This week sex worker rights and social justice organizations in more than 58 cities around the world are staging marches, protests, and public events to call attention to violence committed against sex workers.


Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers,colloquially referred to as December 17th, was first organized by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-USA) in 2003 in response to the sentencing of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer. Over two decades, Ridgway murdered over 70 women, most of whom were sex workers.  Because of their work, the murders went largely uninvestigated, allowing Ridgeway’s violence to continue.

10846423_10153064111074050_7131730327001220137_nEvery year, SWOP-USA compiles a list of the names of sex workers who have died as a result of violence. This year’s list includes more than 160 names of sex workers who were murdered worldwide. The list highlights the diverse forms of violence that sex workers experience. Attacks against sex workers in 2014 included fundamentalists who massacred 28 women in a Baghdad, Iraq brothel, a US Marine who murdered a transgender sex worker in the Philippines, and the arrest of a convicted sex offender in the serial murder of seven sex workers in Gary, Indiana.

The largest proportion of names–34–come from the United States. Female sex workers in the United States are murdered at 17.7 times the national murder rate for women. American sex workers are 50 times more likely to be murdered on the job than a police officer or liquor store clerk, 12 times the rate of taxi drivers, and 400 times the average person. (Source). 23% of GLBT homicides recorded in the 2012 Anti-Violence Project report were connected to sex work. Transgender sex workers may face even more violence. Though US-based research does not exist, a recent Turkish study found that 73% of all transgender sex workers had experienced violence, and nearly 50% had been physically assaulted by the police. (Source).

Violence against sex workers in the United States has been tied to its criminalization. Research suggests that sex workers do not view the police or hospitals as safe and often will not seek out help following violence because they fear arrest.

10862459_10153072045564050_166522395826940202_o“Criminalizing sex work has not worked,” commented Lindsay Roth, SWOP-USA’s Board Chair. “We know that criminalization leads to more violence by stigmatizing sex workers and contributing to unsafe working conditions. If you fear arrest, negotiating your personal safety becomes a secondary concern.” SWOP-USA promotes decriminalizing sex work, or ending criminal penalties for the selling or purchasing of sex.

“We hope that December 17th sends a message that sex workers’ lives do matter, and that these victims were people worth remembering and protecting.”

Information about December 17th and worldwide events can be found at: www.december17.org