The December 17 Memorial List

*Speech Read by Meg at Sex Workers Outreach Project-Chicago’s 2013 December 17 Event; includes text by Aslin, a friend of a victim in 2011.

Hi – my name’s Meg. I’m a board member at SWOP, and I also coordinated the list of memorial names that you’ll see in a moment.

Some of you have been to a December 17 Event in the past, but for those who haven’t, what you’ll see is a list of sex workers who were victims of violence this year.

There are 78 names on this year’s list. The list is incomplete. Many deaths remain unrecognized and unreported, and so this list only includes a fragment of those we lost this year. The list includes the names of  individuals who were shot. Who were beaten to death. Who were dismembered. It also includes the names of individuals who committed suicide or overdosed or died early of health complications. Physical violence isn’t the only form of violence our community faces, and we feel it’s important to recognize the impact of stigma, criminalization, and isolation on members of our community.

The list was compiled from newspaper and non-profit reports. It includes several members of our activist community. We lost Tracie, a former SWOP-Chicago board member and a close friend to many of us, this August. Beth, the former director of SWOP Boston chapter, committed suicide a few weeks later in September. And Petite Jasmine, a  board member of Rose Alliance in Sweden and someone many of us know as the fierce activist, bubbly person and barbiesque blonde we met at the International Aids Conference in 2012, was brutally murdered on July 2013. She lost custody of her children several years ago become she was a sex worker. The children were placed with their father regardless of him being abusive towards Jasmine, and a year after she lost custody, he killed her.

Another way that names were added to the list was through emails sent to SWOP-USA, from friends or family members of individual victims of violence. Many of these emails included personal stories. And so before the list is projected, I’d like to read one of those stories. I received this email a few hours ago. It’s from Aislin, a former dancer in Fort Wayne, Indiana

 

I am an exotic dancer, though at this time I don’t work because of the myriad issues surrounding that kind of work. I, like many of us, have heard of, and personally experienced the loss of fellow sex workers, and I’d like to take this time to ask you to please remember a friend of mine, Erin Justice, aka Tea (teh-yah). Erin was a sex worker from Ft. Wayne, IN, and a kind hearted, lovely young lady. She went missing in the June of 2011. Her body was found in July, in a lake 2 hours north of our town, having been tied with cement blocks at her arms and legs. The horror of that, I cannot begin to explain. I can’t properly express knowing that there would be no news coverage for this woman, this girl, someone’s daughter. The understanding that most of us have probably been in contact with the suspect (of course there was a suspect, who’d apparently done this very same thing 10 years before, but I have no way of confirming that). Erin had given me a pair of red shoes, which I left in the Virgin Islands after having been raped in the club I was working at there, as a memorial to her. 
I still think of her, everyday. We weren’t that close, but I knew her. I had touched her, smiled with her, laughed with her, had drinks with her. She gave me her shoes, told me how beautiful I was. When sex workers are co-workers, we are sisters. Her death came at a time that was important to my life as a woman and a sex worker, and I’d like to honour her memory, and bless the soul of those red shoes, which literally brought me luck every time I danced in them. I talked to Erin every single time I put them on my feet, and I just know she was there with me, is with me still, when I think of my darkest moments in this business that steals so much from us. One day, I’d like to do my part and get back into the clubs, start reaching out to my sisters, especially in places like Houston and Miami and Dallas, where I experienced and heard of some of the worst assaults and rapes, but also where I danced in my favourite clubs, met my favourite people, and learned so much. 


I was unaware that Dec. 17 was a day for this, until I happened across an article on Reddit, a few minutes ago. I haven’t been in a club in a long time, and I’m still working up to getting back into the business, because I genuinely want to invest my time and energy into making sex work a safe, sane, enjoyable, desirable path of choice, not force or the result of capitalism and patriarchy. Finding out about this organization has given me a lot of hope and if I can find out more about what I can do to be a part of it, please let me know. Thank you for your time, and for standing in solidarity with me as I remember our sister Erin Justice.
Lists are impersonal. But stories like this give meaning to the 78 names on the list. And emails like Aislin’s, for me at least, give hope in the power of coming together, supporting each-other, inspiring each other, and paying remembrance to those we’ve lost while renewing our commitment to fighting injustice. So, as we watch the list, let’s remember that each name represents dozens or hundreds of similar connections and stories, and each name represents a tremendous loss to hundreds of people. And let’s also recognize the tremendous resources we collectively have, and the strength and solidarity that exists in this room tonight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.