Love & Sex

Why We Celebrate International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers

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The 11th annual celebration marks a day to underline a social oversight.

Photograph by Chris Arnade

The above photograph, taken by Chris Arnade and posted today on Reddit, portrays two sex workers gazing up at the sky through a telescope. The image is striking in the way that it is both ordinary and humanizing. Arnade's caption reads, "I have forgotten how wonderful it can be to show someone the rings of Saturn for the first time. Or the craters in the moon. I had my telescope in my car and Takeesha and Deja had seen neither." The tacit message behind the photo is that these aren't victims. These aren't even just sex workers. These are people.

That's the idea behind International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, which celebrates its 11th year today. Organized by feminist porn star Annie Sprinkle and Sex Workers Outreach Project, December 17th is a day to remember those we have lost this year and recognize the struggle for empowerment and rights for sex workers globally. Among these workers are victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle Washington, who took the lives of almost 80 women in the early 1980s, namely prostitutes. Vigils will be held in New York, Los Angeles, and around the world today. The day is a push for greater visibility and rights for those that choose to become or find themselves pressed to become sex workers. If banning sex work does nothing to advocate for its workers or to encourage reports of sexual violence, then safer standards and laws will.

Though prostitution is often jokingly referred to as the oldest profession, the stigma of sex work is alive and well in 2013. Just earlier this month, when Rasheen Everett was sentenced to 29 years in prison for the murder of a transgender prostitute, his attorney had argued to the court, "Shouldn't that sentence be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?" Another report released last week by the Human Rights Watch said the criminalization of sex workers in Louisiana has only increased the state's HIV epidemic by discouraging workers from carrying condoms. In a lot of states, carrying condoms alone is enough to justify a prostitution arrest. These laws aren't only intimidating and dangerous to sex workers, but they threaten public health.

Sex workers aren't nameless, faceless victims as some courts and policies would suggest. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is here to repeat that mantra of normality – we're all just star gazers – until it's finally heard. 

Image via Flickr.