On Jan. 18, 2014, 20 year old Alisha Walker and a friend visited the home of 61 year old Alan Filan, a Chicago-area Catholic school teacher. Filan had been drinking and according to Walker, he insisted on unprotected sex, swore at her, hit her, and then grabbed a kitchen knife. Walker wrestled the knife from his hand and acted in self defense, leading to Filan’s death. Two days later, Walker was arrested and confessed, crying and shaking uncontrollably when she was told Filan had died. Walker was held in jail for two years without bond. Following a blatantly biased, stigmatizing trial accompanied by biased, stigmatizing media coverage, Walker was sentenced to fifteen years in jail on second degree murder charges.
Sex Workers Outreach Project expresses solidarity with Walker and local activists who protested the ruling on Thursday, March 31st. We have deep sympathy for Filan’s community and their loss. But we also feel deeply for Walker, a young woman of color who faced a biased criminal justice system and biased media, who will now spend her young adulthood in jail for an act of self-preservation. We are also worried about how a conviction will affect her life.
We are concerned with sentencing a 20 year old girl to fifteen years in jail for acting to save her life. We are concerned that Walker was detained without bond for two years. We are concerned by news reports, repeatedly vilifying her as a “prostitute” and “murderer” and sanctifying Finan as “father,” “Catholic school teacher,” and pillar of society. We are concerned by the judges’ statements during sentencing, reported by the Chicago Sun-Times:
The judge noted Walker’s lack of remorse immediately after the incident, but he also waxed on at length about her decision to work as a prostitute even though she had been arrested for walking the streets before. Obbish berated Walker for choosing a “dangerous,” unsavory lifestyle and for expressing loyalty to her pimp who was nothing but as “animal who sucked money” out of her while she “humiliated” herself by performing sex acts with strangers. If Walker hadn’t been concerned about handing off money to her pimp, perhaps Filan would be alive, Obbish said. “She wasn’t walking out of there without her money, and that’s why we’re here today,” the judge said.
We are concerned by the power differential between Alisha, a young, marginalized woman of color and Filan, a well-connected white man whose brother has been identified as a “prominent lobbyist” and whose sister is a judge, and how that power imbalance tinged court proceedings, media coverage, and the judges’ oral statements and ruling.
Ultimately, we are concerned that a marginalized woman was not given fair treatment by our justice system. Everyone, including sex workers, deserves a fair trial and equal access to justice. People at the margins of our society–sex workers, trans women, people of color, drug users, and homeless individuals–are often denied this, and their social marginalization is often used against them in court. This bias contradicts social justice principles and the core values of American society.
Furthermore, this all-to-common bias deters people involved in the sex trade and members of other marginalized groups from reaching out to law enforcement and social services when they have been the victim of violence, and ultimately promotes violence against them.