Santa Rosa Avenue
April Lynn Misenhimer
July 24, 1981 to January 17, 2003
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.
family all describe her as celebratory and loving.
And they miss her very much.
year 2003, prostitution emerged again and again from the
shadows of Santa Rosa Avenue into the pages of our local
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Children for Sale, Inc.
Santa Rosa, CA
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.
Flourishing Market for a Vintage Santa Rosa Business
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
the Community from
Violent Sexual Predators - Or Not
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.
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.
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
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.
Study of 800 prostitutes
Study Conducted by the Council for Prostitution Alternatives,
average 6.3 years 90%
by pimp 85%
by john 78%
Reported to police 9%
by pimp 63%
by john 100%
Reported to police 5%
by pimp 77%
by john 91%
Reported to police 0%
your views on prostitution, it seems that we as a community
can agree on this second recommendation, too.
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.
this, law enforcement should:
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
gratuitous harassment of prostitutes. Any officer
that harasses prostitutes should be disciplined.
Police must actively encourage prostitutes to report
proactive efforts to undo the hostile law
enforcement environment against prostitutes that
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...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
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
an investigation by Tanya Brannan of the Purple Berets.
For more information click
on Gary Ridgway,
The Green River Serial Killer
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
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.
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.
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
King County Court, Nov. 6, 2003
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.
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,
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
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.
she was engaging in prostitution
when she was assaulted."
wasn't the only one who perceived that police and society
would be more biased against prostitutes than against Ridgway's
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."
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
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.
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.
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."
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
(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.)
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
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
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
We and You Can Do to Stop the Sale of Underage Girls in
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
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
Call us to request a speaker on the topic for your
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
a detective be immediately assigned to carry out the stings
needed to top all buying and selling of underage girls in
officials that when students harass girl students by
calling them hos 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.
with any additional suggestions you may have.
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