International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

by Jodi Doff

The names of 60 sex workers who were murdered in 2010 will be read aloud at candlelight vigils across the world on Friday.  Sixty is a conservative estimate, violence against those in the sex worker community more often than not goes undocumented, unreported, unnoticed.  Often we don’t hear about it until it is too late for anything other than tabloid headlines, until there is a body left my the roadside, stuffed in a drainpipe or tossed from a car.

This Friday, December 17 is the 8th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, with events across the world to honor and remember sex workers lost to violence over the year. Dr. Annie Sprinkle organized the first vigil in 2003 after the conviction of Gary Ridgeway.

Ridgeway, known as the Green River Killer, proudly claims to have killed at 90 women, most of them prostitutes.  Ridgeway said, “I 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 thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”

  • 82% of sex workers have been physically assaulted since entering the profession
  • 48% have been raped more than five times
  • 100% of exotic dancers had been assaulted at work*

Prostitutes, of any gender, are seen as non-human by many, defined by their work by almost everyone, not worthy of police protection or human decency.  Sex work is like any other work in that some come to it by choice, some by lack of choice, others by circumstance. Sex workers are sons and daughters, mother and sisters, wives, husbands, brothers, friends.  Sex workers have families and community.

If we allow one group of people to become disposable, no matter what the degree of difference from our everyday life, it opens the door to the ugliest part of our makeup as humans and it will spread to other vulnerable populations.

Jews were that group in Nazi Germany.
Native Americans were that group in the early history of this county.
Women have been that group throughout history.
None of this is okay.

It didn’t start with Jack the Ripper, it didn’t end with Gary Ridgeway. Attacks on sex workers, because of their vulnerable status, continue, today in the suburbs of Long Island and New Jersey where a serial killer once again, killing sex workers.

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*statistics from this 1999 study: Holsopple, K. “Stripclubs According to Strippers: Exposing Workplace Sexual Violence.” Pp. 252-276 in Making the Harm Visible: Global Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls, Speaking Out and Providing Services, edited by D. and C. Roche Hughes. Kingston: Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. Where 100% of the exotic dancers in the study had been physically assaulted in the clubs where they were employed, with a prevalence ranging from 3-15 times over the course of their involvement in exotic dancing. Violence included physical assault, attempted vaginal penetration, attempted rape,and rape


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