*Disclaimer: I quote people in this blog that use the terms "prostitute" and "hooker". These terms are offensive, harmful, and archaic and we should instead use the terms: "sex worker" or "full-service sex worker". Dr. Melinda Chateauvert, author of Sex Workers Unite, says:
"In the late 1970s, the operative term for being a sex worker was 'prostiute'. The problem with using the word 'prostiute' is that it is so combined with the notion of sexual shame: 'she's nothing but a slut', 'she's a prostitute', 'she's a whore'. All of those terms would later be challenged and they coined the term 'sex worker'."
I’ve recently been indulging in crime documentaries about serial killers, abusers, and con artists. And a shared theme that links all these villains together in their criminal success is a lack of external intervention when people found them suspicious. Meaning, someone, or many people, saw, noticed, observed, or heard suspicious behavior and chose to ignore their senses, chose to not get curious, and chose to not investigate. And therefore, they did not intervene in what could have been a preventable crime. The result: the victim is lured like prey into the den and is unable to escape the impending danger that awaits them. To some, this example may seem extreme. To that I say: becoming a victim of a crime, perhaps even a fatal victim, is much more extreme. It’s also a permanent reality in our world, one that can affect anyone because there will always be predators and there will always be victims.
I am a broken record with this statement because it always bears repeating:
“human beings are neurobiologically hardwired for connection and in the absence of that there is always suffering” — Brené Brown.
I’m constantly preaching the significance of this human truth because it's a core component necessary for a positive quality of life and healthy well-being. And yet, humans have a tendency to lack the full understanding of the necessity of human relationships, regardless of the level of intimacy, to live a mentally and physically safe life.
Let’s review a case in one of the documentaries to break this down.
The Netflix docuseries, Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer, is about a convicted serial killer named Richard Cottingham. He gruesomely and savagely tortured, murdered, and dismembered several women in Times Square during the 1970s. His former colleague, Dominick Volpe, was interviewed in the docuseries to share his accounts of Cottingham's suspicious behavior at work during the time of his murder spree. Volpe said that Cottingham would tell him and their coworkers the following:
"He talked a lot about prowling the streets of Times Square, picking up prostitutes. He had endless energy when it came to that. Times Square was attractive to Richard because it was his favorite extracurricular activities all in one place... He would give you a detailed map if you wanted to know where the girls were. He was like a tour guide for hookers. He said, 'if I pay a girl she can do anything I tell her to do.'"
There are overt red flags displayed in Cottingham's word and behavior, here. "He would give you a detailed map if you wanted to know where the girls were. He was like a tour guide for hookers." That type of knowledge and that type of action are those of compulsive behavior. And compulsive behavior does not ever yield positive outcomes for the compulsive person or for those against whom they inflict their compulsive behaviors. This isn't about kink-shaming, this is about using our innate, human skill of discernment to protect ourselves and each other.
Per Psychology Today, "compulsive behaviors are actions that are engaged in repeatedly and consistently, despite the fact that they are experienced as aversive or troubling. Yet treatment can help to manage or overcome these difficult patterns... Common activities that can develop into compulsions include shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, sex, and exercise. Though some behaviors are easier to overindulge in than others, in reality, nearly any behavior has the potential to become a compulsion."
And in this nuanced instance, for Cottingham to display this pattern to his colleagues -- his compulsive behaviors of controlling sex workers because he had money -- is a clear red flag that this man is interested in and prioritizing using money as power to dominate and control women for his pleasure. He was not treating his sexual proclivities with sex workers as an exchange of power, he was treating their sexual interaction as an opportunity to force power, and to domineer with it, acting as a superior in command.
C'mon, Dominick, those interactions with Cottingham were cause to get more curious and confront him about it to get more details and understanding of his actions.
One of Cottingham's murders took place at the Hotel Sivelle. His former colleague, Dominick Volpe, continues:
"The Hotel Sivelle was not that far from work. We called it 'slaughter at the Sivelle' -- and that's exactly what it was."
One morning, Richard and I were sitting at the console. And Cottingham was in his chair rocking away. And one of our peripheral operators came in, Bob, with a newspaper in his hand and it was on the front page. And Bob through it down on the console and said, 'what sick son of a bitch could do something like this?' Cottingham's rocking back & forth in his chair and he looked up at Bob and said,
“Bob, coulda been you, coulda been me."
