December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

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 sex industry.

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 whore.

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.

— Daisy Anarchy, I deserve to be safe

Remember. Mourn. Act.

2 replies to December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. freeman

    Nice post. I didn’t know about the significance of today, and I also was unaware of Alternatives for Girls. I’ll have to donate some money to them once I get all my holiday checks cashed.

    While reading your post, I also noticed you mention that Alternatives for Girls was “near here in Detroit”, which made me realize that you are a Michigander. I then read your “about” page and discovered that we live in the same town! Unfortunately, I’m moving this week from Ypsi to the northern suburbs of Detroit (blah).

    Anyways, best wishes to you and keep up the good work!

  2. Aster

    Well, thank you for writing this. I appreciate greatly your taking a stand on clear libertarian principle, against both private violence and the violence of the state. I am especially grateful to see you take a stand demanding respect for prostitutes. As someone who strongly shares your view that the libertarian movement needs to take an expansive notion of liberty and oppose cultural forms of oppression and dehumanization, I think this is at least as crucial as taking stances against unjust legislation.

    As a member of SWOP, and an advocate not only for sex worker rights but for a liberatory conception of sex work itself, I do have strong differences with you. I personally have had mixed experiences in sex work (the worst has been facing dscrimination from property owners as potential landlords), but overall prostitution has beeen an enormously positive influence in my life, and I believe the horrific conditions in sex work you note above to be both atypical and primarily distortive products of state and societal persecution of the sex industry, not aspects of sex work itself.

    I’m proud of what I do and know many women in the Life who feel similarly. Actually, there is simply an enormous variety in how prostitutes feel towards their work, and an immense variety of experiences within prostitution. Personally, I think there is much exploitation in prostitution and of prostitution, but I find the notion that prostitution itself is exploitive simply untrue to my own experience and to the logic of human action; sexuality has always been one of the celebrated sources of human happiness and will remain valuable long after heirarchy and patriarchy have returned to dust. I personally find prostitution both the best available practical alternative in life and deeply personally meaningful.

    That said, I think this is one of the few cases where I would agree with right-libertarians that questions of value can be left aside in the context of a free society. Normally, I don’t agree with this approach— because what right-libertarians usually mean is that they can’t wait to use social authority as men, landlords, parents, or employers to achieve what the state could not. But precisely because you are one of the few libertarians to oppose social oppression as well as the political kind, I feel I may simply thank you for your politics and leave the differences at that. In a free society- free in every sense of the word- I would simply practise as I wish. I do not believe you would wish me to abandon a vocation that has brought me much happiness in life, and I don’t believe in a world free of statism and patriarchy anyone would be able to stop me.

    my regards,

    Lady Aster

    P.S. I know Daisy, and I think she is a wonderful spirit despite some disagreements (she supports political action to outlaw some forms of sex work she percieves as exploitive, against the desires of some other sex workers). Daisy came to SWOP’s San Francisco vigil for End Violence Against Sex Workers and protested it. I am glad to see her poem quoted above- especially as she herself has been retributively targeted by the state in a simply unconscionable way.

    Incidentally, when I spoke at the vigil I made the same point you made about state violence at the same vigil… these kind of anti-violence events can be very easily coopted by our state ‘protectors’ who in fact enforce and maintain violence of the most systematic kind, as well as an atmosphere conducive to private violence.

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