This is our truth, tell us yours
This post was originally on Ending Victimisation, until they ran a post about the same topic by a swerf who lied about where Maria was killed, claiming it was in her own home, erasing the fact she was in a working flat, alone,a situation that most likely led to her death. A post that was clearly only written to silence the demands for sex workers rights.
There is a scene in the film Fight Club where the protagonist tries to remind those around him that each death is a tragedy. He does so by using the name of the person who dies, it becomes a chant, taken up by the strange shadowy organisation he barely understands. Wherever he goes he hears the whisper “His name was Robert Paulson”.
Only a film, and a character played by Meatloaf, but a deep and universal truth about any culture or society, how we honour the dead matters, and shows what matters to us. We record their names, remember them as people who loved, lived and have been lost. Look at any war memorial, a list of names, of human beings taken from their loved ones.
As a sex worker though I am all too aware that I am nameless and faceless. Every December 17th, the day we remember those lost to violence, we read out the names of the dead. This is a radical act. Why? Well a look at the Evening standard report from this morning on the murder of Maria Dunque-Tujanao shows us exactly how.
First let’s look at that headline;
Manhunt after prostitute is bludgeoned to death in west London flat
Not a woman, not a person, but a prostitute, Maria totally defined by her job. We see this all the time, and the dog whistle is what can you expect, when someone sells sex they must accept the risk of violence.
Or as the Green River killer put it;
“My plan was I wanted to kill as many women I thought were prostitutes as I possibly could,” he said. “I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes for victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. In most cases when I murdered these women I did not know their names,”
The headline removes the name of the victim because once you sell sexual services you are defined by it, with the undercurrent of deserving violence. How many people turned to the next page without even reading, without seeing the person once they saw the word prostitute staring out at them? If that sounds overdramatic remember that the murders of the Yorkshire Ripper were only taken seriously when “good women”, by which the police meant non sex workers, had been attacked.
It is interesting to note that whilst the journalist knows and uses the term sex worker, it isn’t in the headline. There prostitute is chosen, a word that has a history as a slur and an insult. A word used to demean and attack. It’s the very reason sex worker is recommended as the term to use by organisations such as WHO, to remove those negative connotations. The Evening Standard wants them slap bang at the start of the story though.
The rest of the story makes no easier reading. The body of a sex worker, not a woman was found. Maria has transgressed against patriarchal norms and the Standard is not about to let anyone forget it. The references to her age and house price are of course usual tablodisms.
However I wonder at the middle aged. How much that is meant to make the reader think how come she is selling sex, to wonder at her looks? Middle aged women are not meant to be sexual, and are especially not meant to be in control of their sexuality to the extent they are sex workers. Middle aged means cocoa and the archers in Standard land, and so Maria transgresses again.
The Evening Standard hammers this home later in the article.
“Ms Duque-Tunjano is believed to have rented a room in the property for “business” while living in Streatham.”
The scare quotes around business make it clear exactly what they think of her work. They have to get this in after the moving tributes from people who knew her, who humanized her, who remember her smile. It would be awful if the reader were left remembering that, so instead thrust the “sordid” nature of her job in yet again.
Working flats are a feature of sex work in most big cities, the laws that criminalize working together and frame our partners as pimps make sure of that. The Standard is a London paper, they could have mentioned the Soho raids, the danger that working alone poses.
However that would be too much like real journalism.
Instead they dehumanise and other a murdered woman, a woman with friends and family mourning her loss.
Her name was Maria Duque-Tunjano, please remember that.