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International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, first celebrated by Annie Sprinkle and the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA in 2003 as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle. Over the past fourteen years, it has grown into a global, annual event recognizing the lives of sex workers lost to violence across the world, and calling for an end to sex work related stigma and discrimination.

Over the past several months, the issue of workplace sexual violence has risen to the forefront of the conversation in the United States and beyond, driven forward by Tarana Burke’s #metoo movement. Lacking from many of these media conversations, however, has been the ongoing disproportionate violence experienced by sex workers both inside and outside of their workplace environments. For many sex workers, the biggest harms and risks of violence involved with the sex trade are often directly related to stigma, discrimination, and criminalization.

As the graphic above from the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project (SWOP) demonstrates, not only are sex workers less likely to be believed when they come forward to report battery and assault than their non-sex working counterparts – they are also more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted, as well as discriminated against, by law enforcement. Less than a month ago in Flushing, Queens, New York, a 38-year-old woman died after sustaining injuries falling from a third-story window fleeing an NYPD investigation of a massage parlor. Criminalization and stigma feed each other, and contribute to the cycle of violence experienced by those who participate in the sex trade.

As holds true for people who use drugs, this issue does not affect all sex workers equally – sex workers of color, trans identified sex workers, and sex workers with little financial means are the most punitively impacted. According to SWOP, 42% of the sex workers killed in 2016 have been black, and 48% of that number have been trans* women. At Harm Reduction Coalition, we are dedicated to creating dialogue and action to heal the harms of these inequities, because true harm reduction does not ignore or dismiss the ongoing realities of social inequalities created by white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.

As sexual violence continues to feature in our national and international conversations, Harm Reduction Coalition urges you to call out language that discriminates against sex workers, or excludes the violence that they experience. As we continue to believe survivors, we encourage folks to believe all survivors – even and especially the most marginalized and stigmatized.

This December 17th, Harm Reduction Coalition staff urges you to donate to SWOP USA, Red Umbrella Project, or HIPS in Washington D.C., all organizations seeking to advance the health and dignity of sex workers.

In New York City, Harm Reduction Coalition’s Capacity Building Manager East, Kacey Byczek, will be attending an afternoon rally for Yang Song in Flushing, Queens, an evening vigil in Transmitter Park, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and providing free overdose prevention trainings at Benefit Ball for G.L.I.T.S. (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society) at Brooklyn Bazaar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

In Oakland, CA, we encourage people to attend a potluck and presentation co-organized by ESPU, SWOP Bay, and the PROS Collective.

If you are in neither of the above cities, please go to december17.org for a full list of vigils and other events nationally and internationally.

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