Prostitutes in the US are 42 times as likely to be murdered as the average American (Not an accurate statistic – see update)

UPDATE: I definitely can’t stand by the statistic I quoted in this post; it’s way too high, it seems. See the discussion in the comments for details.

Original post follows.

From an article about serial killers who work as truck drivers:

In early 2009, the FBI announced the Highway Serial Killings Initiative, focused on killers who choose their victims and dump their bodies along highways. Some of the victims are hitchhikers and stranded motorists, but most are truck stop prostitutes. In the 1980s, the FBI was accused of inflating the numbers of serial homicides, fomenting a serial killer “panic,” so they are careful not to overstate their case today. But recent studies suggest that the numbers of serial murder victims have continually been underestimated—even during the serial murder “panic.” The undercounting is because the vast majority of victims have always been prostitutes—as many as 75% according to one scholar. Research into prostitute mortality suggests that the homicide rate for prostitutes is 229 out of every 100,000. The U.S. national average is five.

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21 Responses to Prostitutes in the US are 42 times as likely to be murdered as the average American (Not an accurate statistic – see update)

  1. 1
    Grace Annam says:

    This would come as no surprise to most sex workers, and particularly the sex workers in Vancouver, who knew for years that someone was disappearing (hunting and murdering) them, and who.


  2. 2
    Ben Lehman says:

    Holy fucking shit.

  3. 3
    ballgame says:

    African American men age 18-24 are 21 times as likely to be murdered as the average American.

  4. 4
    Jake Squid says:

    21 times more likely, you say?

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    Stay on topic, please, folks. (If a discussion has gone on long enough, or a thread is old enough, I’m usually very liberal about thread drift; neither one of those applies here, though.)

  6. 6
    mythago says:

    I would not assume that “sex workers” and “women” are synonyms, either.

  7. 7
    Robert says:

    Well, what’s the topic? The bare statistc? (Only possible response: omg, that’s horrible…ok, threads over.)

    Is “prostitution should be decriminalized to help these suffering people” the topic?

    Or “there are often groups who are a fraction of the populace but who account for a majority of the occurrences of suchansuch phenomenon?

    (I assume not the last l one since you barked at ballgame…but there’s no way to tell textually, which is why I ask.)

  8. 8
    james says:

    What they’ve done is taken a mortality statistic based on ‘active’ prostitutes in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 1967 to 1999; based on 21 murders in a cohort of 1,969 to get the 229 out of every 100,000. They’re comparing it with recent 2010 national US homicide figures of 5 per 100,000, which have fallen dramatically since 1999.

  9. 9
    RonF says:

    Hm. That seems like a highly localized sample to me, especially when compared to the national homicide figure which is based on the actual national population.

  10. 10
    Charles S says:

    The correct number (from the paper) is 17.7 times the national murder rate for women, adjusted for age and race (the study was purely of female prostitutes), not 42 times (for the reasons that both ballgame and james mention). Not adjusting for age and race, you should probably use a murder rate of 8 or 9, for the reason james mentions.

    Here is the source study: Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women

    “The [crude mortality rate] for death by homicide among active prostitutes was 229 per 100,000 (95% CI: 79, 378), [In comparison with the general population, the standardized mortality ratio (SMR), adjusted for age and race,] was 17.7 (95% CI: 6.2, 29.3).” (edited to replace abbreviations with longer explanation from earlier in the text).

    “active prostitutes were almost 18 times more likely to be murdered than women of similar age and race during the study interval.”

    Of 21 murders recorded in the study, 18 occurred while the woman was soliciting (1 woman was murdered by a jealous boyfriend, and the situations surrounding the other 3 murders are unspecified in the study), giving an on-the-job murder rate about 50x that of police officers and liquor store clerks, 12x that of taxicab drivers, and 400x the rest of us.