❗️❗️😳 😮 😲 😯 😧 🙀❗️❗️
AND YOU STILL SAID NOTHING TO COTTINGHAM, DOMINICK?
BOB, YOU DIDN'T CONFRONT COTTINGHAM ABOUT THAT RESPONSE, EITHER?!
THAT STATEMENT WARRANTS ALL THE RED FLAGS!
IF THAT'S NOT AN INDICATION THAT HE MAY BE VIOLATING, ABUSING, AND EVEN MURDERING AND DISMEMBERING PEOPLE, I DON'T KNOW WHAT IS.
"One of the stories Richard told was about the Hellfire Club. It was a sex club. And Richie talked about this master and slave act that was going on there. And he said this guy was dragging this woman on the floor. There was some pain given to women, sticking pins in them, sticking pins in them, in the women's breasts. And he told me that really turned him on. I said, 'that turns you on?' He says, 'yep!' He was into sadomasochism. He was into that stuff -- that bloody stuff."
Again, this is not about kink-shaming, disparaging sex work, or disregarding sex workers' power in choosing to engage in BDSM. Personally, I think sex work is necessary, valuable, and good work! And I know sex workers want sex work to be decriminalized, not legalized, so I champion that! Nicole Byer is obsessed with learning about sex work and I'm obsessed with her so naturally, I've learned about sex work from her. And it is fascinating and if executed properly, incredibly empowering and fulfilling for sex workers! Here's a link to Nicole Byer's podcast, Why Won't You Date Me, where she interviews a sex worker.
Anyway, back to the argument. As I said, this is not about kink-shaming, disparaging sex work, or disregarding sex workers' power in choosing to engage in BDSM. This is about using our senses to observe and judge a person's temperament, character, intentions, behaviors, actions, and conduct to discern if a fellow human is emotionally and physically safe to be around.
We need to stop labeling judgment solely as wrong, harmful, or incorrect; we judge every situation, every minute, every day — we do this as a necessary survival tactic. It is, after all, how we distinguish between right and wrong. Humans judge others, situations, & environments as a survival tactic; we need to discern whether or not a person, situation, or environment is physically & emotionally safe for us to be around.
Sidney Baumgarten of the Mayor's Office of Midtown Enforcement was interviewed in this series and essentially explains why judgment discernment is an important tool to use when considering and analyzing consequences, especially in this nuanced case. He says:
"The desire for deviant behavior is insatiable. Once you permit one level, then people go to the next level. And if you permit that, then they go to the level beyond that. Where do you stop? Where do you stop?"
Exactly. This is a question we have to constantly ask of ourselves and of others. This is why discernment, which means to judge well, is necessary when navigating the world.
Volpe continues to share his experiences with Richard Cottingham at work:
"Basically, Richard's big thing was an adventure -- it was an adventure. One morning at Blue Cross Blue Shield, he was talking about taking girls from New York, bringing them to this hotel in Jersey. And he drew this complete diagram of the Quality Inn Hotel -- the entrances, the exits, the easy ways in and the easy ways out. He told me he would go there with a date and then slip out whenever he wanted to and leave the girl completely undressed, no money, nowhere to go because she had nothing. According to other guys in the office, Richard said that he would drug them."
All of this -- the drawings of how to escape an area like a damn criminal would, the admittance of cruelly robbing sex workers and leaving them stranded with no clothes or resources, the vacation from New York across state lines to Jersey to conduct these heinous actions and crimes, AND THE DRUGGING OF HUMANS, OF WOMEN, TO HOIST POWER OVER THEM -- THIS would have been an appropriate time to confront Cottingham about his words in the office, to get more detailed information about the actions he'd claimed to have carried out to get a sense of his motives, intentions, thoughts, and feelings about and actions he was executing, and his behavior about it at work.
This is Volpe's explanation -- his reason -- for not confronting Cottingham, his wife, or anyone else pertinent to Cottingham's whereabouts or involved with him interpersonally:
And you know when he said it, you think you would say to yourself, 'what a sick son of a bitch this guy is' -- but you don’t because you don’t believe half of it, it goes in one ear and out the other. You know... you took it with a grain of salt."
I'm not done.
More buffoonery and fuckshit is explained. Volpe continues:
"Thinking back to all the stories about the prostitutes, and how he would lure them to New Jersey, we didn't hear of him hurting them, nobody reported him on anything. We didn't know what was going on with him. All we knew is what he told us."
