April 12, 2011
Ten is the number of bodies that have been found on Long Island’s southern beaches since December. The first four, all found between December 11 abd 13, were confirmed to be the remains of women who had had some experience in sex work. The next was found on March 29. Three more were found on April 4, and two were found today. The identities of those most recently found have not been determined, and police have not made a definitive statement about whether all of the murders are connected.
So far, none has turned out to be Shannon Gilbert, the search for whom turned up these other victims.
I suspect they will turn out to be related, victims of a serial killer who targets women who, among all of the other things that they do in their lives, also exchange sex for money.
SWOP-NYC has responded with a statement that rightly reminds us that the dangers of sex work are the dangers of stigmatization and isolation, and not particular to the exchange of sex for something else of value.
I just spent three days at my statewide union’s Representative Assembly where health and safety was one of the key concerns. There was a singificant focus on framing issues in human rights terms. There was a lot of talk about the dignity of all humans, and the dignity of all labor. I was even impressed that when the issue of trafficking and children came up, the focus was on slave labor in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast, and not a lurid focus on sex trafficking.
But I don’t think my union would stand up publicly for sex workers. Not yet.
I spent a couple of hours on Saturday at a huge labor rally in Times Square. I am sure there were people attending that rally who, in addition to all the other things they do, have also exchanged sex for money. But I did not see any sex worker advocacy signs in the block where I was standing.
We still separate sex from the rest of work, from the rest of pleasure, and essentially from most of everyday life.
The longer we relegate sex to the dark corners of our political and social discourse, the longer we will continue to find bodies hidden in the reeds of our beaches, long undiscovered because they were marginalized from the start.
Sexual freedom, including the consensual exchange of sex for other things of value, must come to be seen a fundamental human right. Sex is a valuable thing. The right to physical autonomy and the right to sexual pleasure and the right to earn a decent living all intersect in the phenomenon of sex work.
Stand up publicly for your own right, and the right of others, to safely determine the conditions of each sexual exchange we make.