This article is headlined “Search Goes On For Missing Belleville Prostitute.” The prostitute in question is 47-year-old Janet Tillman, a mentally handicapped Illinois woman who’s been missing for two years. There are, as of this writing, 45 comments to the article, and a lot of people are upset about the headline referring to Janet as a prostitute. She is or was, in fact, a prostitute, but some of the commenters feel the headline demeans her and makes her sound like trash not worth looking for or whatever.

Perhaps the person who wrote the headline didn’t mean anything of the kind. Prostitution seems to have been Janet’s sole occupation; I can’t find any mention of another job. Would anyone complain about “Search Goes On For Missing Belleville Teacher” or “Lawyer” or even “Sewage Worker”? Nonetheless, it is a bit of a foot-in-mouth thing to do. Prostitution is, rightly or wrongly, a highly stigmatized profession.

I recall being troubled by a headline I saw several years ago: something like “DNA Links Mexicans to Murder.” The Mexicans in question were three specific men, all of them Mexican citizens born and raised in that country, who were suspected of committing a murder in Maryland. I remember thinking: Did they have to say “Mexicans”? What about just saying “men” or “suspects” or something similarly neutral? Would they have still used a headline referring to nationality if those men had been Slovenian or Zimbabwean or Japanese?

I think it’s similar to the prostitution issue. I need not point out that racism against Hispanics is quite prevalent in this country (my boyfriend is of Mexican descent so I see it firsthand). Most Americans, however, don’t tend to form negative opinions about people from countries like Slovenia. (Indeed, most Americans don’t know where Slovenia is. It’s in the Balkans, by the way.) Just the same way “prostitute” is a bad thing to call someone but “school teacher” is not.

Feel free to reflect and discuss.

30 thoughts on “Headlines

  1. emma l October 31, 2009 / 6:11 pm

    Working in the sex industry is nothing to be ashamed of. Its not something I would ever consider doing, but that also applies to a lot of jobs which sound like hell to me. It is the oldest profession in the world. It always has, and probably always will exist. However it does come with a stigma attached in some peoples opinion.
    It also is, or can be, highly dangerous. As well as the obvious risk that comes with picking up strangers for sex, a lot of the girls also have serious mental health and drug problems.
    So yes , although a lot of people might find it demeaning that Janet Tillmans profession is mentioned in the headline, it is HIGHLY likely that her profession contributed directly to her disappearance. So it could be detrimental to exclude it. Unfortunate but true.
    Incidentally, I know brothels are legal in some states in the US, which I think is wonderful. If these girls choose to work as prostitutes, why shouldn’t they work in a safe environment and pay taxes like the rest of the US? Here in the UK it is only legal if you work as a single person, from home, which in my opinion is more dangerous than walking the streets.
    Happy Halloween!

  2. Brianna Brawley October 31, 2009 / 6:55 pm

    Ppl like Janet dont work the streets b/c they want to Emma! YThey do it to pay for there drugs and b/c they are so f***ed up in the brain they dcnt do real work. The ones that do want to be whores allready usally work with escort places and they hardly never get in trouble exept if they do it with some body famous and then its the famous ppl who get all the jokes and have there carrers ruined.

    • Emma l November 3, 2009 / 2:07 pm

      I’d appreciate it if you didn’t scream at me, thanks. It makes you seem immature. I actually know several prostitutes. Some of them do it because they want to and SOME of them because they have a drug problem. And some of them don’t and as far as I can tell they are not mentally ill in any way. They are friends of friends. Its actually pretty rife among the unemployed actor set. And no they don’t all sleep with celebrities.
      You have a right do disagree with me but if you had bothered to read my post you will see that I say that
      1. a lot of the girls also have serious mental health and drug problems.
      2. They should be able to work in a safe environment

      You might not be able to accept that some people CHOOSE to work in the sex industry, but its true. I have no idea about Janets life and I presume, unless you know her, neither do you. I’m not sure how calling her “f**ked up in the head is helpful.

      • Brianna Brawley November 3, 2009 / 3:56 pm

        Oh excuse me Emma but was not screaming at you or screaming at any body else. THIS IS SCREAMING. Noone did that thanks very much.

  3. Justin October 31, 2009 / 10:32 pm

    If the missing person’s race, sex, occupation or lifestyle is a contributing factor to them being missing, or might lead to finding out what happened to them or where they might be, then I have no problem with that information being publicized. It gives people an idea where to look.

