Sex Workers Outreach Project, USA
Katherine Koster, Communications Director – December 17th Coordinator
December 17 – International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers
Global conferences, vigils, film-screenings, protests, marches and die-ins planned on December 17th to Combat Violence Against Sex Workers
Events aim to raise indignation at violence against sex workers and strengthen sex worker communities and responses to the systematic, daily violence and exclusion sex workers experience. Events include conferences in Seattle, Barcelona, and Ankara, marches and demonstrations in Skopje, Vancouver, Toulouse, Adelaide, Paris, Newark, Austin and San Antonio, a photo campaign of African sex workers, allies and human rights defenders, and candle-lit vigils in Minneapolis, Lautoka, Fiji, and Goldcoast, Australia. (For additional event information, see the December 17th Map)
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers began in 2003 around the sentencing of Gary Ridgway, a serial killer who murdered over 70 women in Seattle, mostly sex workers, continuing with impunity for over twenty years.
According to Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, over 160 sex workers were murdered in 2015 – at least 48 in the United States, 39 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 31 in Africa. Sex workers who were lost to violence this year include:
- 10 women murdered and mutilated in a single month in Nakuru, Kenya.
- 9 women murdered in Florida.
- 9 women raped and murdered in San Jose, Costa Rica.
- A transgender woman in Cuba who was stoned to death by a group of boys.
- A sex worker stabbed by a client in Allahabad, India died after she was denied admission to a local hospital.
Globally, sex workers experience disproportionate violence and unique barriers in accessing criminal justice support:
- Sex workers experience high levels of sexual violence. Globally, sex workers have a 45 to 75% chance of experiencing sexual violence at some point in their careers and a 32 to 55% chance of experiencing sexual violence in a given year.
- 65% of transgender individuals murdered globally were sex workers, according toTransgender Europe. According to a recent report on trans sex workers in the United States, 53.8% of incarcerated trans sex workers reported sexual assault from other prisoners and 52.6% reported sexual assault from officers and staff, twice the rate of transgender individuals who were not sex workers
- Vulnerability to violence varies across contexts. Criminalization, insecure work environments, and broader contexts of extreme poverty and gender inequality are correlated with increased violence against sex workers (source). Youth, homeless individuals, individuals who previously been arrested for prostitution, migrant sex workers,sex workers who use drugs, and street-based sex workers are especially at risk of violence.
- Sex workers are especially vulnerable to police and state violence, as police officers can threaten victims with arrest or stage an arrest and assault victims.
- In South Africa, one in six sex workers reported sexual or physical violence at the hands of the police.
- In former Soviet Bloc countries, a high proportion of sex workers report being sexually assault by police–with rates as high as 90 percent in Kyrgyzstan.
- In the Caribbean and Latin America, sex workers often are arbitrarily detained by law enforcement, and police frequently extort money or demand coercive sex in interactions with sex workers.
- In the United States: 17% of sex workers interviewed in a New York study reportedsexual harassment and abuse, including rape, by police. In a Chicago study, 30% of erotic dancers and 24% of street-based sex workers who had been raped identified a police officer as the rapist.
- In Bangladesh, between 52% and 60% of street-based sex workers reported being raped by men in uniform.
Violence against sex workers and other marginalized groups is tied to criminalization. “Criminalized populations–especially undocumented migrant workers and racial and sexual minorities– do not view law enforcement as safe institutions,’ Katherine Koster, SWOP-USA Communications Director and December 17th coordinator, said. “They don’t seek support after victimization because they fear arrest or further abuse…which allows…serial predators to continue victimizing people with impunity. And it’s across the board: police threaten to arrest sex workers and other criminalized groups. Abusive managers and tell victims they will be arrested if they leave. Abusive intimate partners threaten to call sex workers’ schools or landlords or bring sex work up in family court. Criminalization makes marginalized communities–including sex workers–incredibly vulnerable.”
For sex workers, criminalizing third parties and clients of sex workers can result in evictions and deportation and the displacement of street-based sex workers to more dangerous areas. It also makes it more difficult for sex workers to access outreach services, result in sex workers working in isolation to avoid detection, and lead sex workers to “rushing” conversations with clients to evade arrest, ultimately jeopardizing safety (Source) and increasing violence against sex workers. (Source).
Sex Workers around the world are organizing against violence, not just on December 17th but around the year: they are operating peer-led hotlines, documenting and publishing reports on violence and human rights abuses, educating each other about rights, organizing freedom of information requests, and lobbying social service organizations, non-governmental organizations, and government officials for change.
“Globally, sex workers are calling on policymakers to address the conditions that allow such horrifying acts of violence to continue unabated, and insist on the inclusion of sex workers in the creation of new policies that will protect our various communities,” Savannah Sly President of the Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA’s Board of Directors said. “Sex workers are fighting against violence and working to protect each other. Now we need solidarity from the global community.”
More information about December 17,th violence against sex workers, and worldwide events can be found at www.december17.org.
Photographs from past December 17 events can be found here: December 17th Event Images