International End Violence Against Sex Workers Day

Reflection by Kenyatta Thompson

Next Friday, December 17, will mark the 15th anniversary of the International End Violence Against Sex Workers Day. This day was first recognized in the United States in 2003 in response to the murders of sex workers in Seattle, Washington. The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), who first organized this day, urge us to not only remember those who are no longer with us, but to renew our commitment to solidarity across movements.  

“The majority of violence against sex workers is not just violence against sex works — it’s also violence against transwomen, against women of color, against drug users, against immigrants. We cannot end the marginalization and victimization of all sex workers without also fighting trans-phobia, racism, stigma and criminalization of drug use, and xenophobia.” – Sex Worker Outreach Project

At Katal, we are committed to organizing in communities that are impacted by mass incarceration and criminalization, and thus we cannot do this work without explicitly including people who do sex work. Further, it is impossible to work within a community and ignore the violence that is done to all of those who make up that community.

 

  • Between December 2017- December 2018, there were over 150 reported names on the list of sex workers killed across the world, submitted to SWOP;
  • According to Freedom for Immigrants, there were over 200 prisons and jails across the country that house immigrants awaiting trial;
  • Though underreported, violence against women of color by police is often swept under the rug a “nasty little secret.”

 

Criminalization and prohibition of sex work harms people and communities in much the same ways that these approaches do for drug use. For people who engage in sex work, the inability to contact law enforcement when victimized due to fear of arrest, prosecution, or harm can lead to death. Recent legislation like FOSTA and SESTA have made this worse by eliminating valuable harm reduction and safety resources for sex workers, and driving them to more dangerous street-based work. Sex worker advocacy groups are reporting troubling upticks in violence and death as a result.

Though it was two months ago, we are reminded of the themes present during the 12th National Harm Reduction Conference (HRC). The wave of solidarity among marginalized groups took over the conference, forcing the conversation on the ways in which the Harm Reduction movement has pushed voices to the fringe. What we have learned at the conference changed the way in which we organize and learn with those who have been doing this work for years. The approach moving forward is clear. We stand in solidarity with our comrades in the sex worker community on this year's International End Violence Against Sex Workers Day, and everyday to demand an end to the criminalization of sex work.

 

For more information on how to get involved in our Health and Harm Reduction work in Connecticut, contact Kenyatta Thompson at (860) 937-6094, or kthompson@katalcenter.org, and in New York, contact Cedric Fulton at cfulton@katalcenter.org.


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