    Like it or not, a person’s profession and lifestyle usually influences the circumstances of why they went missing. Not always, but more often than not it’s a factor. A school teacher or a housewife with a couple of kids are usually not going to decide to chuck it all, leaving everything behind (no matter how much they probably fantasize about doing so to get away from the little monsters they have to deal with). When you hear about people like that disappearing, then your first impression is that this would not be something they did willingly and that something bad happened to them.

    Yes, that missing woman Janet Tillman was a prostitute and it is highly likely that her occupation had something to do with her disappearance. Trying to hide that fact will not help find her. If she had vanished while hiking in the woods when a snowstorm hit, or swimming in the ocean when she was swept out by a riptide, or some such incident where it was plain her job had nothing to do with her being missing, then releasing that information about her being a prostitute would be unnecessary and demeaning. Most prostitutes are known to live a fairly transient lifestyle. They go to where the money is or to greener pastures like everyone else, only more so. They try to stay under the radar and are hard to track, since most of them are not declaring their income or leaving a paper trail unless it is with law enforcement. So if one goes missing, then the odds are that they are either off somewhere earning a living or dead.

    As far as mentioning the nationality of the people in the instance where Meaghan listed “DNA Links Mexicans to Murder”, that is an iffy one. The author of the article may have been leading up to another point, such as the prosecutor wanting to go for the death penalty for these men and the Mexican government officially protesting. Or that the men were in this country illegally after being arrested previously, but not deported. Or (last one) to explain why or how they came in contact with the victim. Then the fact that they were Mexicans would be necessary in the article. But if the information about their ethnic background or country of origin was not a contributing factor to the crime, then I don’t think it should have been mentioned in the article. I do think that if a couple of Slovenian nationals were arrested together for murder in this country, that their nationality would be mentioned because it would be unusual.

    A while back, I was reading the Letters to the Editor of a local newspaper. I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the original article people were commenting about, but it was something such as there was robbery or a murder and a witness heard voices in the area when it happened. The witness said the voices sounded like they belonged to inner city African American(s). Well, people started sounding off that a person’s race could not be determined by their voices and that the witness had to be a racist. I just about threw the paper across the room. The witness gave an opinion about what he heard and people were castigating him for it. Life is not color blind, but people expect everyone to act like it is. When I see someone, the first thing that registers is their size or bulk. The next thing is their race, unless their clothing is really distinctive. Then I go on to their sex, clothing, posture, attitude and so on. Does this make me a racist because that is one of the first things I see?

    The way I see it, just about everyone feels more comfortable with what they are familiar with. When they come in contact with cultures and races that they don’t identify with, they get uncomfortable and avoid them. My aunt told me that when she was growing up in Ohio, she ran into a lot of prejudice against people from West Virginia who came to Ohio to escape the poverty, because they would work for less than the locals and were clannish. She said you could usually tell who they were from their accents, their lousy clothes and their ‘ways’ which made them stand out. I remember traveling through an Indian Reservation about 20 years back with someone who had family there. He told me to stay in the car because if I got out, there was a good chance I would get beaten up and he wouldn’t be able to stop it. He wasn’t kidding. Racism is everywhere in every culture and ethnic background and the only distinction is how overt it is, which is determined on how threatened a culture feels by others.

    • Meaghan November 1, 2009 / 11:48 am

      I know what you mean about how everyone tries to pretend to be colorblind and are afraid to make any references to race because they might be accused of being prejudiced. Once, at the store I work for, a customer was misbehaving. He was walking around with his wife or girlfriend and was clearly very angry about something and kept complaining very loudly, almost shouting, and using cuss words. I thought his behavior was unacceptable so I went to tell my manager about it. The customer was black. He was probably the only black man in the store at the time. But when I was telling my manager what he looked like so the manager could find and confront the man, I was afraid to mention the customer’s race. I was like, “Yeah…about six feet tall…gray jacket…forty or so…and, um, he’s sort of…black.”

      As for the Mexicans article, I don’t remember the particulars of the case.

  4. Brianna Brawley November 1, 2009 / 12:39 am

    Your right Justin! And my bf is from West Virginia and I KNOW that ppl from there are always getting made fun of and told West Virginia jokes.

