On 17th December each year, sex workers around the world mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The day is used to highlight the need for action to end violence against sex workers. The issues faced by sex workers often vary from region to region, due to different laws, social and cultural contexts, but one common issue faced by all sex workers is their vulnerability to and experience of violence.
Sex workers are vulnerable to violence because of the criminalisation and legal oppression of sex work, compounded by stigma and discrimination. This vulnerability to violence is increased for sex workers living with HIV, sex workers who use drugs, transgender sex workers, migrant sex workers, and sex workers that are part of other marginalised groups.
Around the world, NSWP member organisations marked the 20th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers with online events, in-person memorials, and collective actions to demand decriminalisation.
African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) released a statement on Facebook stating: “Today, on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, let's unite in the call for justice and rights for all women! No one should face violence or discrimination because of their occupation. It's time to recognize that decriminalization is the path forward.”
In South Africa, Biko Sivanandamide Harm Reduction Institure – SHRI presented a pop-up gallery in Raisethorpe , Pietermaritzburg. The exhibition showcased art depicting the struggle of key populations in local South African townships, under the prohibition regime.
Asia and the Pacific
In Indonesia, OPSI (Organisasi Perubahan Sosial Indonesia) commemorated the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers with the launch of a new book titled "The Sex Workers' Struggle Against Violence". The book is written by sex workers directly recounting their struggles in the twists and turns of life carrying out their work as sex workers amidst the onslaught of stigma and discrimination. OPSI hope that this book will inspire the sex worker community and show that we are not alone in our struggle.
In France, Association Grisélidis in Toulouse organised a demonstration on Thursday 14th December against violences against sex workers. The demonstration took place at 18h30 on Métro Jean Jaurès, Toulouse.
In North Macedonia, STAR - The First Sex Workers Collective in the Balkans, commemorated the day alongside HOPS – Healthy Options Skopje, dedicating this year’s campaign to the ultimate justice for sex workers following the European Court for Human Rights’ ruling on D.H. and Others vs. North Macedonia.
Explaining more, STAR said: “This year, we will be proudly marching in the streets, pointing out that while it may be slow, justice does exist and can be eventually served. For this reason, we have chosen the “5353 Days to Justice” slogan for this year’s campaign, with which we wish to send a message to the public and the institutions that all rights should be respected, especially those of vulnerable groups of citizen. Sex workers have been waiting for justice for 15 years and have won a victory of considerable significance for all sex workers in the country, and throughout Europe. More about the campaign we have written on our website: https://starsexwork.org/en/december-17th-the-international-day-to-end-violence-against-sex-workers-2023/”
STAR also held the 16th RED UMBRELLA MARCH on 15th December starting at 12:00h, in the center of Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia.
“Physical attacks, psychological violence, even murders, continue to afflict sex workers every day round the world, but no effective actions have been taken to prevent it. Violence against sex workers, especially of migrant sex workers, street-based and transgender, are commonplace.
Sex workers and allies across Europe demand the recognition of labour and migration rights as a way to combat stigma and violence against sex workers.
WHAT IS VIOLENCE AGAINST SEX WORKERS
▪ Stigma and discrimination
▪ State violence
▪ Lack of security
▪ Criminalization by law
▪ Criminalization of clients
▪ Exclusion at decision forums
The violence, stigma and repression sex workers experience isolate them and increase their vulnerability. Sex workers are everywhere, yet no one sees them, except when they serve as pawns to be played in the public debate to justify repressive laws or actions to “protect” them.
Join us, listen to sex workers, stand up to demand an end of ALL forms of violence against sex workers!”
In the United Kingdom, National Ugly Mugs held an event at the London LGBTQ+ Centre and Crossbones Graveyard. The event, open to sex workers and allies who support sex workers' rights to autonomy, self-determination, protection, and a life free from violence - on their terms, ran from 10.30am to 1.30pm on Sunday 17th December 2023. Attendees were invited to arrive at the London LGBTQ+ Centre where tea and coffee were available, as well as craft stations. Attendees then walked from the LGBTQ+ Centre to Crossbones Graveyard where the names of the known sex workers lost to violence were read aloud.
In Belgium, UTSOPI ran a programme of events on the 15th of December. Espace P and UTSOPI invited sex workers and partner organisations to participate in an afternoon divided into three parts:
- Sex work and exploitation, film screening and workshops. Screening of videos and workshops on the difference between exploitation and sex work, in French.
The videos were followed by discussions with associations and individuals who have experienced these situations first hand. The videos were fully written and produced by sex workers.
- Memorial march to denounce violence against sex workers and pay tribute to sex workers who have been victims of violence, in Belgium and around the world.
