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A Guide for Mothers, Grandmothers, and Others
for Helping a Girl Caught in Prostitution
or Sex Trafficking

Part 7 ~ If Your Daughter is Found Deceased

If your daughter, or a prostituted girl you care about, has been found deceased, we wish we had the words to console your loss. The tragedy you're experiencing is magnified by a loved one being robbed of life at such a young age, and by the cruel wrongs of prostitution that killed her.

You also may be experiencing the added hurt of a society that too quickly wants to sweep these girls off the stage of human existence - without dignity, without a proper search for the truth of what happened to her, without justice for the wrong done, and without the memorializing of her life that you, she, and her community deserves. We hope, at the very least, that this section can help you restore some rightful dignity and justice to your daughter and her memory.

Why Did She Die?

Prostitution is so inherently violent and destructive of women and girls that death rates for prostitutes are extremely high. Moreover, prostitutes' lives have been so undervalued by society that studies have only just begun to uncover how much violence these women and girls suffer, and how frequently their lives end in early death. One city study finds that the average age of death for prostitutes is 34 years of age. Another study finds that prostitutes only survive an average of 8 years after entering prostitution. The women and girls die from murder, suicide, drugs, disease, and accidents.

A Canadian study finds that the homicide rate for prostituted girls is 60 to 100 times that of the average female. There's hardly a city in any country that doesn't have a string of unsolved deaths and disappearances of prostitutes. Police often claim that these cases are hard to solve because of the transience of those involved. But we believe that just as often the failure to resolve the deaths of these young girls is because their deaths are simply too often ignored, under-investigated, and dismissed. Police have been quoted as referring to the murder of prostitutes as "misdemeanor murders", and "NHI", "No Human Involved".

Your daughter died because she was victimized by a vicious, powerful, and criminal male system of prostitution that grinds up young girls and women around the world, pins them down with violence, and treats them as disposable, renewable merchandise. And the entire system is backed up by governments, police, and dominant social attitudes that go after the girls instead of the pimps and johns. It is not your daughter's fault she couldn't escape. And it is not your fault, if in the end, you couldn't rescue her.

Join with Others for Help, Strength, and Support! Don't Go Through the Heartache Alone!

The death of a loved one is devastating in so many ways, for so long, that no one should ever have to go through it alone. So connect with sources of help, strength, and support as soon and as often as you can. There are professional advocates who can help guide you through the process. There are groups of families and friends of other young women who have been murdered in prostitution, who can give you the kind of understanding support that no one else can. And there is the community of people who knew and cared about your daughter, most of whom will want to pitch in and help, if only you'll just pick up the phone and ask. But first you need to get connected.

A good way to start looking for professional advocates is to call one of the national organizations listed in Part 2. Rape crisis centers in your own community can also be very helpful, as more and more of these centers now include services for prostitutes in their work. And don't forget to go to your local victim assistance office, too. If your daughter's death was declared a homicide, as a family member of the girl, you are considered a victim of the crime. The victim assistance office should help you with funds for your expenses related to the crime. And they should help you by assigning you a victim advocate who can answer your questions and guide you through the legal processes in the difficult days ahead.

Also, no matter where you live, it's almost certain that there are other mothers and loved ones in your area who are going through the same sorrow and torment as you are. In many cities the families and friends of prostituted girls who have been killed are joining together to give each other support and to help each other obtain justice and answers. There are a couple ways you can find these groups. You may be able to connect to them simply by talking to other women on the street where your daughter was prostituted. Or sometimes, because some of these groups have become very vocal in demanding answers, you can find these groups through searches in your local newspaper or on the internet.

Another important source of help are the people who know you and your daughter and who care about what happened her. Ask someone close to you to help you put together a list of these people and to keep the list updated. Think of your neighbors, old friends of your daughter, teachers, distant family, and more. Try to talk with them regularly to keep them informed about what's happening. And, most important of all, pick up the phone and ask them for help.

There are a lot of things you can ask people to do. They can accompany you to appointments, watch your other kids for an afternoon, prepare a meal, go with you for a meeting with police, help you arrange photographs, collect press articles, and help with all the other details of life that suddenly can become overwhelming under the weight of your sorrow.

Do not hesitate to ask! And don't think that you're asking too much. Most people who knew your daughter are themselves going to be very upset about her death. They will want to do something. You will be helping them if you give them something helpful to do. So, please, don't hesitate to pick up the phone and ask people for help. If you still don't feel comfortable asking for help, pick one special person, and ask that person to make the phone calls for you to ask for help.

