We identify with all women. We define our best interest as that of the poorest, most brutally exploited women. —Redstockings Manifesto (1969)
December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The commemoration began from the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project’s memorial and vigil for the victims of the Gary Ridgway, the
Green River Killer. Since then its purpose has expanded to a memorial for, and protest against, all forms of violence against women in prostitution and elsewhere in the
I’m opposed to prostitution as an industry, on radical feminist grounds. I frankly have very deep and sharp differences with the organizers of the event, and I’m iffy at best towards the rhetorical framework of
sex work as a whole, for reasons that are way beyond the point of this post). But so what? The day is an important one no matter what differences I may have with the organizers. Real steps towards ending the ongoing daily violence against women in prostitution and elsewhere in the
sex industry are more important than that; here as much as anywhere — probably more than anywhere else — women’s lives are at stake.
Women in prostitution, especially, have always been the first to suffer and the last to be protected from the very worst forms of men’s intimidation of, harassment of, scorn for, and violence against women. They have been the first and most common victims of almost every serial rapist-murderer, from the eleven women mutilated and murdered by Jack the Ripper to the 48 or more women raped and murdered by Ridgway. But the most lurid and well-known cases are only the purest expressions of the hatred, terror, and violence that pervades our culture and that all too many women in prostitution face every minute of every working day of their life. They are spat upon, robbed, raped, attacked, ignored, and left to die by the men who hold power — as pimps, as johns, as opportunistic cops, and as sanctimonious politicians. A serious commitment to freedom for, and an end to violence against, women means a serious commitment to end violence against women in the
sex industry. All of it. Now and forever.
That means fighting back against rape and assault, no matter who the victim is or how she puts food on the table.
That means resisting sexist contempt against women in the
sex industry. And its hideous offspring, the killing cruelty of malign neglect when women in prostitution are attacked, robbed, raped, or killed.
That means going to the streets and helping women in prostitution — with food, with money, with legal aid, with emotional support, with condoms, with transportation, with referrals to clinics and shelters if they need it. For exactly the same reasons that we help any other women at risk of battery or rape. It means options and hope.
That means stopping pimps who beat and rape and steal.
It means stopping johns who believe that their money buys a woman’s body and gives them the right to do anything they want to her, whether she agrees or not.
It means stopping cops and prosecutors who respond to these crimes with a shrug of indifference or a sneer of
And ending violence against women in prostitution also means ending State violence against women in prostitution. All of it. Law enforcement comes from the barrel of a gun, and criminalizing women in prostitution means authorizing cops to attack them. Ending violence against women means decriminalization of prostitution; it means an end to cops, guns, clubs, cuffs, jail for women who are just trying to get by in peace. It means an end to the misogynist audacity of conservative pols who use violence against women in prostitution as one of the primary excuses for attacking those women with the sword of the Law. If you want someone to go after, there are plenty of abusive pimps and johns and traffickers out there to go after. Please. For the love of God.
And while statements are important, it also means more than making statements. Today I contributed $50.00 to Alternatives for Girls, a nonprofit near here in Detroit, which (besides a lot of other worthwhile projects) runs a life-saving Street Outreach Project aimed at homeless women and women in prostitution. The Street Outreach Project uses a van as a mobile base, and sends teams through the streets of southwest Detroit and the Cass Corridor offering food, clothing, and shelter, along with HIV prevention materials, crisis intervention, rides for medical services, and referrals. They also organize support groups, activities, and case management services. I hope that you’ll do something similar — if you want to contribute to Alternatives for Girls specifically, you can contribute money, donate items from their wishlist, or volunteer.
For New Yorkers, the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center provides legal aid, legal training, and documentation for women in prostitution, whether by choice, circumstances, or coercion. You can help them out with a monetary donation.
If you know of other projects that provide direct safety or legal aid services in other towns, please feel free to add links to them in the comments.
May we all live free
in the glory and joy of life
that every human being deserves.
Remember. Mourn. Act.