the prostitutes' overall perception is that of constant harassment. This harassment, along with police policy that emphasizes repeated sweeps targeting the arrest of prostitutes for misdemeanors, virtually assures that prostitutes won't go to police to report violent crimes. It's policy that amounts to systematic trampling of evidence. It's policy that unwittingly plays directly into the hands of the predators. The violent predators themselves know the prostitutes won't report.

Working with sex crimes victims, whether the victim is a prostitute or not, is as fragile a process as lifting a footprint from the sand. If we want to get the violent predators off the street, it's essential that we create overall police policy which treats prostitutes primarily as victims of violent crimes and secondarily as perpetrators of misdemeanors.

Prostitution Study of 800 prostitutes

1991 Study Conducted by the Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon

Victimization Percentages

homeless average 6.3 years 90%

Raped 71%
by pimp 85%
by john 78%
Reported to police 9%

Assaulted 95%
by pimp 63%
by john 100%
Reported to police 5%

kidnapped 53%
by pimp 77%
by john 91%
Reported to police 0%


Recommendation #2
Whatever your views on prostitution, it seems that we as a community can agree on this second recommendation, too.

For the safety of every one in the community, law enforcement must create a law enforcement environment both out on the streets and in their responses to individual prostitutes that encourages prostitutes to report violent crimes to police.

To accomplish this, law enforcement should:

  • Make clear in words and actions that if prostitutes report violent crimes to police, police won't turn around and arrest them for any misdemeanor activity she may have been engaging in. Instead, police will take her report seriously, investigate fully, protect her safety, and treat her with the same respect due all victims of violent crime. (It's already common police practice to ignore a victim's misdemeanor crimes in order to solve and prosecute the more serious crime. But prostitutes on the street need to know that this is how police will treat them too.)

  • Stop gratuitous harassment of prostitutes. Any officer that harasses prostitutes should be disciplined. Police must actively encourage prostitutes to report such harassment.

  • Institute proactive efforts to undo the hostile law
    enforcement environment against prostitutes that currently exists.

Angela's Story

Angela was a prostitute on Santa Rosa Avenue for five years from 1993 to 1998. Aside from the fact that Angela entered prostitution as an adult, her story is typical of many who work on Santa Rosa Avenue. Angela tells her story in the hopes that we can better understand the realities of prostitution in our community. All names in the story have been changed.

Day after day...I did it in the rain, I did it in the coldest nights, I did it in the early mornings, I did it on the holidays. I did it on Christmas. Duffy's attitude was, "It's just another day, just another day."

When I came to Santa Rosa, I had never before thought much about prostitution, let alone considered doing it. At the time, I was emotionally very weak. I had just begun dealing with the sexual abuse of my childhood. I had begun using drugs. And I was alone. It didn't take long for a man named Duffy to come knocking on my door, literally. One day he just appeared. Looking back on it, there's no question he came with a plan all mapped out for me. I know now he'd done it to many girls before.

"What? No Way! What? Are you crazy?"

Pretty soon Duffy was bringing guys over to the apartment. He'd say to me, "You know, you could spend some time with him and you could make a lot of money." Even though I was very weak emotionally, I still had some sense of dignity and having sex for money was out of the question for me. When Duffy would bring it up, I'd tell him, "What? No Way! What? Are you crazy?"

Then one day about a month after meeting him, the subject came up again. My response was the same. There was just no way I was into that. But this time when I said, "No way!", out of nowhere, Duffy slammed his fist into my face as hard as he could. He broke my nose and there was blood everywhere. He was crazy with rage. I tried to get a towel and he said, "You move again, and I'll hit you harder." That violence, on top of my emotional state, on top of the drugs, on top of the need for money, and I began turning tricks.

But in order to go out there I needed to get high, really high. There was no way I could turn a trick without being high. I would get really drunk to do it. So very quickly, it was a vicious circle. I needed to get high to do it, and I needed to do it to get the money to get high. Mostly you need the drugs or alcohol to blot out the sickening feeling in your soul - and to get up the nerve to face the danger.

"It would be nuts to try to spend the money myself."

Duffy was a boyfriend/pimp which is the situation for a lot of the women on the Avenue. Duffy never worked. I would always, ALWAYS, hand the money to Duffy. It would be nuts to try to spend the money myself. Duffy could appear at any minute. His violence was crazy and unpredictable. A lot of times I thought he was going to kill me. As much violence as I ran into on the street, the real violence was Duffy. If I'd been out an hour and I only came back with $60 and he figured I should have made $100, he didn't care if I told him I'd been jacked around by the cops for twenty minutes. He was going to kill me.