If Your Daughter's Death was Declared a Homicide by Authorities

If your daughter's death was declared a homicide, there will be a homicide detective assigned to the case immediately. This homicide detective will most likely be on the police force that has jurisdiction in the area where your daughter was found.

Even if this detective is in a distant location, try, as soon as possible, to establish a good working relationship with that officer. This will give you the best possibility that the detective will keep you informed, and that the detective will do all that's possible to find out the truth of what happened to your daughter.

  • Try to set up a regular, agreed upon, schedule of communication with the officer. There will certainly be times when you or the officer will want spur-of-the-moment conversations. But having a regularly scheduled communication time will help you keep from feeling anxious, and it will help the officer keep from feeling overtaken by your emotions. Make sure the detective has all your contact information, and that you have full contact information for the detective.

  • If you are the girl's mother or grandmother or other close family member and the detective seems unwilling to set up regular communication with you, this is a sign right from the beginning that things may not be going the way they should be. If you're feeling that the detective is avoiding communication with you, don't hesitate to call the officer's supervisor to get things turned around. (You can always find out the name and contact number of an officer's supervisor by calling the department's reception desk.) Keep in mind that the first few days of a homicide investigation are usually the busiest and most critical. Nonetheless, a good homicide detective should always make time to talk with close family members, both out of respect, and also because family members usually have important information that can enhance the investigation.

    • If you are a friend or concerned community member, it's also a very good idea for you to talk to the homicide detective too, to express your care for the girl, your concern that the circumstances of the girl's death be investigated thoroughly, and to offer any help if it's needed. Naturally, your connection with the detective won't likely be as frequent as that of a family member. But your expression of concern can be very helpful in keeping the homicide team motivated.

  • In addition to connecting to the detective on the case, if you are the girl's mother or close family member, you should also contact your county's victim assistance office. The people in the victim assistance office should help you obtain crime victim compensation funds to help you with burial and other expenses related to your daughter's death, including counseling services for you and your family. The victim assistance office should also assign you a victim advocate. The victim advocate should be willing and able to answer your questions about the criminal justice process, and to help you with any other difficulties you may be having as a result of your loss.

  • Tell the detective all the relevant information about your daughter, including information that will help him or her see your daughter as a real person. At the same time, as much as it is very natural to want to protect your daughter's reputation, it's critical that you give the officer as much information as possible about all her prostitution and prostitution related problems. Don't hold back information!

  • Keep a notebook of key points and new information that you want to pass on to the detective. It's just too easy to forget even the most important points when you're grieving for a loved one. Keep your notebook with you at all times.

  • Understand that the detective is not under any obligation to give you all the information about the findings of the investigation as it progresses. There are often good reasons that a detective may withhold certain information from you. Oftentimes, there is key information which can later be used to incriminate a perpetrator, but only if that information is not available out in the community. At the same time, a homicide detective should be willing to give you as much information as possible without compromising the investigation.

  • Although the course of every homicide investigation is different according to the individual circumstances of the case, a homicide investigation of a prostituted victim should include careful, safe, and respectful interviews with other prostitutes in the area.

    • One of the most unfortunate aspects of the murders of prostitutes is that there are usually other prostitutes who are aware of the perpetrator and his violence. Some of these other women may have even attempted to report attacks by the perpetrator to the police, but were then rebuffed by the police who too often have an attitude of, "well, what do you expect doing that kind of work?" Some of the worst serial killers of prostitutes have gone on to kill scores of women more because police ignored early reports of assaults on prostitutes who survived the attacks.

      Also, many prostituted women and girls are reluctant to talk to police for any reason because of the bad treatment they have received from police in the past. If you or some of your daughter's friends know other prostitutes in the area, there are times that it may be very helpful for you to talk with them personally, and ask them, for your daughter's sake, to please talk with police if they know anything. You may want to make up a flyer with your daughter's picture and story, or ask police to make up a flyer, that can be passed out in the area where your daughter was murdered. Make sure you include the case detective's phone number.

  • Another thing police should be doing when there is a prostitution related murder is to compare the case with the cases of other prostitution related murders and missing persons reports in the immediate and surrounding areas. It's very common for the murderer of prostitutes to be a serial murderer.

