Holding Space for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

By: Ricci Levy

Today is December 17, when we mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

There has been a wave in the news about the violence and high rate of murders being inflicted on sex workers since the passage of the hideous SESTA/FOSTA legislation. That violence and those murders require that we pay attention all year, but especially today. 

Do you know the story of how this day became a memorial? The day was founded by Annie Sprinkle and the Sex Worker Outreach Project in 2003 in response to a statement by serial killer, Gary Ridgway, who had murdered at least 48 people, the majority of whom were sex workers. 

In a public letter back in 2003, Annie Sprinkle stated, “Violent crimes against sex workers go underreported, unaddressed, and unpunished. There really are people who don’t care when prostitutes [sic] are victims of hate crimes, beaten, raped, and murdered. No matter what you think about sex workers and the politics surrounding them, sex workers are a part of our neighborhoods, communities and families.

Unfortunately, today’s reality for sex workers doesn’t look all that different from 2003. In our ridiculously contradictory culture, skin and sexuality sell product, but skin and sex themselves cannot be for sale and are, instead, punished.

What is different from 2003 is the growing network of sex worker activists, like Annie, who are leading the call to end violence against sex workers. Woodhull Freedom Foundation is proud to follow the lead, filing a lawsuit against SESTA/FOSTA and changing our culture to uphold the dignity of all sex workers.

Back in 2010, Woodhull joined other sex worker organizations and allies in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review of human rights in the United States. The United States accepted our Recommendation 86: Violence against sex workers is a human rights violation.

The natural extension to that United Nations declaration is the decriminalization of consensual sex work. Only then, with full personal autonomy, will sex workers be able to protect themselves, report violence, and end the cycle of police violence that makes reporting a crime as dangerous as the crime itself. 

Let us all affirm today that violence against sex workers is a human rights violation and let us further agree that no life should be in jeopardy or lost because no one cared. We are here. And we care. 

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