Will drug addiction + prostitution make Albuquerque residents feel safer?

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Editor's Note: M. P. Clark is a new guest contributor at Sex In the Public Square and I'm grateful for her contribution. That it comes on International Sex Worker Rights day is all the more fitting. -Elizabeth Wood

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Yesterday, March 2, 2009, the Albuquerque Journal featured on its front page photographs of a number of women reported missing from the area over the last decade or so. Exactly one month earlier, a woman walking her dog discovered a human bone at a worksite being cleared for new housing development in a part of Albuquerque known as the West Mesa. An investigation of the area turned up other bones—five sets, six, then eleven, and now thirteen. Twelve sets of bones are believed to belong to women, the thirteenth to a fetus of about four months old. Yesterday’s Journal article speculates whether there’s a connection between the women in the photographs and the bones.

Click here to read more.

Thirteen sets of bones strikes me as worthy of a national news story, the stuff of overblown sensationalism, but it’s been one month and one day since the first bone was found, and to my knowledge, the news hasn’t gotten much past New Mexico. Although the headlines have made the local paper’s front page and usually provide the lead story in local news broadcasts, the reportage has remained eerily calm, almost happenstance. Why is that, and when, if ever, will the story find the larger audience it merits?

Thus far, two sets of bones have been identified. They belong to Victoria Chavez and Gina Michelle Valdez. Both young women had a history of drug use and prostitution; this is the one point the media coverage has not failed to announce, and it has defined for investigators the profiles of the remaining dead people. Any other features of these people’s lives is rarely worthy of mention, which leads me to believe that if it’s not salacious-seeming, it’s not salient, right? When her mother reported her missing in March 2004, Victoria Chavez had not been seen or heard from for months. Gina Michelle Valdez was approximately four months pregnant at the time of her death. That’s what I know of their lives.

What’s happening west of Albuquerque is not a new story. It’s cliché, isn’t it, how easy or convenient it is to dismiss sex workers, drug users, and other people living in the margins when they go missing. Nevertheless, I am chilled by the local media response; it seems more dismissive than objective. Police response strikes me as equally casual and cool. Residents of Albuquerque have been assured that the bones are “old,” assumed to belong to people who went missing between 2001 and 2006, and that we don’t have a serial killer on the loose. The man who would be the primary “person of interest” in the investigation has been dead for two years. He was a pimp.

So we good citizens of the Albuquerque area can rest comfortably, safe in our knowledge that the killings are finished and, besides, we don’t fit the profile of those targeted by the murderer, who may or may not also be dead. What’s past is past, and it doesn’t really affect us, does it, so why make a fuss about it?

For more on the story, I recommend Tracy Dingmann’s story at the New Mexico Independent and one of the rare accounts reported in the national press, Sarah Netter's piece at ABC News.

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