Hi, I’m Robin,
And I’m Angelika
And we’re with the Sex Workers Outreach Project – Denver.
Robin: This is the 8th Annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers and the 2nd Annual Denver event. Today, we remember those we have lost to violence, oppression, and hatred. Whether perpetrated by clients, opportunistic serial killers, partners, pimps or traffickers, the police, or the state, we must stand against the cycle of violence experienced by sex workers around the world.
Angie: This day was founded in 2003 to memorialize and honor the sex workers who were murdered by Oregon serial killer Gary Ridgway who said, “I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without being caught.” The song Deep Red Bells by Neko Case, which we played during our slideshow, was created to memorialize Ridgway’s victims as well.
Robin: And that quote by Gary Ridgway really illustrates a lot of what we’re up against. We’re seen as easy victims, particularly vulnerable. Gary Ridgway, also called the Green River Killer, took advantage of the stigma around sex work, the fact that so many sex workers can’t be out to their loved ones, and the fact that we are seen as disposable, almost as refuse (garbage). Stigma is a really powerful thing.
Angie: There’s some good news, though. This past spring, the U.S. approved recommendation number 86 made by Uruguay during the U.N.’s Universal Periodic Review to “pay particular attention to the rights and vulnerabilities of sex workers.” This was the first time the U.S. was subject to this review, and they gave the following response: “We agree that no one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution, as this recommendation suggests.” In response, sex workers rights activists organized a number of “86 the violence” events around the country, and we’re going to show you a video of the Denver event.
Robin: This U.N. recommendation marks the first time that the U.S. has specifically denounced violence and discrimination against persons within the sex industry as distinct from the issue of human trafficking. Sex workers who are not trafficking victims also face huge issues in their lives, including the effects of violence and criminalization, especially the varied effects of prostitution arrests or convictions on housing, custody, immigration, and future job applications. If a person with prostitution convictions is hired the convictions can lead to discrimination and harassment on the job. Sex workers are often the victims of police violence, including forcible rape and offers to not arrest sex workers in exchange for sexual services, which is also highly coercive. Sex workers also often face discrimination in accessing services such as health services. While sex workers can be or become victims of pimps and/or traffickers (I personally identify both as a former sex worker and as a former victim of violence and coercion in the sex trade by a third party), sex workers who are not victims of pimps or traffickers face huge issues as well. “The U.S. has finally acknowledged that sex workers face issues separate from those of human trafficking victims,” said Natalie Brewster Nguyen, an artist and member of the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Tucson. “We were long overdue for the United States to take the needs of sex workers seriously, particularly the need to stem violence and discrimination,” says attorney Sienna Baskin, Co-Director of Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York.
Angie: We are now going to show you a video of the 2008 March on Washington. This march took place on December 17th.
Angie: We hold out hope for a better world. One where sex workers are free from violence and are not criminalized or looked down on. A world where people may exchange sexual labor for money if they wish to, and have appropriate and non-coercive services available to them if they do not. A world where violence against sex workers is taken as seriously as violence against anyone else, where that violence is not excused as part of the job but is seen as unacceptable. A world with labor rights and human rights for sex workers. As they say, “only rights can stop the wrongs.’
Robin: We also don’t want our customers to be criminalized even when they are not violent. There’s a big push in the U.S. for “End Demand” legislation which increases penalties on johns and creates “john schools.” Advertising venues are also being targeted. You have to keep in mind that when you decrease demand, sex workers have to compete for scarcer and scarcer customers. This gives the customers more power to demand unsafe sex practices, and those who are left tend to be more violent. Sex workers also have to meet customers in more remote locations to avoid the police, which also increases their vulnerability to violence. This legislation also, obviously, makes it more difficult for sex workers to meet their survival needs. The sex workers who are most affected by this are survival sex workers and street sex workers.
Angie: While possibly well-intentioned, these policies cause a lot of harm. The people pushing this legislation claim to want to see sex work decriminalized for the sex worker, but the legislation they push through doesn’t do this. Prostitution is still illegal in Colorado, and being an HIV+ sex worker is still a felony. Felony convictions make it even more difficult to leave sex work, and most HIV+ sex workers are survival sex workers. They also may not be exposing anyone to HIV, as there are a number of low-risk and zero-risk activities that still violate Colorado’s prostitution laws.
Robin: I just want to bring this back around to our memorial for sex workers who have been victims and survivors of violence. This is a very somber day and I want everyone to just take a moment to reflect on and honor victims and survivors. [pause] And now, we will have the reading of the names of those we have lost. I especially want to honor Shelly Jay Resnick, who was one of our own, a dedicated sex workers rights activist. Shelly took her own life in an Oregon correctional facility. And now, the names.
[reading of the names]
Robin: And now we’re going to have a speakout. If anyone has any poems, writings, or anything you would like to say, please come up. I would like to start it off with a poem that was written for December 17th, in response to the murders by Gary Ridgway:
Robin: If anyone else would like to share, please come up now.
Angie: Thank you. To wrap up our event for the evening and to end on a slightly lighter note, we will show the video Every Ho I Know Says So. This video was created as a resource for lovers and partners of sex workers. This especially goes out to those of you who have had sex workers in your lives who you’ve loved.