Once again, it’s December 17th.
For most people, that’s just another date. The most significant thing about it is that they have about a week to finish the Xmas shopping. But for those of us who know and care about sex workers, today is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. It’s an important day, and more people should be aware of it. At the very least, people should be aware of the violence that happens to sex workers, and understand that it’s more than fodder for dead hooker jokes.
I wrote about December 17 on this blog last year; it was an especially intense one because the remains of missing sex worker Shannan Gilbert had been uncovered on Long Island. The search for Gilbert found the bodies of nine other murdered sex workers before they found hers. The person who murdered them still hasn’t been found.
Today I published a piece about December 17 at the SF Weekly: Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Is More than Grief and Death. I think my opening grafs sum up well why this is an important day, and why I keep writing about it:
December 17 is one of the few times that you’ll see the deaths of sex workers mourned publicly and sincerely. For the rest of the year, sex workers who die at the hands of clients, police, or pimps are reduced to punchlines or object lessons in one morality or another. One thing that liberals and conservatives share, even in this very polarized era, is that both are much more comfortable speaking for dead whores than talking with live ones.
This year will mark the 10th time that the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has been observed since 2003, when Annie Sprinkle and Robyn Few organized the first one in memory of the victims of Gary Ridgway, also known as the “Green River Killer.” Since then, events have been held every December 17 in memory of the sex workers who have been murdered that year.
I’m not a sex worker, nor have I ever been one, but I’ve attended these events for years, not only because my friends have always included escorts, porn models, and strippers, but because I write about sexuality, and my work would be dishonest and incomplete if I didn’t value theirs. The lives of my friends are important, but so is their work.
Pieces like this are tough; it’s so easy, when writing about murdered sex workers, to fall into the conventional narrative of the tragic, doomed “fallen woman.” The media fucking loves this way of telling the stories of sex workers. The beauty of it is that it allows for liberal, compassionate posturing and slut-shaming at the same time. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times is particularly masterful at this kind of story.
I find myself particularly optimistic about this year’s event at the Center for Sex and Culture. In addition to the usual speakers and remembrances, the Sex Workers Outreach Project is launching a new organization called Sex Workers Allies Families and Friends. This is something I find really, really exciting. It could be a really big step towards getting the fundamental message of December 17 across to a broader audience. That message is that sex workers are not an anonymous “them” that can have their lives and deaths reduced down to a punchline or a pitiful morality lesson. They’re our friends, family, neighbors, and loved ones, and we owe them the right to work as well as to live.
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