US – National Press Release

National Contact:
Sex Workers Outreach Project, USA
Katherine Koster, Communications Director – Global December 17th Coordinator
[email protected]

160+ Sex Workers Murdered in 2015

Global conferences, vigils, film-screenings, protests, marches and die-ins planned on December 17th to Combat Violence Against Sex Workers

[FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE]– On December 17, over 20 U.S. cities and 55 cities globally will hold events in recognition of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers [December 17th]. Events include conferences in Seattle, Barcelona, Spain and Ankara, Turkey, demonstrations at government buildings in Vancouver, Canada, Toulouse, France, Oakland, Newark, Austin and San Antonio, a photo campaign of African sex workers, allies and human rights defenders,  and candle-lit vigils in Minneapolis, Lautoka, Fiji, and Goldcoast, Australia. Events aim to raise indignation at violence against sex workers and strengthen response to systematic, daily violence and exclusion sex workers experience. (For additional event information, see the December 17th Map)

The event began in 2003 around the sentencing of Gary Ridgway. Also known as the “Green River Killer,” Ridgway murdered over 70 women, mostly sex workers, with impunity over a span of more than two decades. Ridgway mentioned he targeted the community “because I thought I could kill as many as I wanted without getting caught.”

According to SWOP-USA, over 160 sex workers were murdered in 2015. The largest number of homicides–41–occurred in the United States. 12 of 41 sex workers murdered in the United States were trans women (29% of sex worker homicides), and 11 were trans women of color. Female sex workers in the United States are murdered at 17.7 times the national murder rate of cis women, (Source) and transgender sex workers are more likely to experience violence than cisgender sex workers. (Source).

Sex workers who were lost to violence this year include:

Globally, sex workers experience disproportionate violence and unique barriers in accessing criminal justice support:

  • Sex workers experience high levels of sexual violence. Globally, sex workers have a 45 to 75% chance of experiencing sexual violence at some point in their careers and a 32 to 55% chance of experiencing sexual violence in a given year.

  • Sex workers comprised 8% of female North California Planned Parenthood Clinic clients between 16-27, and they were 5 times as likely to have experienced unwanted sex than non-sex workers.

  • 1 in 5 sexual assault police reports from an urban, North American emergency room were filed by sex workers. Sex workers were younger, poorer and suffered a greater number of injuries than other victims.

  • 65% of transgender individuals murdered globally were sex workers, according to Transgender Europe. According to a recent report on trans sex workers in the United States, 53.8% of incarcerated trans sex workers reported sexual assault from other prisoners and 52.6% reported sexual assault from officers and staff, twice the rate of transgender individuals who were not sex workers

  • Sexual assault against individuals engaged sex work (especially criminalized forms of sex work) in the United States is high. In Phoenix, AZ 37% of prostitution diversion program participants report being raped by a client, and 7.1% report being raped by a pimp. In Miami, FL, 34% of street-based sex workers reported violent encounters with clients in the past 90 days. In New York, 46% of indoor sex workers reported being forced to do something by a client that they did not want to do, and over 80% of street-based sex workers experienced violence.

  • Vulnerability to violence varies across contexts. Criminalization, insecure work environments, and broader contexts of extreme poverty and gender inequality are correlated with increased violence against sex workers (source).  Youth, homeless individuals, individuals who previously been arrested for prostitution, migrant sex workers, sex workers who use drugs, and street-based sex workers are especially at risk of violence.

  • In many states, sex workers are ineligible for rape victim compensation funds or receive reduced amounts. In some states, sex workers are not protected by rape shield laws.

  • Sex workers are especially vulnerable to police violence, as police officers can threaten victims with arrest or stage an arrest and sexually assault victims.  17% of sex workers interviewed in a New York study reported sexual harassment and abuse, including rape, by police. In a Chicago study, 30% of erotic dancers and 24% of street-based sex workers who had been raped identified a police officer as the rapist. Approximately 20 % of other acts of sexual violence reported by study participants were committed by the police.

Violence against sex workers and other marginalized groups is tied to criminalization. “As we saw throughout the Holtzclaw trial, criminalized populations–especially communities of color– do not view law enforcement or hospitals as safe institutions,’ Katherine Koster, SWOP-USA Communications Director and December 17th coordinator said. “They don’t seek support after victimization because they fear arrest or further abuse…which allows these serial predators to continue victimizing people with impunity. And it’s across the board: police threaten to arrest sex workers and other criminalized groups. Abusive managers and tell victims they will be arrested if they leave. Abusive intimate partners threaten to call sex workers’ schools or landlords or bring sex work up in family court. Criminalization makes marginalized communities–including sex workers–incredibly vulnerable.”

Criminalizing the clients of sex workers also result in displacement of street-based sex workers to more dangerous areas, make it more difficult for sex workers to access outreach services, result in sex workers working in isolation to avoid detection, and result in sex workers “rushing” conversations with clients to evade arrest, ultimately jeopardizing safety (Source) and increasing violence against sex workers. (Source).

“There is a word for when the government’s policies contribute to the killing of populations at such high rates — and that word is genocide,” remarked Savannah Sly, President of the Sex Workers Outreach Project’s Board of Directors, “We call on policymakers to address the conditions that allow such horrifying acts of violence to continue unabated, and insist on the inclusion of sex workers in the creation of new policies that will protect our various communities.”

More information about December 17th and worldwide events can be found at www.december17.org.

Infographics and fact sheets can be found here: December 17th Organizer Folder

Photographs from past December 17 events can be found here: December 17th Event Images

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