Atlantic City vigil recalls 4 prostitutes as more than murder victims


  Thank you to you and Jonathan for writing this story. If there's any follow-up, I hope you will include the issue of how the criminalization of prostitution creates a black market that attracts violent criminals. This puts both sex workers and their clients in danger of violence, and makes them afraid to go to the police.

  But I've come to understand that that is the unspoken purpose which the criminalization of prostitution is intended to serve. After all, if fewer people associated prostitution with violent crime, more of them would speak out and vote against wasting resources trying to enforce the already unpopular and controversial laws prohibiting it, and many of these laws would be repealed. That in turn would mean fewer resources for law enforcement agencies, and of course they'd like to keep getting the taxpayer money they're getting now -- or preferably take in even more, thank-you-very-much.

  The police need to open their eyes to the fact that the government funds dispersed for the purpose of going after prostitutes and their clients are blood money. How many more women like these will have to die before prostitution is decriminalized?

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Outreach Director, Libertarian Party of San Francisco

A.C. vigil recalls 4 women as more than murder victims

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

With fears of a serial killer still gripping Atlantic City, dozens of people gathered yesterday on the Boardwalk in a candlelight vigil for the four women whose bodies were found in a ditch outside the resort four weeks ago.

The point, participants said, was to remember the victims not as prostitutes who suffered from drug addiction, but as women who had rewarding lives before their problems overtook them.

"We're here to give a voice to these women and to acknowledge the value of their lives as mothers, daughters, aunts and friends," said Claudia Ratzlaff, executive director of the Atlantic County Women's Center, which organized the vigil. "These women were part of our community, and we care."

The vigil was held on an unusually warm night in a small bandshell across from Boardwalk Hall, in the shadow of the flashing Trump Plaza casino. Among the 50 or so people in attendance were friends and family of the victims and local public officials. Several spoke about the women before the group read their names aloud: Molly Dilts, Barbara Breidor, Tracy Ann Roberts, Kim Raffo. After a prayer and song, the mourners lit candles and paused for a moment of silence.

Underlying the service was anxiety that the killer -- or killers -- remains on the loose. The hunt is being undertaken by a 40-person task force made up of members of the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, the FBI, the New Jersey State Police and the Egg Harbor Township Police Department. There have been no arrests.

"It's been surreal. I feel like I'm walking around in a nightmare," said Hugh Auslander, Raffo's husband, who flew from Florida for the vigil. "I want some closure to this. All I can do is pray. Tonight, I'm praying as I light this candle.

In their ongoing search for evidence, investigators Friday returned to the spot along the Black Horse Pike where the bodies were found Nov. 20, each shoeless and lying face down in a 100-yard stretch of a tidal canal in Egg Harbor Township.

The bodies remain at the county medical examiner's office while investigators await results of forensic tests. The prosecutor's office expects the bodies to be released to family as early as this week.

"I believe we are not going to have rest, we are not going to have a good night's sleep, until the person who committed this despicable crime is apprehended," said Atlantic County Freeholder Alisa Cooper.

State Assemblyman Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), a former Atlantic City mayor, made a plea for women struggling with drug addiction to take advantage of treatment programs so they don't end up on the streets, putting themselves in danger.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said he wanted to convey the public's concern about the victims without judging how they lived their final days.

"There's four dead people and regardless of what their lifestyle may have been, it's tragic," he said.

John Pesce, a friend of Raffo's, said he wanted to tell people who she really was.

"She was a loving, giving, caring person who never hurt anyone except herself," said Pesce, 46, of Ventnor. "She didn't do anything to deserve what happened to her ... I'm going to miss her forever."

Mark Mueller may be reached at mmueller@... or (973) 392-5973.