It didn't matter how much money you make on the streets. Of all the prostitutes I knew, none of them ever had any money - ever. It was like it wasn't really our money. The money just cycled through us, either to the pimps or to the drug dealers.

Day after day...I did it in the rain, I did it on the coldest nights, I did it in the early mornings, I did it on the holidays. I did it on Christmas. Duffy's attitude was, "It's just another day, just another day."

"Stones and pebbles got deeply embedded in my face."

Right from the first year I ran across some violence with the tricks. I got in this one car and showed the guy where to park and instead he drove me out to some remote place and then he got physical. The next thing I knew he'd come around the other side of the car and pulled me out of the car. I escaped him. Then he jumped back in the car and tried to run me down. Another girl, he broke her tooth.

And I've been handcuffed, tied up, and one time I had to kick someone's window out. But, of course, the worst was Bret Crevello. It started when he couldn't get an erection and time was up. When I said I had to go or he had to pay more money, he reached over and socked me so hard I went unconscious. I came to and tried to get out of the car. But the door had been rigged so it wouldn't unlock. When he came around and opened the door from the outside, he ripped me out of the car. He dragged me by my leg across a parking lot. Stones and pebbles got deeply embedded in my face. He dragged me to into an empty field behind auto row.

He was in a murderous rage. Every time I screamed he kicked and beat me harder. But I kept screaming. And he'd kick and beat me harder. He kept telling me I was going to die. He was in such a rage, there was no question in my mind, he was going to beat me until I was dead.

What saved me was that just by chance there was a janitor working very late that night in one of the dealerships. He heard me screaming. He couldn't get to me because of the fence, but he did call the police. Crevello had been beating on me twenty minutes. I was in and out of consciousness. You couldn't recognize me. I had broken bones and my whole body was swollen and distorted. I briefly remember the flashing red lights, and an ambulance guy saying, "You're going to be all right." And then I blacked out again.

I didn't want to tell the cops what all had happened. They wouldn't give me my money back and they wouldn't give me my house keys. They said they had to keep it all as evidence, but it didn't make any sense that they needed my house keys for evidence. I had to get an advocate who could convince the cops to give me my house keys. It took a while, and then I cooperated and told them the whole story.

"I lived in total fear."

But even so, I wouldn't have testified in court if it had been up to me. I couldn't have imagined showing up on my own. I lived in total fear; fear of the courts, fear of the streets, total fear. The only reason I testified was because Duffy made me do it. He made sure I got to all the right court hearings on time. It was like Duffy was going to make sure the guy went down because the guy had messed with his property.

The reason prostitutes don't report violent crimes to the cops, no matter how serious, is because of the way the cops treated the prostitutes. A lot of the cops got a thrill out of harassing the women. There was no sense from any of the cops that I might have been a victim of anything. I was just a fucking ho with Duffy.

They would always come at me with really racist, really sexist attitudes - just to the max. Yelling at me, "What's this white woman doing with this black man!" Or like one time, for no reason at all, a cop pushed me over the hood of a squad car, pushed my skirt up over my back, then frisked me. Another time a cop totally felt me up when he said he was looking for drugs. It didn't matter if he was breaking the law, he knew he could get away with it. Or they'd write me up a citation for throwing a cigarette butt in the gutter.

It was constant. The only way the women would report a crime to a cop is if she thought she was about to die. Offer me services? Or tell me there might be a way out? Never once in five years did any cop ever hint to me that there might be help or a way out.

But even if someone had talked with me I don't know if I would have gotten the message that there was a way out. There's only one way I could have heard it. Duffy would have had to be taken out of the picture. He was the real threat to me. He was the real violence. I was more terrified of him than I was of any trick. And he had total control of me with that terror.

Lost Opportunities

There were a number of times, however, when I likely would have talked to police. But those opportunities were always lost one way or another.

One time Duffy was chasing me on the street in one of his random rages. I ran into the hotel and screamed to the front desk clerk, "Please call the police. He's going to kill me." And the guy said, "Get the hell out." I was standing there begging and telling him, "Please, call the police. I can't go out there. He's going to kill me." The man said, "I told you. Get the hell out!" The man never called the police.

Another time Duffy was chasing me with a knife. Someone saw it and called the police. When police came they found the knife. And they had the eye witness, too. But they came and talked to me with Duffy standing right there and I had to say it didn't happen. The cops knew he had a violent criminal history a mile long including manslaughter. And at that time, I didn't have any record at all. But I was amazed. The cops let him go.

