This Sunday, December 17, is the fourth annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I’m reposting the press release sent by $pread Magazine and posted in several other places, including Audacia Ray’s Waking Vixen and the NYU Gender Studies list.
NEW YORK CITY.. On Sunday, December 17th, sex workers and their supporters will gather at vigils around the world to mark the annual Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, honoring the sex workers who died as victims of violent crime this year, and raising the issue of violence against sex workers to the public.
In New York City, participants will gather for a candlelight vigil at 5 PM on the steps of the Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South in Manhattan. This year’s list of names of murdered sex workers will be read aloud, participants will be encouraged to speak or offer a prayer, and a moment of silence will be observed.
At the event, organizers will read a statement demanding that authorities step up their investigation of the Atlantic City serial killer and officially announce a moratorium on arresting prostitutes to encourage cooperation between local sex workers and police. The statement will also challenge the media to report on the case in a way that respects the humanity of the women who were murdered. Atlantic City is only one example of these sorts of problems. Many more violent crimes against prostitutes remain unaddressed by the justice system, but exploited in the media.
The event is organized by Prostitutes of New York (PONY), $pread Magazine, and the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center. Members of the press and the public are also encouraged to attend.
The Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was inaugurated in 2003, conceived by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) based in Berkeley, California after the conviction of Gary Ridgway (the “Green River Killer”), a serial killer responsible for the murder of at least 48 prostitutes in Washington State. One particular statement in his confession outraged sex workers, and determined the need for a very public memorial that raises issues of violence against sex workers to lawmakers, police, and the media: “I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
I will be attending the New York City vigil at Judson Memorial Church. I hope you’ll consider attending an event in your own area — starting one up if there aren’t any around. Events like these are one small way we can all contribute to the destigmatizing of sex work.
Sex work is honorable work. The conditions under which it is done are sometimes brutal and oppressive. That is not because it is sexual, but because it is stigmatized. And that stigma contributes to the violence committed against sex workers and to the lack of seriousness with which those crimes are often treated.
All work should be honored. No worker should be the target of violence because of her work. And no violent crime should be taken less seriously because the victim is a sex worker.
On Sunday we gather to remember those who have died and to call for an end to violence against sex workers and to the stigma and criminality attached to their work. The rest of the year we work to make that happen.