  5. Sandra November 1, 2009 / 6:11 pm

    I think it’s definitely true that any unflattering facts about the missing person must be mentioned in any reports or articles, especially if it was apparently a contributing factor. I guess I probably would have preferred to mention this in the body of the article, though; my issue is more, “Did it really need to be in the headline?” I don’t think anything was meant by it at all, but it’s still a little wince-inducing. (Unfortunately, the very word prostitute is become an insult in and of itself in American culture. ) Janet’s mental handicap may also have been a factor in her disappearance, depending on what exactly it was, and this is a very important detail to mention in any reports of her disappearance, but you would never see a headline that said, “Search Continues for Mentally Handicapped Woman”.

    The ‘Mexicans’ headline is pretty terrible though. Again, I’m sure nothing was meant by it, but that headline, taken on its own, sounds like geneticists have discovered some “murder gene” that is more prevalent in Mexicans or something. Even though it only turns out to mean that an offender of Mexican descent has been linked to a homicide, I suppose it would be kind of like writing an article about the Holloway case with the headline, “Damn Dutchman Won’t Be Re-Arrested In Holloway Disappearance.”

    I do know what everyone means about the pretending to be colorblind. I once had a black man tell me that I must have been afraid to get in a car with him because he was black. I lost it and told him that, actually, it was because I was a young woman out alone late at night, many such young women have met their ends by accepting rides from strangers, and I could smell alcohol on his breath. That more or less got him off my case.

  6. Brianna Brawley November 2, 2009 / 12:57 am

    Yes you do see “search for mentaly handicaped woman” I see it pretty often.

    • Will November 2, 2009 / 3:44 am

      Typically, you see those headlines only when the person is missing from a residential treatment center of some kind. For someone who is mildly disabled but relatively self-sufficient, as Ms. Tillman evidently is, it would not be done. You would not, for instance, see a headline of that nature concerning the Carla Anderson case, even though her handicap may have been relevant to her disappearance.

  7. Piltdown Jenkins November 2, 2009 / 2:10 pm

    I’ve seen “mentally handicapped” or the like affixed to headlines when an adult Downs patient has gone missing from his home, and in other cases of that nature.

  8. Michael November 3, 2009 / 3:11 am

    I see nothing wrong with the “Mexicans” headline at all. They were foreign nationals being sought for the murder. The fact that politically correct people who take things overboard call that a moniker for “illegal aliens” is preposterous. If a Mexican American got offended from that, then he or she should get a life. This country has allowed this ridiculous political correctness to go too far, where you cant talk about people for being hookers and you have people trashing the Pledge of Allegiance. I still use the word “black” and “white” and see no problem in doing so. People need to worry about more important things.

    • Justin November 3, 2009 / 3:40 am

      I remember my father telling me that back in the 50’s, black people would get insulted if you called them black. The acceptable term was negro. Then in the 60’s, you couldn’t say negro, you had to say black. Now the term is African-American. I await with trepidation to see what the next politically correct term will be. Anyone want to hazard a guess?

      Makes me wonder what you would call an aborigine from Australia. I saw several who were darker colored then most African-Americans. Native Australian? What would go under race if filling out a form? My grandmother still called black people colored until she died.

      No matter what you do or how carefully you choose your words, you will offend someone somewhere. So just be honest so people will know where you stand. I can still respect someone I disagree with for the most part. Most people can smell that kind of insincerity a mile off and my experience has been that people who are overly concerned about appearing to be “insensitive” to that kind of stuff are more irritating than most bigots.

    • Will November 3, 2009 / 5:35 am

      I don’t believe anyone here said “Mexican” is a catch-all term for illegal immigrants, Michael, though you have a point that these sorts of things offend white people much more than they do the actual race or ethnicity in question. I also agree with Justin that the term “African-American” is an especially iffy one. Would you still use it to refer to a white South African, for instance? And what in the hell would you do if you encountered a black person who was a British national and could trace his Ecuadorian ancestry back to the 1600s?

      But a Mexican-American does have the right to be offended, and if he did so, we would not have the right to tell him to “get a life”. And the matter of “talking about people for being hookers” isn’t about political correctness. It’s about the fact that calling another human being trash is inherently wrong.

      • Emma l November 3, 2009 / 2:09 pm

        Amen indeed.