It happened like that at least eight times. Someone saw or heard the violence of Duffy beating me. They called the cops. And the cops would come and every single time they would ask me right in front of Duffy what happened. Any cop that would have given two cents would have interviewed me apart from Duffy. And if the cop made even some effort to tell me he was concerned for my safety, or that he would protect me if I wanted to get out, I was so scared for my life on some of those occasions, that those were times when I could have heard the message.

But it's an empty question, because no cop ever cared enough to do it right. They had to know. They knew Duffy's record. They were getting all these calls from witnesses when Duffy was beating me. The cops had to know that I was in way over my head. And drowning.

The Nightmare Ends

The nightmare didn't begin to end until one day Duffy knifed a man in front of my eyes over nothing. Immediately afterwards, Duffy made me take the knife. But this time when the cops came, I could sense the cops knew it wasn't my knife. And this time when they asked me, I told the cops clear as a bell, "It's not my knife."

It was the first time in five years I stood up against Duffy. As soon as Duffy went to jail, he started calling me from jail. A couple times I answered. And in a matter of a few days, I just stopped picking up the phone. Within a year I was completely free of drugs and putting together a healthy new life again.

Of the dozen or so women I knew really well working on the avenue over the same years as me, three of them are now dead. One of them was Joanie Holmes. (See Note below on Joanie Holmes.)

Now, five years after getting out of prostitution, whenever I drive past the back of auto row where a trick tried to kill me, I wonder how was I so lucky that someone heard me scream and they didn't hear April Lynn. Cause you know she had to scream. And April Lynn is dead. And I cry. But I'm alive. I get to say to the girls that are still out there that I understand - and really, really mean it.

Law Enforcement's Blind Spot
In a recent conversation, the Sonoma County Sheriff's sergeant in charge of coordinating the prostitution stings on the avenue repeated the law enforcement refrain about the difficulty of getting prostitutes to cooperate in the violent crimes investigations. And he added, "It's just like drugs or gangs. It's hard to get cooperation from any group of people involved in crime."

It's this last comment that is so revealing of a common police blind spot in regard to prostitution. Because there's a huge and obvious difference between drugs and gangs on the one hand and prostitution on the other. In the drugs and gang communities the serious and violent crimes are mostly mutual, back and forth, one group or individual against the other.

But, in prostitution, the women and girl prostitutes are virtually always the victims of the violent crimes, and the male pimps and johns are virtually always the perpetrators of the violence. We don't know of even one case on Santa Rosa Avenue where a prostitute has raped, abducted, knifed, beaten, strangled, or murdered anyone.

As such, prostitution is much better understood as an institutionalized form of violence against women used by many males for the purpose of obtaining total control of the when, where, and how of the sex act.


Recommendation #3
Police should prioritize the arresting of pimps over the arresting of prostitutes. Police should design investigation strategies to identify and build evidence against the pimps. They need to recognize that most pimps use violence to hold the women in prostitution.

Trying to stop prostitution by arresting the prostitutes and ignoring the pimps is a lot like trying to stop domestic violence by arresting the victims and ignoring the batterer. All that's accomplished with that strategy is a police strengthening of the pimp's control over the prostitute.

Both academic studies on prostitution and the details of stories like Angela's make clear that in order for women to be able to escape prostitution, the violent pimps who control them must be taken off the streets. Currently in Sonoma County, there is no law enforcement effort aimed at rooting out the pimps.

NOTE: Joanie Holmes was a Santa Rosa prostitute who died in Sonoma County jail two days following her June 2, 1997 arrest for prostitution. According to witnesses, Holmes became violently ill soon after entering her cell. These witnesses state that Holmes and other inmates repeatedly tried to get medical help for Holmes, but that guards responded with ridicule, despite the fact that Holmes was visibly extremely ill. For over two days, the sicker Joanie became, the worse the guards treated her until finally Joanie Holmes was dead. A wrongful death lawsuit against the Sonoma County Sheriff's department was settled in Holmes' favor for an undisclosed amount.

From an investigation by Tanya Brannan of the Purple Berets. For more information click here.

