Today is International day to end violence against sex workers.
Candles will be lit. Victims will be named and remembered. Sex workers, sex worker organizations and allies from across the globe, gather together and shed light on an invisible but important issue.
Today is a day to raise awareness about the forms of violence that are commonly committed against sex workers. Violence against sex workers goes beyond the physical and sexual abuse at the hands of customer and the police. The violence, at times, exists even before one culprit acts on it. It is a looming fear that, “This could happen to me.” It is an “unfortunate” work hazard that many sex workers deal with. The “understanding” of this impending violence stems form the way society views sex workers.
In one study, Eighty-two percent of the(se) respondents reported having been physically assaulted since entering prostitution. Of those who had been physically assaulted, 55% had been assaulted by customers. Eighty-eight percent had been physically threatened while in prostitution, and 83% had been physically threatened with a weapon….Sixty-eight percent…reported having been raped since entering prostitution. Forty-eight percent had been raped more than five times. Forty-six percent of those who reported rapes stated that they had been raped by customers
(Prostitution Statistics and Rape – Physical Abuse of Prostitutes Common Sexual Assault Commonplace Yet Rarely Prosecuted By Linda Lowen, About.com Guide).
The criminalization of sex work and societies harsh moral judgment of individuals who by choice or conditions, take part in the sex industry, push many sex workers into unsafe working conditions. Sex workers deserve to live free from violence and protected. Moral law provides a sense of justification that sex workers do not matter. When a sex worker is abused, raped or even killed, it is seen as a punishment or isn’t considered at all. The issues are so far removed from some individuals that the life of a sex worker is non-existent.
Sex workers are flesh and bone that bleed and break all too often. Sex workers are mothers, grandmothers, students, artists, wives, brothers and so much more. We are queer, transgender, heterosexual, people with disabilities, people of color, white and we are multidimensional. The work that we do, does not define the totality of who we are. We tend to forget that for many sex worker, poverty, sexism and systematic forms of oppression introduce and keep us here. It goes beyond the simplistic questioning of morals. There are greater ills at work .
Sex workers also suffer isolation, internalize oppression, higher risk of being exposed to HIV/AIDS and or STI’s. The services sex workers provide are not acknowledged as legitimate work and is criminalized. Sex work goes beyond sex. Sex workers provide “counseling,” are companions and supply substantial emotional labor to their clients. In addition, “sex work” is often fused with the prostitution of children and or human trafficking. This adds yet another complicated layer to the treatment of sex workers in that it confuses the issues, makes invisible the agency of sex workers and portrays them all as victims. Sex worker are either seen as evil or those to be saved at the discretion of the state.
While many organizations conflate human trafficking with sex work, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance is careful to conceptually separate the two and advocates for decriminalization of consensual sex work. We staunchly oppose coercion and exploitation in labor and migration but find that current draconian efforts to stigmatize and prosecute sex workers put them in harm’s way with unintended negative consequences. We fully support the right of individuals to earn an income and to define the kinds of sexual expression in which they would like to engage. We believe in more effective solutions to problems associated with sex work, solutions that affirm human dignity and freedom.
(Quote from Melissa Ditmore, Ph.D., “The State of Sexual Freedom: Prostitution,” State of Sexual Freedom in the United States, 2010 Report. Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.)
Decriminalization of sex work, a revised moral code, sex work acknowledged as employment and more education around the complexities of sex work are but just a few things that can be done to change the current state of violence against sex workers. I am an out sex worker. I stand in solidarity with other sex workers of all trades to help spread awareness and help end these violations. What can you do? Browse through the resources below and read more about sex worker issues. Tell people about International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Donate to the cause. Help existing organizations lobby for rights. You can be an agent to help stop the violence!
Sex worker resources
Urban Justice Center
Sex Worker Project
SWOP-NYC + SWANK
Red Umbrella Project
Commercial Sex Information Service
International Union of Sex Workers
Global Network of Sex Work Projects
PONY (Prostitutes of New York)
International Sex Worker Organizations
Sex Worker Outreach Project
Wikipedia: Sex Worker Organizations