By Elizabeth Nolan Brown
December 17 is commemorated internationally in the sex worker community as a “Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers”—violence which activists say is rooted in prostitution’s criminalization.
The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-USA) organized the first such day 11 years ago, in response to the sentencing of “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgway. Ridgway murdered dozens of girls and women—mostly sex workers and runaways—in Washington state and California during the ’80s and ’90s. “Because of their work, the murders went largely uninvestigated, allowing Ridgeway’s violence to continue,” says SWOP-USA.
And because sex workers don’t view police or hospitals as safe, they tend to avoid seeking help following violent incidents, which also makes it harder for repeat perpetrators to be caught. “If you fear arrest, negotiating your personal safety becomes a secondary concern,” said Lindsay Roth, SWOP-USA’s Board Chair.