About December 17

In the spirit of remembrance and healing, the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-USA) and SWOP chapters from around the United States wish to join sex worker allies and advocates from around the world in recognizing December 17, the International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. As we approach this day, we seek to come together to remember those who we have lost this year, and renew our commitment in the on-going struggle for empowerment, visibility, and rights for all sex workers.

Violence against sex workers is an international concern which plays out on a daily basis, in all countries around the globe.

  • 23% of GLBT murder victims on the 2012 Anti-Violence Project report were killed while engaging in sex work.
  • Every 6.3 minutes, a woman is arrested for prostitution in the United States.
  • 839,300 individuals were arrested for prostitution in the US between 2001 and 2011.
  • In India, 70% of sex workers in a survey reported being beaten by the police and more than 80% had been arrested without evidence.
  • In Russia and Eastern Europe, 42 percent of sex workers reported physical violence from  the police and 36 percent being sexually assaulted by the police.
  •  In Russia, the Balkans, and Most Eastern European countries, less than 25% of sex workers believe they can report assault to the police.
  • The homicide rate for female sex workers is estimated to be 204 per 100,000, according to a longitudinal study published in 2004. This constitutes a higher occupational mortality rate than any other group of women ever studied.
  • A study of New York Street-Based Sex Workers reported that 80% of participants had reported experiencing violence, including 27% at the hands of police.
  • In a report on violence against sex workers in India, 70% had reported abuse by police, and 80% had been arrested without evidence
  • In the past three years, 14 sex workers were murdered in the Dominican Republic.
  • In El Salvador, a single organization has registered the murder of 27 sex workers in the past three years.
  • In Honduras, 16 sex workers were murdered between September 2013 and April 2014.

The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was originally developed by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and SWOP founder Robyn Few to shine a spotlight on the epidemic of violence against sex workers happening globally. SWOP-USA began commemorating the Day as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, who murdered at least 71 women, most of whom were sex workers from 1982 to 1998.

During the week of December 17th sex worker rights organizations around the world stage actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers. These events also often address issues relating to stigma and discrimination that allows violence against sex workers to occur with impunity. We seek to raise awareness about the barriers faced when attempting to report violence, and promote empowerment and change what has become an unacceptable status quo.

Last year’s events included:

  • SWOP-NYC organized a forum on December 10th to explore the connections between sex workers rights and human rights on International Human Rights Day. This was followed later in the week by a candle-light vigil in the Metropolitan Community Church to memorialize those who we have lost to violence in the past year.
  • SWOP-USA organized a national protest to spotlight the death of Marcia Powell, a sex worker who passed away due to the inhumane treatment and conditions she suffered while incarcerated in Arizona.
  • The Sex Workers Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN) released the report Arrest the Violence, which detailed violence against sex workers in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Hong Kong-based group Zi Teng staged a mourning ceremony to remember the lives of six workers who had been murdered in Hong Kong in 2009. The ceremony closed with a march to police headquarters to protest the abuse and disregard faced by sex workers.

Every year, we push to make International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers become more firmly established as part of the human rights canon. We hope to take time this year to think about the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, colleagues, and allies who we have lost this year to violence. Please join us in our work to access rights, fight violence, and end silence which sex workers face every day.