  • If, during the investigation, you feel that the detective is disrespectful, uninterested, prejudiced against your daughter, or not aggressively investigating the case, don't hesitate to go up the ranks to pressure for the proper investigation that your daughter's death deserves. For different ways of applying this pressure go back to Part 3, section on "How to Get a Better or Best Response From Police, If You Don't Get a Satisfactory Response". Don't forget, if things are going really badly, you have every right to request that a different detective be assigned to the case. And another thing not to forget. Make sure you have at least one other person go with you when you wish to make a complaint or ask for changes in the way the case is being handled.

If Your Daughter's Death is Not Declared a Homicide by Authorities

Many prostituted girls killed in prostitution related deaths die from immediate causes other than homicide. Other common immediate causes of prostitute deaths are drug overdoses, diseases, suicides, and accidents. Unfortunately, coroners and police are too often prone to leave it at that. However, many of these girls' deaths should rightfully be declared homicides, should be investigated as homicides, and the pimp should be held accountable. You may or may not want to push for that change.

The reason many of these girls' prostitution related deaths should be considered as possible homicides is because she likely died as a direct result of an ongoing felony crime against her. To better understand this, consider that if a gun-wielding man is robbing a bank and a bank teller has a fatal heart attack as a result of the fear, the robber can be held culpable under the law for the teller's death. The same legal principle should must apply to your daughter's death. If a man (or woman) is pimping a minor, that crime is every bit as serious as robbing a bank. In fact, it is more serious, as it is ongoing, and at the very least involves repeated rapes of the girl, and likely physical assaults and threats, too.

So, if there is reason to believe that the drug overdose, the suicide, the disease, or accident that killed your daughter resulted from the girl being prostituted, there should be no question that the girl's death be treated as homicide.

The logic is clear and undeniable, but all too often it is obscured behind deep seated attitudes that a prostituted girl is a bad girl. And her death gets recorded accordingly, as a drug overdose, suicide, disease, or accident. The investigation will stop there. The pimp will go on pimping. And the girls will keep dying. Unless you want to take up the fight and demand that the death of your daughter or loved one be considered and investigated as a homicide.

You are in the midst of grieving. It's a difficult decision to make, and it's up to you. But if you do want to fight it, here are a couple tips.

  • Get two or three people together with you to start, two or three people who understand the problem and who share your sense of injustice about the situation. Sit down with them and write out a short, two or three paragraph, argument as to why you are calling on officials to investigate your daughters death as a homicide, and to deliver proper justice. Address it the District Attorney and police chief in the county where your daughter was found. Ask for a meeting with the District Attorney and/or the police chief for you and your friends. Date it and sign it with your friends.

  • Make many copies of your statement. Send one to the District Attorney and another to the police chief. Pass out the others to individuals and groups in the community, and to the press. In all likelihood, this should, at the very least, get you a formal response.

  • If you do not get an immediate response, use the same statement, or modify it if you want, and get more signatures. In addition to individual community members, try and get signatures from local prominent people, such as the head of your local rape crisis center, the head of your church, a local councilperson, etc. Send it again to the District Attorney, the police chief, and the press. Call the press and your local radio talk shows. A powerful place to pass this out and put big pressure on the district attorney, is to go to the courthouse steps at lunchtime. Make and pass out a couple hundred copies and the whole courthouse, police, victims, attorneys, judges, clerks, etc., will be talking about it for the rest of the week - waiting to see what the District Attorney's going to do.

  • Similarly, if you do get a response, but the DA or police chief give you a reason why they will not, or cannot, initiate a homicide investigation, you should probably ask a trusted, knowledgeable person to review the response with you. It is possible there is a good legal reason why law enforcement cannot go ahead and treat your daughter's death as a homicide. But it is just as possible that the response you've been given is bogus, legal mumbo-jumbo to try to put you off.

Keep going as far as you and others want to take it.

  • Even if in the end you don't succeed, just the fact that you have taken up the fight, you will have succeeded in getting many people to stop and think. The logic and denial of justice is obvious. Your daughter was killed as a result of being pimped, and the pimp should be held responsible for her death! And he, and others like him, need to be held accountable. So other girls and women don't keep dying as victims of this vicious criminal enterprise. Just getting people to think is accomplishing a lot.

