Tomorrow, December 17, community members will hold a vigil in Northwest D.C. to commemorate the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Cities and towns around the world will be marking this event, which started in 2003, when sex workers, family members and allies gathered for the sentencing of Gary Ridgeway, the so-called Green River Killer. Ridgeway confessed to murdering over 70 women in Washington, many of them sex workers. He said of his victims: “I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
Behind Ridgeway’s abhorrent statement is a recognition of a social attitudes that are widespread: that sex workers, people who trade sexual services for money or other things of value, are immoral criminals, who choose to put themselves in harm’s way, and deserve what they get. Indeed, even here in D.C., which generally strives to value the most vulnerable, sex workers have recounted their negative experiences reporting violence to the police. “They think you are the person doing the crime,” a sex worker told researchers in 2007 for the Move Along report, describing how police responded when he asked them for help. Another community member said of police and community reactions when a person suspected of being a sex worker is hurt or murdered: “They was out there tricking, so they were asking for it.” This research found that in D.C. when sex workers (or those assumed to be such) asked the police for help after being targeted for violence or other crimes, they only had a 50% chance of receiving a positive reaction from law enforcement.
Such challenges continue to this day, as recently reported in the Washington Post. The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is an effort to combat the stigma and discrimination facing people who deserve to have their human rights respected, no matter how they earn money. It is particularly a challenge for already marginalized communities, like transgender women of color, who are both more likely to engage in commercial sex and more likely to be profiled as such, according to another study, Access Denied, published by the D.C. Trans Coalition in 2015. More than half of transgender women of color respondents had engaged in trading sex for money, and they disproportionately reported experiencing physical and sexual assault.
To lend support to this movement to end violence and stigma against sex workers, the D.C. Council on December 6 passed the “International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Recognition Resolution.” Councilmember Grosso will present this resolution on behalf of the Council on December 17 at the D.C. event. It continues Grosso’s commitment to advancing human rights, including his support for Amnesty International’s call last year to decriminalize sex work in order to promote human rights and end violence.