Notes on Gary Ridgway,
The Green River Serial Killer

"You guys (police) had the problem. I had the answer."
" I thought I was doing you guys a favor."
"You guys can't control them, but I can."
Gary Ridgway during a law enforcement interview

On November 6, 2003, Gary Leon Ridgway pleaded guilty to killing 48 women and girls, all prostitutes, in a 20 year killing spree in the Green River area of Seattle, Washington. Although suspected of killing dozens more, even at 48 victims Ridgway currently holds the record for being convicted of killing more people than any other serial killer. (Rigdway's record, however, may be short lived. Vancouver area pig farmer Richard Picton, currently on trial for the serial killing of women and girls, also mostly prostitutes, is suspected of killing upwards of 65 or more victims.)

But there is much more in Ridgway's story to shake human sensibility than the numbers. And if you take a moment to ponder the events, Ridgway's crimes, and especially people's responses to those crimes, are instructive to our situation here.

Misdemeanor Murders

A scan of press reports following Ridgway's plea found, not surprisingly, that the story received extensive coverage and debate worldwide. But virtually none of this debate dealt in any way with the issues of prostitution nor with violence against women. Nor did civil rights or women's rights groups make their way into the press to protest this record sexist carnage. Instead, the civilized world used the occasion to rehash the debate on capital punishment.

Imagine if the 48 victims chosen for slaughter were targeted because they were blacks, or gay, or immigrants, or members of any other oppressed social group! A chorus of progressive voices would have called out for analysis and changes to make sure that it could never happen again.

But these were females, young women and girls, prostitutes. These were in the minds of so many as some in law enforcement refer to the murder of prostitutes. These were "misdemeanor murders, NHI-No Humans Involved." And the singular, stand-alone statement in the media as to why these females were selected out for slaughter was left to their perpetrator.

"The plan was: I wanted to kill as many women I
thought were prostitutes as I possibly could."
" I picked prostitutes as my victims because
they were easy to pick up without being noticed."
Taken from Ridgway's Plea Agreement Statement to the
King County Court, Nov. 6, 2003

The silence of society on the murders of so many women and girls bears immense responsibility for sustaining the shadows in which men like Ridgway can get away with slaughtering females for decades with impunity.

"I Thought I was doing you guys a favor"

The King County Prosecutor's official Summary of Evidence to the Court is a document worth looking at for the many insights it provides into Ridgway's mentality and crimes.
(The full document can be found at here.) Included in the document is this set of quotes taken from a law enforcement interview with Ridgway in which Ridgway says to the detective,

" And, like, uh, uh, um, uh, not trying to go off the subject, but I thought I was doing you guys a favor, killing, killing prostitutes, here you guys can't control them, but I can. You can't hurt anybody. You can't, you can arrest them and put cuffs on them, might be a little bit rough on them a little bit. But you can't, uh, you can't stop the problem..."

"I was doing uh, like I said, doing you a favor that you couldn't, you guys couldn't do. You couldn't uh, I mean if its illegal aliens, you can take 'em to the border and fly 'em back out 'a there. But if it's a prostitute, you'd arrest 'em, they were back on the street as soon as they get bail and change their uh, name, and you guys, you guys had the problem. I had, I had the answer...."

On first take it seems a complete mental break that any criminal could view his criminal acts as helping the police, especially acts as heinous as the two decades of brutal murders perpetrated by Ridgway. But at the same time, Ridgway's assessment of police or society's common cause with his is not entirely inaccurate. "Get rid of the prostitutes," is the exasperated cry of businesses and residents of communities around the world.

It's the prostitutes who are the problem. It's not the extreme social and economic oppression of women, nor the systematic violence against women, nor the pimps, nor the men who pay to rape girls. It's the prostitutes who are the problem. The Gary Ridgways and Richard Pictons of the world can easily feed on these sentiments to suppress any last vestiges of conscience and, as Gary Ridgway put it, to "take pride in my work," and to believe they are doing police "a favor". That's why there's hardly a city in the world that doesn't have a string of unsolved homicides of prostitutes.

And that's another reason that it's vital that we as a society begin to speak out and act on behalf of the humanity, the dignity, and the rights of prostitutes to at least live free of the violence.

"....Because she was engaging in prostitution
when she was assaulted."

Gary Ridgway wasn't the only one who perceived that police and society would be more biased against prostitutes than against Ridgway's violence.

In November of 1982, very early in Ridgway's killing spree, a prostitute named Rebecca Garde Guay escaped Ridgway's attempt to kill her. But it wasn't until two years later, in December of 1984 that Rebecca reported the attack to the Green River Task Force. In a revealing statement written by the King County prosecutor in his official statement to the court in 2003, the prosecutor states, "Rebecca was initially reluctant to report the assault, because she was engaging in prostitution when she was assaulted."