- Performances and texts by sex workers at UTSOPI's HQ.
The day ended with drinks at UTSOPI headquarters where sex workers shared texts and personal testimonies to give insight into the continuum of violence they face: symbolic, structural and intra-community abuse, the threat of outing, shaming and so on.
PLAPERTS, the Latin American Regional Network, released a statement on social media that read:
"¡Las personas trabajadoras sexuales merecen vidas libres de violencia!
La violencia contra las personas trabajadoras sexuales se caracteriza por la discriminación, la estigmatización y la criminalización de su trabajo. Este es un trabajo como cualquier otro y debe ser reconocido, respetado, regulado y dotado de #DerechosHumanos y laborales.
Esta fecha fue instituida en 2003 por la Red Mundial de Trabajadoras Sexuales (NSWR) para visibilizar y denunciar la violencia que sufren las mujeres que ejercen en la industria del sexo.
Este día nace a raíz de los crímenes violentos que ocurrieron en la ciudad de Seattle entre los años ochenta y noventa, y que fueron perpetrados por el "el asesino de Green River", quien asesinó a 49 trabajadoras sexuales.
Sex workers deserve lives free from violence! ✊
Violence against sex workers is characterised by discrimination, stigmatisation and criminalisation of their work. This is a job like any other and should be recognised, respected, regulated and provided with #HumanRights and labour rights.
This date was established in 2003 by the Global Network of Sex Workers (NSWR) to make visible and denounce the violence suffered by women who work in the sex industry.
This day was born out of the violent crimes that occurred in the city of Seattle between the 1980s and 1990s, perpetrated by the "Green River Killer", who murdered 49 sex workers."
North America and the Caribbean
In Nova Scotia, Canada, Stepping Stone Association hosted a private, in-house tribute and memorial service which was attended by members only. Explaining why it’s important to commemorate the day in this way, Stepping Stone said: “We have had some members ask, "What is this day about?" Because of this question, we find it important to educate those within our sex worker community who do not know. We will be presenting a slide show which will explain how and why this call to action came to be, and also will feature bios on Annie Sprinkle and Robyn Few.”
Elsewhere in Canada, on the island of Newfoundland, Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) held a community care day with their local legal rights based organisation The Journey Project on Tuesday December 12th. They also distributed care packages, had food together and created a space for folks to come inside, get warm and receive resources. SHOP also collaborated with a local tattoo artist who made a flash art sheet with proceeds going to SHOP’s program and a day of tattooing these tattoos with proceeds going back to SHOP. You can follow the tattooer on instagram @maddipoking and SHOP's social media is @sexworkoutreach.
In Montreal, Canada, Stella, l’amie de Maimie marked the day with an event launching their new podcast. Featuring an opening ceremony with Indigenous Sex Work & Art Collective, the event also had words from ASTTeQ, CATS, Rezo and Stella. The podcast, titled “Nous sommes toujours la” is a unique and extraordinary podcast that brings together the stories of sex workers who worked in Montreal between 1970 and 2000.
In the United States, New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance held a free online December 17th event. The webinar was called “Sex Workers Speak: Identifying and Ending Violence Against Us”. It included speakers from the Black Sex Worker Collective, Best Practices Policy Project, and Project Safe.
Also in the United States, COYOTE RI held a virtual event which included their 2023 Memorial Video and speakers including Bella Robinson, Executive Director of “Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics” (COYOTE RI); Blair Hopkins, Executive Director of SWOP Behind Bars (SBB); and Kayla Katt, Creator of COYOTE’s Sex Worker Storytelling Podcast.
“Current anti-prostitution laws encourage violent predators to target our community because they know that our illegal status deters us from reporting to law enforcement”, said Bella Robinson COYOTE RI. This is why we are trying to pass HB6064; legislation that allows anyone reporting a serious crime (such as sexual assault, trafficking, robbery, domestic violence, or other violent crime) to do so without being arrested with a misdemeanor prostitution/massage without a license charge. But similar laws are needed in other States and at the Federal level”. Learn more with our Immunity Tool Kit & Storytelling Bank
“Ultimately, we demand decriminalization of our occupation to respect our human rights and dignity, protect us against violence and abuse, and improve our access to justice,” said Maxine Doogan of ESPLERP. “Decriminalization of sex work (for both sex workers and their clients) is supported by a long list of reputable international organizations including Amnesty International, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, and the World Health Organization. It is about time the US protected all its citizens”.
Elsewhere in the United States, Red Light District by TW!O hosted a night of solidarity in Atlanta, Georgia, to honour lives lost. This was an intimate gathering for sex workers and allies to honour and remember lives lost to violence.