Long Island serial killer(s): Must they always refer to the murder victims as "prostitutes"?

The police are digging up many human remains from Long Island, and suspect they may have two serial killers at work.

I am fascinated by serial killers, and I’m following this case advidly. One thing I do notice: The newscasters always use the word “prostitutes” to label the victims. I personally find it degrading to the victims. Yes, they were prostitutes. They were also daughters, and many were sisters, nieces, cousins and mothers. Does calling them prostitutes make the deaths more justifiable somehow? Because they were prostitutes, they deserved to be murdered in such a hideous way?

Am I over-reacting?

What if every single one of them had been a nurse? Would you think it was odd that they found the body of another “nurse?”

I think the prostitute angle is an important part of the story, so I think you’re perhaps over-reacting.

I don’t know specifically what coverage you’ve seen or read, but my response is that yes, you’re overreacting. It’s a fact that these women were prostitutes, and I don’t think anyone is reporting that fact just to be judgmental. It’s relevant. For one thing, if all the papers and TV stations reported that there was a serial killer out there and that he was targeting women - but didn’t disclose that he was going after a specific group of women - wouldn’t they be alarming a lot of people unnecessarily? The fact that they were prostitutes is relevant to the case. It sounds like the killer arranged to meeting with them for sex and then murdered them. And other serial killers, including some others on Long Island even, have targeted prostitues. Unfortunately it seems they’re more vulnerable to this kind of thing because of the nature of what they do. It doesn’t make their deaths less sad, but it’s information that is worth disclosing.

I just saw a news report on the murders and had the opposite reaction. I was surprised that a prime-time news show would so casually report their occupation as “prostitute.” Is it normal on Long Island for prostitutes to just swing by and service the neighborhood on a regular basis, similar to a lawn or maid service?

If you hire them on Craigslist - like the killer apparently did - then sure, the Working Professional (of whatever variety) will go out to the job site.

By noting that the victims are all prostitutes, the police are sharing a commonality among them that may be helpful to the populace --specifically, potential victims – in avoiding being whacked. This is a good thing.

If a serial killer were targeting middle-management types at Memphis companies, I’d want to know.


By reporting that they were women, we already know that they were daughters. It’s unlikely that their status as sisters, nieces, cousins and mothers was relevant to their deaths – indeed, you concede that “many” were sisters, nieces, cousins and mothers, not all.

But all were prostitutes, and the fact that they were prostitutes is very likely relevant to how they died.

I’m reminded of the Stewart Lee bit I watched just the other day, about this very thing – a serial killer in England was killing prostitutes, and instead of referring to them as “prostitutes” in the local newspapers and such, reporters were calling them “women who worked as prostitutes” out of respect, and people were rankled by this. I side with Lee.

I can see a small reason to do that: not all prostitutes are female. If part of the aim of the article is to warn persons at risk that they are, well, at risk, then phrasing it that way is marginally useful.

Annie, do the reports that vex you specify the race of the prostitutes?

If the news reports information that the targeted women fall into a group that characteristically allow themselves to be in private, unobserved situations with a potential killer then that both provides a warning to other prostitutes of their increased risk and, perhaps, some small degree of comfort to other women locked in their homes fearful of a random assault.

In this case I just think “prostitute” (I’ve heard the “worked as prostitutes” description too, and I like that one better) is a descriptive term in this case, just as “blonde” or “African-American” or “police women” would be, it’s just unfortunate that the term that describes the victims in this case has such a negative connotation.

No, they haven’t.

I do think “women who work as prostitutes” would be better usage.


For those not following this case at home: we know the name of one woman who is missing - this all began with a search for her - and four victims have been identified publicly. The police have said those four women were prostitutes, and so is the woman who is still missing. Five or six other sets of remains have been found nearby and in other areas. Those have not been identified and apparently one was a child. It is not clear that all of them were killed by the same person, but most of them (including the original four) were found on one stretch of road, so there is a strong indication that at least those four were killed by one person. Pictures of the four prostitutes have been found or released, and all four were white from the looks of things.

Because they’re women first, their profession second.

E: This wouldn’t be a big deal if the killer were targeting teachers, or engineers, or whatever. But prostitutes are marginalized in the US (and elsewhere), and calling them “women who work as prostitutes” is a way of avoiding that kind of dismissive attitude of, “these aren’t regular decent women, they’re whores.”

I do my goddess-honest best to avoid rhetorical questions. I was specifically asking Annie her reason.

I guess “hoo-ers” would be right out then?

(this directed at the OP, not gallows fodder)

This strikes me as an odd thing to be concerned about.

They are marginalized because they are called prostitutes? You think they would not be marginalized if they were referred to as “women who work as prostitutes”? Adding 4 words to the description is going to change people’s preconceptions?
No, they did not deserve to murdered (or brutalized in any way). But these women were not targeted because they were women, they were targeted because they were prostitutes. Because they were marginalized. It was the marginalization that made them attractive as victims to this type of killer.

Changing how they are refered to in the media will have absolutlely zero effect on this. Nor will it have any effect on misogynist’s attitudes.

And then you’d have to label Mr Obama as a man who held the office of President. Elizabeth as a woman who reigned over the Commonwealth as Queen, instead of Queen Elizabeth?

How does that work, exactly? Is the idea here that the people are too stupid to read four extra words, so they’ll just stop when they get to women, and thus never find out about the “prostitute” part?