Tragically, it was in those two years between the time Rebecca Guay was attacked by Ridgway in 1982 and when she reported to police in 1984, that Gary Ridgway killed the majority of his victims. If Rebecca had felt police would accept her prostitution without judgment, and that she would be protected physically and emotionally by police, in all likelihood Ridgway would have been quickly put behind bars and the lives of so many would have been saved. The prosecutor's summary to the court makes pretty clear there was ample evidence to put Ridgway away at that time for at least the attempted murder of Rebecca.

But given all that evidence, why then wasn't Ridgway prosecuted in 1984 when Rebecca did report the crime? The Prosecutor's statement on this critical question is circumspect and suspicious. The prosecutor writes, "According to the detective, Rebecca told him that she did not wish to pursue the case, and Ridgway was not charged." It's, first of all, incredible that after reviewing the horrible murders of 48 prostitutes, the prosecutor would then have the nerve to turn around and blame a prostitute for law enforcement's failure to file charges on her attempted murder.

Given the possibility even at that point to have ended Ridgway's killing, this statement that the case wasn't prosecuted because Rebecca didn't wish to pursue the case leaves more questions than it answers. After all, in 1984, Rebecca had willingly come forward on her own, willingly told her story to police, willingly led the detective to Ridgway, identified Ridgway and his vehicle to police, described full details of the attack and her injuries, and directed police to witnesses who saw her injuries and her hysteria immediately after the attack. Why would Rebecca do all that and then not prosecute?

Was it because the detective didn't take the time to figure out what Rebecca needed in order to feel safe? Was it because the detective never took the time to get advocacy and support for Rebecca? Or was it because it was really the detective who didn't want to be bothered? Apparently the detective didn't even send the case of Ridgway's attempted murder of Rebecca up to the District Attorney's Office back in 1984, because if it had been done, the prosecutor wouldn't have had to go back to the detective to find out why the case hadn't been filed.

But whatever the specifics of this failure, one thing is certain. Women and girls around the world and in Sonoma County are being murdered, raped, and beaten because prostitutes do not feel comfortable and safe going to police.

And a couple more notes to ponder on Ridgway:

  • Gary Ridgway first used prostitutes while in the military in the Philippines. There's ample evidence that the US military in the Philippines took part in establishing brothels for US troops stationed in the Philippines and that these brothels made use of local girls as young as 12-years-old to stock the business. In the early 1990's, Philippino families sued the US Military for pimping of underage Philippine girls.

  • With few exceptions, press coverage on Ridgway's plea and conviction referred to his 48 victims only as women, completely ignoring the fact that the majority of Ridgway's victims were teenagers, many under the age of 18. The English language is clear enough in its distinction between women and girls. And, in particular, print media doesn't make the mistake of referring to females under the age of 18 as women. But the failure of so much Ridgway press coverage to mention that his victims were women and girls is due to the sexist twist of mind that says a sexually active girl gives up the protections of childhood and assumes the responsibilities and pitfalls of adulthood.

  • Misdemeanor Murders - NHI (No Humans Involved) - Between 1985 and 1992 in San Diego, CA, 45 women were sexually assaulted and murdered in what were believed to be related crimes. Many of the women were prostitutes. In 1990, the Sacramento Bee quoted a San Diego police officer on the murders: "These were misdemeanor murders," the officer is quoted as saying, "biker women and hookers, we'd call them NHI's-No Humans Involved."
What Other Communities
Have Done
With the growing understanding that prostitution is an exploitive and violent system in which the prostitutes themselves are the primary victims, communities are beginning to explore more meaningful approaches to the problem. Here's a small sample of what other communities have done.
  • In the year 2000, San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution calling for San Francisco police and District Attorney to redirect their resources away from prosecution of prostitutes to the protection of prostitutes.
    (A copy of the full resolution can be found here.)

  • In 1999, Sweden passed a law criminalizing the buying of sex, but not the selling of sex. The premise of this legislation was that "...it is not reasonable to punish the person who sells a sexual service. In the majority of cases... this person is a weaker partner who is exploited." In addition, the Swedish government allocates social welfare funds for women who want to leave prostitution. (See * reference below.)

  • The Sexual Exploitation Education Program (SEEP) in Portland Oregon is one of a number of diversion programs which focuses on educating arrested johns. One of the principal goals of the program is to get the johns to understand that prostitution is not a "victimless crime", but that it is more a system of violence against women. A number of the SEEP type programs around the country have reported good results in terms of lowering recidivism rates of johns. These programs, however, have had much less success with pimps who are generally much more serious criminals. (See * reference below.)