A Few Tips for Dealing with The Press -There is another powerful social institution you may be dealing with following the death of your daughter, and that is the press. Like the police, the press can treat your daughter's death in a way that is respectful and illuminating, or the press can be cruel, sensationalizing, or even blaming your daughter for her own death. Or, perhaps worst of all, the press can ignore the death of a young prostituted girl altogether, dismissing her life with a mere paragraph or two on the back pages, or with no mention at all.

We've seen press articles that have caused grieving families unbearable pain. In one case, for example, the article blamed a 12-year-old girl for her own death, because, as the article said, her lifestyle was "playing with fire". This was a 12-year-old girl who was found nude, strangled to death, and left on the side of a highway. The article never mentioned she was also a 12-year-old girl who was the head of her household, and that she was the responsible and very loving caregiver to her mentally ill mother and the substitute mother to her 7-year-old sister.

On the other hand, a caring press can give dignity, importance, and memory to your daughter. The press also can, and should, chronicle significant events in a way that will enlighten the community. At its best, in reporting on your daughter's death the press can educate the community to the realities of prostitution, or, at its worst, it can reinforce all the prejudices and cruelties that already exist to keep girls and women trapped in this oppression.

Because the press can suddenly be such a potent presence in your life following your daughter's death, what follows are a few basic tips that should help you deal with the press and get the coverage your daughter deserves.

  • You don't have to deal with the press after your daughter's death if you don't want to. It's up to you. You may or may not want to respond to reporters' questions. You may or may not want to have your voice heard in the community-at-large. You may or may not want to correct biases or errors in the coverage. You have no responsibility to respond to the press. Or, you can choose when and with whom you wish to engage.

  • As with the police and other institutions, media people will have a range of attitudes toward a prostitute's death. If one reporter tells a biased, derogatory, or inaccurate story of your daughter's death, it's not the end of the story. There likely will be another reporter in your area who can handle the story with much more sensitivity. There are many ways you can change or correct the impression left by a badly told report, some of which we outline further on. The main point here is to not let yourself be brokenhearted by one prejudicial story.

  • If you get an unexpected call from a reporter, it's often a good idea to ask the reporter if he or she would be willing to call back in 5 minutes. This way you can gather your thoughts. Take out a piece of paper and write the three main points you want to make. When the reporter calls you back, no matter what questions the reporter asks, you can keeping coming back to your three main points. This helps you stay in control of your own voice and creates a better chance that it's your thoughts that get communicated.

    • Before getting off the phone with the reporter, always ask the reporter's name and phone number. Don't hesitate to call back with more information, or with something more you'd like to say.

  • Another way to advance your perspective is to suggest to the reporter the names of other people to talk to for the report; a childhood friend of your daughter, a teacher, a sympathetic expert on prostitution, the telephone numbers of the help lines listed in Part 2, anyone whose voice can help the public care about and better understand what has happened to your daughter and why.

  • If the press prints or broadcasts a report about your daughter's death that is biased or inaccurate, here are four ways you can correct it:

    1. If you are responding to the print press, one of the most effective ways to get your voice heard is to write a letter to the editor. The advantage of a letter to the editor is that you have total control of the message, as long as you stay within the word limit. Another advantage of a letter to the editor is that it's one of the most widely read pages in the paper. If you have trouble collecting your thoughts, which is very common when you are grieving, ask a friend to sit beside you and help you write it.

    2. You can call the editor of the media. Briefly explain why you are upset with the reporting. Then suggest to the editor that there's an important story here that wasn't told and should be told. It's important that the community understands what happens to so many young girls in prostitution. Tell the editor that you would like to tell the story of what really happened to your daughter.

    3. You can show the article or report to a women's rights advocate, a rape crisis advocate, or other victim advocate and ask if they would be willing to publicly protest the report.

    4. You can write up your own article, or an outline of the article, and tell the story the way you think it should be told. Then give your story to the editor of your local media, either for publication, or to prod them to develop the story themselves.

  • If the media wants to do an in-depth story of what happened to your daughter, schedule the interview for a time that will best work for you. Give yourself enough lead time so that you can gather your thoughts, put together a list of other people and experts for the reporter to talk to, pull together relevant photos and documents, and arrange to have a good friend with you during the interview.

  • If you are uncomfortable dealing with the press, while at the same time you would like to tell your daughter's story, there are other ways you can do it. You can speak to youth groups, church groups, city council meetings, on the internet, and more. Telling the truth of your daughter's story will open people's eyes. Your daughter will not die in vain.

For more tips on dealing with the media, click here, and scroll down the page to Media Tip Sheet.

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