For the past 7 years, December 17th has been recognized by sex workers and their allies as a day to recognize that violence against sex workers is endemic to many societies. It is also a day to commit energy toward making the cultural and working conditions of sex work safer. This is very different from simply telling people not to be sex workers. (Imagine criminalizing the mining industry and jailing miners as a way to protect them; imagine how much more dangerous the mining industry would be if there were no health and safety regulations in place). The work of making any cultural and work environment safer for all is to recognize the right of individuals to be agents over their own bodies, to achieve personal livelihood, and to live a life free of terror.
This work, on a larger scale, also entails the recognition of the potential social value of sex work. This does not mean that all sex workers love their job, any more than all miners love theirs; what it does mean is that it is not enough to listen only to the tragic stories (reaffirming the notion that people involved in this work must be punished), while covering ones eyes and ears to other stories (which suggest that the work is not intrinsically dangerous, evil, or otherwise worthy of punishment). As academics, policy makers, and citizens we don’t have to personally become providers or consumers of sex work (or the mining industry) to have compassion. But we must take seriously people’s claims that they, their families, and their communities can benefit economically or socially from their work, and ask what it is that we can do to make their work safer.
This year’s Dec. 17 vigils, at least in the US, will be tinged with a new sense of urgency given the recent discovery of four bodies in Long Island, some or all of whom were women sex workers. Targeted violence on this scale is a form of war, of terrorism, of outright hatred for a particular category of people. Can you imagine the media and political response if the bodies were of children, or of politicians, or a particular ethnic or religious group?
Today, and all this week, a number of progressive media outlets are featuring stories about the importance of Dec. 17 anti-violence vigils. RH Reality Check has a series, including an excellent one written by Rosie Campbell and Shelly Stoop entitled ”Treating Violence Against Sex Workers as a Hate Crime.”
Other good reading:
- Audacia Ray. “It Is Not Just Violent Clients Who Hurt Sex Workers.”
- Chi Mgbako. “Honoring the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.”
This post was originally published at the blog “Sexuality and Society.” Photo from the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) also from the Sexuality and Society blog: more red-umbrella-campaign images available from the ICRSE website.