HE TOLD YA'LL QUITE A LOT OF INFORMATION!
HE DREW A GOD DAMN DIAGRAM FOR YA'LL OF HOW HE ESCAPED A FUCKING HOTEL BUILDING! WHILE ROBBING WOMEN OF THEIR MONEY AND CLOTHES AND STRANDING THEM A STATE OVER! AND OUTRIGHT TELLING PEOPLE HE WAS DRUGGING THEM!
YA'LL DID NOTHING! UNTIL THE LAST DAMN MINUTE!
We do NOT need to live like this. This does NOT have to be a common way of living amongst each other.
I understand that it likely would've been a fruitless choice, and a likely cause of more harm to the sex worker, if Volpe or anyone else had reported Cottingham's crimes against sex workers to the authorities because sex work was and still is illegal.
Dr. Melinda Chateauvert, the author of Sex Workers Unite, says in the series:
"It's easier to arrest women than to hunt a serial killer, to stop muggings, to.. so ppl in the sex industry become the victims of police public relations to make it look like the cops were being tough on crime."
With that, that doesn't mean intervention isn't an option. It doesn't mean we're unable to use our own unique skills, and collaborate with other people and their unique skills, to hold someone accountable for their wrongdoings and to stop and prevent more harm from being done. Humans are smart and social creatures -- we know how to interact with each other. And part of interacting with each other is getting curious, asking questions, and if your discernment warrants it, intervening. Sometimes we simply need to take matters into our own hands.
It's like I say,
We don’t exist for the comfort and convenience of others but we do exist to serve each other with kindness and empathy.
Luvvie Ajayi Jones is a writer and speaker I admire. She's a big deal. If you're not familiar with who she is, or if you are but haven't read 1 or both of her NYT bestselling books, get on it. Her latest book is Professional Troublemaker and it's a treasure of literature and a manual for human progression. Get into it here.
Anyway, Luvvie recently dropped a gem on a Glennon Doyle's podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, where she said:
"Many of us are waiting for other people to do the work, we are expecting someone else to be superman. But what if we are superman?"
She concludes her statement with:
"Be an actionable part of change."
I made this blog a Part 2 of Don't Mind Your Business Part 1 because they're both about confrontation with people you don't have a strong, intimate relationship with. Like Host 1 said in Part 1: "If I heard through the grapevine that Noodle's husband was cheating, I would not say a word, I wouldn't utter a single world, I wouldn't say shit. Never would I ever mention it. Because again, Noodle and I talk twice a year."
While I know this blog post about a serial killer is not the same situation or scenario as Noodle's husband cheating or maybe cheating on her, I do recognize that both these situations reflect the fact that someone or multiple people were privy to information that may represent harm being done. Cottingham was married with a child, and his wife eventually found out about him paying for sex and divorced him. Volpe said in the documentary, "I don't know when he had time to be with his family because he was always out at night prowling. The guy never slept."
Who knows? If Volpe would've told Cottingham's wife about Cottingham's confessions to violating and abusing sex workers, perhaps his wife would've done some investigating of her own and found out the truth about Cottingham sooner, which could have prevented more murders.
I understand that not all cheating behavior insinuates that a murderous rampage will follow or that it will, indeed, lead to this outcome. What I am saying is this:
This is why we all need an advocate/advocacy from others. And we can't be someone else's advocate if we mind our business, regardless of the person asked for our advocacy or not. The issue is that none of us is guaranteed an advocate at any point in our lives. This is also why we must always advocate for ourselves.
Here's your business, here's what concerns you, here's how you gain profit, so to speak since we're talking business:
It's your duty to create the world you want to live in, and with that, it's your duty to serve others while also serving yourself. You come first, but others are not to be ignored. We can't live in a more empathetic, compassionate, safe world if we don't first create that world in our own reality; we are the individual catalyst to the collective ripple effect.
We are hardwired for connection, so again, let's ruffle those feathers to keep each other safe and progress human society.
Ready to radically advocate for yourself and others by not minding your business? Take the leap by enrolling in my new course called Becoming a Highly Sensitive Radical, tailored for HSPs & Trauma Survivors who are ready to harness their sensitive superpowers and begin advocating for themselves and others.