The Baton Rouge Police Department is currently investigating the death of 42-year-old Nathan Millard. Millard was visiting Baton Rouge on a work trip from his home in Covington, Georgia. Media outlets have reported that Millard’s cause of death is a suspected accidental overdose on crack cocaine.
On February 22, 2023, Millard attended a meeting for work in Baton Rouge and later visited a Louisiana State University game. He was later refused service at a bar by bartenders because he was intoxicated. Millard was then seen walking with Derrick Perkins, who is wanted for questioning in in this case, and Millard allegedly asked Perkins to find him “white girls,” as he was seeking to purchase sex. Perkins picked up two women and brought them to a home. Millard’s body was later found wrapped in plastic and rolled up in a carpet nearly two weeks after his disappearance.
Although the mugshots released by Baton Rouge Police Department contained the familiar caution: “All persons are innocent until proven guilty,” it is incredibly problematic that these women are portrayed as criminals. Perkins, for example, allegedly abused illicit drugs and purchased sex, both of which are crimes in Louisiana. Additionally, the media published a smiling picture of Millard, an alleged sex buyer, and described him as a “loved man” and a “father and husband.” As noted, the media also released unflattering mug shots of the two women wanted for prostitution, thus perpetuating the stigma against prostituted persons.
Further, media outlets such as Yahoo, Heavy.com, and WBRZ2 have reported that Derrick Perkins is wanted for questioning in in this case and on unrelated warrants, yet the media finds it relevant to discuss the women’s warrants for prostitution and have their photos plastered at the top of the article.
The CSE Institute urges journalists in Baton Rouge to be cognizant of the reporting strategies they use and the impact that language has in any given report. The CSE Institute is disappointed in the media’s decision to publicize both the first and last name of the women in the title of the article as well as their photos. In publishing their names and photos, news outlets promote the notion that prostituted persons are criminals, rather than exploited persons.
The first step to ending commercial sexual exploitation is to understand that if there is no demand from sex buyers, the entire industry collapses. The media must stop villanizing persons in prostitution while ignoring the culpability of sex buyers. Formally charging victims with prostitution does nothing to target sex traffickers or buyers. It is traffickers and buyers who perpetuate sexual exploitation and keep the commercial sex trade alive. At the CSE Institute, we firmly support the Equality Model. The Equality Model consists of four key elements: (1) decriminalization of the prostituted person, (2) criminalization of sex buyers and facilitators with a commitment to treating buying sex as a serious crime, (3) a public education campaign about the inherent harms of prostitution, and (4) funded, robust, holistic exit services for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model directly targets the demand for buying sex by criminalizing sex buyers and traffickers, while decriminalizing the people who are being bought and sold for commercial sex.
The CSE Institute will continue to provide updates on this matter.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.