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The Insidious Link Between Incels, Serial Killers and Their Targeting of Sex Workers

The Insidious Link Between Incels, Serial Killers and Their Targeting of Sex Workers

The whorephobia among incels is rooted in their disdain for the autonomy involved in women choosing to do sex work and their anxiety about women earning money from it on their own terms.

This essay contains discussion of the serial murder of sex workers

Whorephobia is older than the Bible. It’s undoubtedly been around for as long as the sex work profession has. That’s why it makes “cultural sense” that incels have directed a significant amount of their vitriol at women who do sex work. Incels are a violent hate group of male supremacists, intent on terrorizing the world because they lack the sex lives they feel they are owed. But let’s be clear, sex is not what incels want the most. What they want is total dominion over women, and they understand sex as a tool of male dominance, because they are misogynistic extremists at their core.

The whorephobia among incels is rooted in their disdain for the autonomy involved in women choosing to do sex work and their anxiety about women earning money from it on their own terms. This is why David Wu organized a mass reporting of sex workers to the IRS this past week, declaring that these women are “getting a free ride via beta bux and a broken sexual marketplace that is rigged in the favour of females.” This is just the latest instance of incels throwing very public tantrums. They are nothing if not petulant, and violent.

I’ve written about how notorious serial killers Edmund Kemper and David Berkowitz both admitted to their proto-inceldom, identifying their inability to form relationships with women as the reason for their killing sprees. I’m willing to bet this motivation is more common among serial killers than we are currently aware, but one confirmed common motivation among them is whorephobia. Earlier this year, a man named Juan David Ortiz was arrested and charged with the murders of four sex workers, but I believe it’s likely there have been more murders that he may or may not confess to in the future. As a border agent for over 10 years, who sometimes worked with human trafficking survivors, he almost certainly used this position of authority as a way to target victims. This man is no anomaly, unfortunately. Gary Ridgway, Robert Pickton, Robert Hansen, Darren Deon Vann, Shelly Andre Brooks, Antwan Maurice Pittman, the Long Island Serial Killer, Peter Sutcliffe, and of course the infamous Jack the Ripper, and more all targeted sex workers. These are just some of the names that we know of. Google them at your own discretion.


Sex workers are particularly vulnerable to serial killers. The women in this profession are 18 times more likely to be murdered than women in non-sex work. At least 75 women have been found strangled and dumped on the streets of Chicago in the last few years—47 of them had a history of sex work. A man named Neal Falls was murdered in self-defense when he attacked a sex worker a few years ago. When authorities began their investigation, they discovered that he had a “kill list” he’d been using to targeting local sex workers. When Joel Rifkin confessed to the murders of 17 sex workers in 1993, none of them had ever been reported missing.

Gary Ridgway famously said, “I picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing. I picked them because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.” The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was created in part in memory of his victims. Robert Hansen’s rationalization for murdering more than a dozen sex workers in Alaska was that he was “ridding the world of filth” and he believed society would be better off without them. Robert Pickton had carried a similar sentiment in Canada, especially if they were also drug-users. As did Peter Sutcliffe in the UK.

Police bias, the criminalization of sex work, and whorephobia also play a huge role in this. Often, sex workers have gone to police about a sexual assault and/or attempted murder, but they are either not believed or not valued enough for anything to be done about it. Not only is there a fear of not being believed by police, but also a threat of being arrested instead of having their attacker investigated. So, oftentimes when a serial killer is caught for these crimes, they will have already been well-known as a violent man who should be avoided by the locals.

The criminalization and dehumanization of sex workers simply because of their occupation continues to be one of the most cruel things that our society perpetuates precisely because it directly contributes to both their deaths at the hands of these men and the many miscarriages of justice that have often gone unnoticed. It gives space to the Edmund Kempers, Jack the Rippers, and David Wus of the world to wreak their misogynistic havoc.

But it isn’t enough just to be aware of these injustices. We need to provide tangible support to the sex workers in our communities. Educate yourself. Help amplify their voices. Advocate for their rights and humanity. Remove stigmatizing and dehumanizing language about sex workers and their profession from your vocabulary and hold others accountable. Argue with your friends and family if you have to, cut ties if you have to. Make whorephobia unacceptable in your presence. Pay attention to proposed whorephobic legislation and rail against it. Give monetary and practical gifts if and when you are able. Listen when they tell us how to best uplift them and protect them the best that you can.


It is the everyday, civilian whorephobia that helps to sustain and promote the acceptance of brutality against sex workers from the incels and serial killers who target them, and the law enforcement who don’t take abuses against them seriously. We bear responsibility in how our society treats sex workers, and our biases actively contribute to their dehumanization. We cannot continue to think of these biases as existing separately from the hatred that continually results in the marginalization and death of people in sex work.

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Sherronda (she/they) is an essayist, editor, and storyteller writing pop culture and media analysis through a Black feminist lens with historical and cultural context. They often find themselves transfixed by Black monstrosity, survival, and resistance in the horror genre and its many fantastical narratives, especially zombie lore. Read more of their work at Black Youth Project.

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