The fatality rate of sex workers is more than twice the rate of the most fatal “legitimate” job on the books (logging), but from what I can find, the majority of fatalities are concentrated among street workers. A lot of the things that make street work dangerous are the same things that make it dangerous to be a taxi driver: working at night, working alone, handling cash, etc. But sex workers are murdered at a rate ten times higher than taxi drivers, and I think it’s because of criminalization. Street workers avoid arrest by getting off the street as quickly as possible. They have no time to screen, very little time to negotiate, and next to no control over their environment once they get into the car, and can’t even go to the police if anything happens. But the majority of sex workers are “indoor” workers, and their fatality rate is much lower than street workers. Part of it is that they’re not forced to work at night or in high crime areas, but I think it’s also important that they avoid arrest by screening and just being extremely cautious in general. Do you think that would change if sex work was legalized? Without the threat of arrest to keep escorts cautious, would escorting become a more dangerous profession?
The murder rate for street workers is not really as high as these studies claim; they’re based in the assumption that the sex worker population can be accurately estimated, which is a mighty stretch indeed. It is extremely likely that the total population is dramatically undercounted in these studies, but nobody cares because they want the sex work murder rate to come out much higher than it really is to provide a pretext for banning it.
That having been said, the murder rate for outdoor workers is still outrageously high, largely for the reasons you surmise but also for the fact that violent men purposefully seek out sex workers because, as Robert Pickton pointed out, nobody notices or cares when they vanish. That simply isn’t true for indoor workers, who tend to have better social networks; their death or disappearance would be noticed just as quickly as any other woman’s. While it’s true that escorts are forced to be even more careful because of criminalization, that vigilance all goes toward the organized predators who inflict the lion’s share of violence on sex workers: the police. So yes, removing criminalization might make escorts less careful…but they wouldn’t need to be so cautious because the most dangerous and numerous predators would also be gone. Under decriminalization, violence against sex workers is much lower than even in legalized regimes, and much lower than under criminalization, a system in which the foxes are set to guard the henhouse, and nobody notices or cares how many chickens they satisfy their appetites upon.