This speech was given by Jenny H at SWOP-Las Vegas’s 2013 International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Event
Every year on Dec 17th, we honor our sisters and brothers who have been victims of heinous hate crimes. The date is significant for sex workers and our allies—it was the day Gary Leon Ridgeway was finally convicted of murdering close to 100 sex workers over the course of 20 years. Indeed, Ridgeway—or the Green River Killer as he is known—is an extreme example of what happens when groups of people are culturally and socially dehumanized. As many of us know, Ridgeway eventually admitted that he killed sex workers because he “hated them” and because he knew “no one cared about them.” It’s really quite incredible to think about… the fact that someone can get away with murdering anywhere between 50 and 100 people without getting caught for 20 years. For me, this represents not only a devastating systemic apathy that prevents even the social justice system from protecting those most vulnerable, but the prevalence of the banality of evil. The banality of evil is the philosophical idea that ordinary individuals can be made to do heinous acts of violence because of pressures from the state or orders from the illusory “above.” Our current political and social environment encourages violence against sex workers by preventing them from accessing the most basic of human rights like protection under the law and fair representation. This juxtaposed with other portrayals of sex workers as less than human—in media and other forms of fictional entertainment—creates state sanctioned violence against sex workers. Furthermore, when people without any experience in the sex industry come to be the cultural mouthpieces for those of us in it, we add yet another layer of social dehumanization. Our political and social environment seems to consistently tell us that whores aren’t human and, furthermore, that sex worker’s protests of such sentiments need not be taken seriously.
As such, we gather here tonight to honor victims of violence against sex workers. We honor and remember our sisters and brothers who made their livings—and met their violent ends— in the sex industry. While each and every sex worker has her/his/their own complicated reasons for entering the sex industry, it is important we recognize the less complicated reasons why violence against sex workers prevails—it is not the result of commodification. Indeed, there are many aspects of our society that are commodified and non-violent. It is the result of the state sanctioned banality of evil. So please join me in remembering our sisters and brothers… some of whom we must remember as nameless or “unknown” because their identities are as illusive as their victimizers… and others who were friends, lovers, and family to some of us here in this room. We acknowledge them tonight for their beautifully complicated lives, their diverse experiences as human beings moving through the world, and to honor their new journeys through the universe. May they live on in our hearts and provide us with great strength and integrity as we stand up for human dignity and the right for all individuals to live lives free from violence.