    The paper reports that the estimate derived in this study is similar in order of magnitude to murder rates derived for other places in other studies. Additionally (addressing RonF’s point) while the women in the study were identified as prostitutes in Colorado Springs, they were not necessarily working in Colorado Springs when they were murdered.

  11. 11
    RonF says:

    I’m not going to challenge the overall point that prostitutes (either or both male and female) are more likely to be murdered (and likely subject to other crimes, violent or not) than the general population. But that number seems to have false precision to me. I should think that getting a more valid number would require sampling from more than one city. Perhaps including a few cities of varying sizes and locations would be a good idea – and let’s not forget that there are prostitutes in rural and suburban communities, not just highly urbanized ones.

  12. 12
    ballgame says:

    Good points, Charles S.

    Amp, I hope you correct the title to the post. As it stands, it’s erroneous and likely to generate the wrong impression among people who don’t read the comments or the study closely.

  13. 13
    Copyleft says:

    Yikes. “I can’t go to the police” is a problem no sex worker should have to face.

  14. 14
    ballgame says:

    I’m sorry to see you haven’t bothered to correct your headline, Amp. I posted my response to this post at Feminist Critics.

    The ‘money quote’:

    If you’re a 20 year old, your risk of being murdered as a man is about six times what it is for a 20 year old woman who is not a prostitute. If you’re a 20 year old female prostitute, your risk of being murdered is about two to four times what it is for a man that age.

  15. 15
    Ampersand says:

    Sorry, I was kind of busy on the day this thread happened, and then I forgot about it.

  16. 16
    ballgame says:

    Thanks, Amp.

  17. 17
    Roger Morton says:

    In fact its worse. Its 242 times more likely to die. To quote the abstract of “Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women” at ” The a crude mortality rate (CMR) of 391 per 100,000 (95% confidence interval (CI): 314, 471). In comparison with the general population, the standardized mortality ratio (SMR), adjusted for age and race, was 1.9 (95% CI: 1.5, 2.3). For the period of presumed active prostitution only, the CMR was 459 per 100,000 (95% CI: 246, 695) and the SMR was 5.9 (95% CI: 3.2, 9.0).” So while being a prostitute average CMR 459. The average CMR for people of that age is 1.9. So taking the ratio a prostitute 242 is times as likly to die. SCARY, SCARY.

  18. 18
    ballgame says:

    Roger Morton, you’re making a basic apples/oranges statistical error here: you’re comparing a crude mortality ratio with a standard mortality ratio. To determine relative risk, you need to compare standard mortality ratios with other standard mortality ratios. That is — according to your own figures — 5.9 for prostitutes, compared to 1.9 for the general population, or roughly three times the risk for prostitutes as compared to the population overall. Not 242 times.

    (In your second reference to the general population’s standard mortality ratio, you mislabel it as a crude mortality ratio, which may be why you’re getting mixed up here.)

  19. 19
    Sebastian says:

    Scary? Heh, that’s not scary!

    You know what’s scary? That someone can write that any group has 252 times the mortality of another, and not stop to think what that would mean.

  20. 20
    Roger Morton says:

    Regarding my post 17 above Ballgame is correct, I did make “a basic apples/oranges statistical error” in that I did compare “a crude mortality ratio with a standard mortality ratio”. Ballgame thank you for pointing out my error. My sincere apologies for my mistake. So what does the article at
    say? As already pointed out in these posts, for the sample of prostitutes studied the likelihood of dying while being an active prostitute was 5.9 times that of a person of the same age, and the likelihood of being murdered was 17.7 times higher.

    This is more than 6 times higher than murder rate of male taxi drivers – the standard career with the highest murder rate.

    It is heartbreaking to realize that even in our affluent society some feel they need to take these risks to earn income.

  21. 21
    Luís Henrique says:

    I have just read the article mentioned in the OP ( Albeit the blunder in dealing with statistics, it is a quite good article. But it got me wondering whether we should criminalise truck driving. Or, as the fashion seems to be, criminalise hiring truck drivers…