* From Melissa Farley's Review of Medical and Social ScienceLiterature


Recommendation #4
In order to create a law enforcement climate in which prostitutes can come forward to report violent crimes, police must back off their constant stings and sweeps aimed at arresting prostitutes.

Even the police who agree with us on the first three recommendations usually object to this fourth recommendation. They say they can't ignore criminal activity. But the reality of standard police practices says they can. Police have discretion, particularly in dealing with crimes that are misdemeanors. They have discretion in their handling of both individual acts and discretion in dealing with whole crime categories.

In probably the most analogous situation, law enforcement agencies around the country and more recently local law enforcement, have seen the wisdom and necessity of refusing to participate in INS actions aimed at arresting non-documented immigrants for misdemeanor violations of immigration laws. This is because police recognize that successful policing is impossible in an atmosphere where entire segments of the community fear the police.

Police recognize that it is in their own interest to ignore the minor violations of immigration laws. In our own community, once law enforcement stopped joining in INS raids, there's been a complete and dramatic turn around on the willingness of immigrants to go to police. Non-documented crime victims and witnesses who previously refused to communicate with police now routinely come forward. Only rarely does a non-documented victim even ask us anymore if police will get them deported.

End Notes

  • Both local press and local law enforcement have repeatedly highlighted the fact that many of the prostitutes arrested on Santa Rosa Avenue have come into town from elsewhere, as if the small town of Santa Rosa is being victimized by bad women from the big city. What's always de-emphasized is that, with very few exceptions, the johns arrested in the stings are virtually all Sonoma County locals. The prostitution is driven by the local market.

  • Of 123 survivors of prostitution at the Council for Prostitution Alternatives in Portland - 85% reported a history of incest, 90% a history of physical abuse, and 98% a history of emotional abuse. (Hunter, 1994)

  • From Melissa Farley's Review of Medical and Social Science Literature here.

As we finalize this booklet, here are two
current news items:

  • January 17, 2004 from CBC Vancouver, Canada - Vancouver police have charged a man after seizing videotapes showing violent assaults on as many as 50 women prostitutes. The tapes and crimes came to police attention only when a witness heard one of the women's screams. According to Constable Sarah Bloor, the "extreme violence" of the images is having a "huge emotional impact" on the investigators.

  • January 26, 2004 from NBC4.tv - San Diego police discovered a prostitution ring of up to 100 girls - with girls as young as 12-years-old. The pimps who worked in a loose confederation are males between 17 and 24-years-old.

What We and You Can Do to Stop the Sale of Underage Girls in Sonoma County

Join us at the Board of Supervisors and at the Santa Rosa City Council meetings in May. Call us at 575-3150 for dates.

These meetings will follow our April meetings with Sheriff Cogbill and with SRPD Chief Flint in which we will be requesting that a detective be immediately assigned to carry out the stings needed to stop all buying and selling of underage girls in Sonoma County. Implementation of the other recommendations, as outlined in the booklet, will also be requested.

Call us at 575-3150 and request additional copies of our booklet, “Prostitution Crossroads on Santa Rosa Avenue”


You can obtain the same document in English or in Spanish on our web site at www.justicewomen.com/cj_sr_prostitution.html

Call us to request a speaker on the topic for your group.

Give Copies of the booklet (or the newsletter) to friends, teachers, law enforcement, counselors, clergy, or to anyone you know who is willing to pick up a phone and make a difference. Call us for as many copies of the booklet as you need.

Call or Write:
SRPD Chief Ed Flint: 543-3550
Sheriff Bill Cogbill: 565-2781
Santa Rosa City Council: 543-3016
Sonoma County Board of Supervisors: 565-2241

Request that a detective be immediately assigned to carry out the stings needed to top all buying and selling of underage girls in Sonoma County.

Remind school officials that when students harass girl students by calling them “ho’s” and “bitches” this not only degrades girls’ sexuality, it also violates girls’ civil rights to an equal education. Remind school officials also that Title IX of the Federal Civil Rights Act obligates all school employees to put an immediate and effective stop to all such behavior.

Call us with any additional suggestions you may have.

Send your tax deductible donation to Women’s Justice Center today. We need your financial help to do this work. We promise to put your donation to very good use. Please mail your check today to the above address.

Thank You

April, 2003 Letter to Law Enforcement

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Women's Justice Center,


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