  9. Kat November 3, 2009 / 4:24 am


  10. Emma l November 3, 2009 / 2:22 pm

    Actually, on re reading the article, considering she was registered as disabled, I think its even MORE important to mention that she worked in the sex industry. I would be extremely surprised if this didn’t have any bearing on her disappearance.. She looks so vulnerable in the photograph.

    • Emma l November 3, 2009 / 4:02 pm

      I’m also surprised, seen as she had serious mental health problems and was known to be working as a prostitute that she was no taken into some kind of protective care. It depends on the exact nature of her disability I guess.

      • Justin November 4, 2009 / 5:32 am

        According to Janet Tillman’s profile on the Charley Project, she may have been mentally disabled, but apparently she could function on her own. She wasn’t homeless and was responsible enough to own and care for her pets, and had family that she was in touch with on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure that she was self-sufficient to a degree. I find it hard to believe she was not getting some government support such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because of her mental disability, which meant she had a caseworker and due to laws passed in this country back in the early 1970s, could not be involuntarily placed in protective care.

        Frankly, if she had been a prostitute most of her adult life, which I estimate to be about 25 to 30 years, then I am pretty sure she knew what she was doing and was aware of the risks. She could make a LOT of money selling herself that way, more than she could probably make doing any other kind of work with her disability. She played the odds working that profession for at least for a couple of decades and it’s likely it finally caught up with her. I’m not saying she deserved it because NO ONE deserves what most likely happened to her, but from what I read, this was not a case of an adult with the mind of a six year old child. I haven’t seen anything that indicated that she was a dependent adult.

  11. Humbled Observer November 4, 2009 / 12:04 am

    i just wished we could all simply be americans. my ancestors are european and i don’t have an urge to call myself “european american”

    and basically unless a person is born on or live in an indian reservation…..we are all descendents of immigrants

    • Meaghan November 4, 2009 / 12:25 pm

      Even the Native Americans are sort of descendants of immigrants — those that crossed the land bridge thousands of years ago.

  12. Emma l November 4, 2009 / 9:43 am

    That is a good point- a dependant adult is a lot different from an adult who is registered disabled. She was still extremely vulnerable though. I do not know any “walking the street” prostitutes but yes, I am sure you could make very good of money. There is a chance of course that her prostitution had nothing to do with her disappearance, but I would be extremely surprised if this were the case.

  13. Meaghan November 4, 2009 / 12:25 pm

    My brother told me once that, many years ago (probably like 20 years ago now), he was driving around on a cold and rainy night when he saw a young woman standing on the street. He guessed, correctly, that she was a prostitute hanging around waiting for business, and he felt sorry for her so he picked her up and took her to a coffee place and bought her a hot drink. He asked her why she was a prostitute and she said she could make a lot of money that way and she was saving it all, only spending on essentials like rent and food, and investing wisely, and could retire way early.

    • Emma l November 4, 2009 / 12:49 pm

      Ughh awful but I can well believe it. The friends on friends that I know- I do not know the details of most of them (2 girls and 1 boy). The guy is a heavy cocaine user, I know that much. But they are not the typical kind of prostitute that you would find walking the street. They look no different to the average Londoner in my opinion. The guy that I know of paid his way through drama school- some £30,000 a year in fees alone by doing this. And he lived in a very nice flat in central London by all accounts. I havent seen him for about 5 years now so I don’t know what he’s doing. It is much more common than people think.

      • Meaghan November 4, 2009 / 12:58 pm

        Less than a year ago some chick in California offered her virginity for sale online to the highest bidder to finance her graduate school education. I think the final bid came to something over $100,000.

    • Brianna Brawley November 4, 2009 / 1:49 pm

      Yea right. Hes a chump if he belived that bs. She wasnt even working the nice hotels or bars she was on the street in the rain. Thats a big habit working there.

  14. Piltdown Jenkins November 4, 2009 / 2:06 pm

    So if I go to London, how can I tell the hookers and rent boys from the teachers and bank clerks? This could lead to uncomfortable situations if I proposition the wrong person.

    • Justin November 4, 2009 / 2:23 pm

      They will proposition you if they are in the business and want yours. It may take a while to lead up to it, but if they are working, they will let you know.

      • Piltdown Jenkins November 4, 2009 / 2:54 pm

        Which party is expected to supply the “French letter”?

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