Texas’ law allowing people to use deadly force to protect their property allowed a man who killed an escort to go free – because she wouldn’t have sex with him.
My first thought when I read this story about a jury acquitting a man (Ezekiel Gilbert) who shot a woman (Lenora Ivie Frago) when she refused to have sex with him after taking his money, was, “What the actual f*ck?!” Seriously, that’s all that my mind could muster: outrange and disbelief. And then I sat down and tried to break apart all the different bits to this story. I tried to figure out what, the actual fuck, was going on here.
Deadly Force to Retrieve Property
So first, let me just say I totally understand the attachment people have to their things. I nearly had a panic attack while tearing apart my room yesterday looking for my class ring that I thought I’d lost. Turns out I’d just misplaced it, which was such a relief. Last week I actually did lose my USB drive and though the only things on it were backups and unimportant bits and bobs, it stung. I’m looking around my room right now, and there are plenty of things in here that I’d be absolutely cut up about if they were lost or stolen. So, yeah, I totally understand being attached to property.
The thing is, though, no piece of property is worth killing another human being over, even something as important to me as my class ring. So I really do not understand the Texas law that says it’s okay to use deadly force to retrieve stolen property at night. Well, I suppose I do understand it, at least intellectually. The law was designed to allow homeowners to protect their things in the event that someone invades their home at night. And it was designed to protect people who are out at night in the event that they are mugged.
It’s designed to allow “good” and “law-abiding” citizens to act in a way that would otherwise suddenly make them no longer “good” or “law-abiding,” and get away with it. There is a great divide in the way the law handles property owners, and those who may be desperate enough to try to take someone else’s property. We still live in a world where owning things gives someone a certain amount of protection from the legal consequences of their actions. This Texas law is totally part of that; it’s classist in the extreme.
Prostitution Is Illegal in Texas
One of the particularly problematic aspects of this case is that it isn’t a “law-abiding” citizen using deadly force to take back their property. It was a case of someone paying another person to break the law, and then shooting them to take back their money when the other person refused to commit the crime. If I were to pay a drug dealer for some cocaine, and then the drug dealer refused to give me the cocaine, would I then be within my rights to shoot the dealer to get my money back? I don’t think so.
Here’s where we get into the gendered nature of this situation. Why, oh why, can’t we just do prostitution the right way? It shouldn’t be illegal and it should be regulated. And for goodness sake, we should recognise that though a prostitute is providing a service which involves her body, she isn’t selling her body. Her body is still hers to do with what she will, regardless of how much money changes hands.*
Unfortunately we are still hung up on the idea that a prostitute isn’t really a full human being, and that she isn’t deserving of the same amount of bodily autonomy that other people are. We’re told that her body is actually property. If she’s willing to have sex for money, the underlying argument goes, then she deserves whatever she gets. Or, in this case, if she was willing to pretend to be a prostitute in order to scam some guy out of $150, then she must really deserve what she gets. A woman who is willing to have sex for money is considered bad enough. A woman who is willing to trick a man into thinking he’ll get to have sex, and then refuse…well that’s considered horrible enough to warrant getting shot.
Something that Gilbert said has stuck with me: “I sincerely regret the loss of the life of Ms. Frago. I’ve been in a mental prison the past four years of my life. I have nightmares. If I see guns on TV where people are getting killed, I change the channel.” Some people have been reacting to this with disgust because it makes things even worse that Gilbert is trying to make himself into some kind of victim. In a lot of ways, I agree with that assessment. On the other hand, I also totally believe Gilbert when he says this.
The thing is, unless Gilbert is a total psychopath, shooting Frago over $150 is probably going to haunt him for the rest of his life. Gilbert was sold a bill of goods. He, like so many people, bought into the hard-line individualistic, capitalist notion that property is worth shooting someone over. He, like so many people, bought into the patriarchal notion that women’s bodies, especially a prostitute’s, are not their own. When Gilbert shot Frago, he was confronted with the lie of those two notions, and now he’s mentally and emotionally suffering because of it.
The problem, though, is that legally he’s been let off the hook. So that bill of goods Gilbert was sold is sold to the rest of us, yet again. We’ve once again been told that property is worth more than a human being, and a prostitute’s body is property. A man killed a woman over $150 and a promise of sex, and we’ve all just been told that it’s excusable. It’s fine. It’s just the way it is.
* This goes for prostitutes who aren’t cis-women too, of course.