Happy International Whores' Day! Celebrating the Birth of the Sex Worker Rights Movement

Eugène Atget/WikimediaEugène Atget/WikimediaToday is "International Whores' Day," a day commemorating the 1975 occupation of the Church of St. Nizierof in Lyon, France, by more than 100 prostitutes. The event is considered to be the birth of the modern sex workers' rights movement. 

Here's a good summary of the sit-in from the blog Prized and Reviled:  

On the 2nd of June in 1975, around 100 street-based sex workers decided they'd had a gutful of police being more interested in harassing and arresting them, than in solving murders and other crimes committed against them. They took over a church and staged a sit-in, in protest.

As the days wore on, the police became more and more impatient. Instead of attempting to negotiate with the sex workers and resolve their issues, the police just threatened them with increasingly harsh penalties. When the protesters still showed no sign of backing down after a full week in the church, the police announced that they were going to have the sex workers' children removed from their homes.

This cruel threat outraged the women of Lyon, who promptly walked into the church and joined the sex workers in solidarity. If you're going to remove the sex workers' children, the women said, then you're going to have to remove ALL our children-because how can you tell the difference between one mother and the next?

So, that's awesome, right? Only sadly, after a few days, police did what they do and busted in with some batons. The protest ended with the women being arrested and beaten. But many of the Lyon sex workers had their fines written off; legit police investigations into unsolved sex worker murders were launched; and the event sparked similar protests in Marseilles and Paris. 

Maggie McNeill of The Honest Courtesan explains the significance of International Whores' Day to the sex worker community: 

As I’ve explained before, there are three major days observed by sex worker rights activists: the Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers (December 17th, the anniversary of the 2003 sentencing of the Green River Killer); Sex Worker Rights Day (March 3rd, the anniversary of a 2001 festival in Kolkata attended by over 25,000 Indian sex workers despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it by pressuring the government to revoke their permit); and today, Whores’ Day. ... In a very real sense, today is the birthday of the sex worker rights movement; though Margo St. James had already founded [sex worker rights organization] COYOTE two years before, the French protests were the first ones large and vociferous enough to gain media attention, and led to the formation of the French Collective of Prostitutes (which in turn inspired the founding of the English Collective of Prostitutes and a number of other, similar organizations). And had its growth not been stunted by the unwelcome arrival of AIDS (and its attendant demonization of anything sex-related), decriminalization might very well have been the rule among advanced countries by now rather than the exception.

For a brief time, St. James and sex workers' rights activists were able to win support from mainstream feminists, including the National Organization for Women. That didn't last for long (though I'd argue younger feminists today are trending back toward supporting sex work decriminalization). In a paper comparing French prostitute protest movements in 1975 and 2002, sociologist Lilian Mathieu notes that the earlier protest movement "immediately garnered broad support from the feminist movement." In its later incarnation, however:

Not only did a majority of feminists refuse to support the prostitutes’ cause on the second occasion, but the focus of debate shifted from challenging police repression to a controversial debate about the very existence of prostitution itself, and about the legitimacy of the people who practice this "profession" to enter as such in public debate.

These days, McNeill writes, "the most outspoken and effective activism in the world is being done by the sex workers in ... India, Bangladesh, Korea, Cambodia and Thailand," as well as in African countries such as Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I only celebrate Municipal Whores' Day. I prefer to keep my dollar local.

  • Brandon||

    Me too. Fortunately, your mom happens to live in my municipality.

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    Locawhorism?

  • GILMORE||

    No, that's something that only affects Latino women.

    (runs and hides)

  • Calidissident||

    Fortunately for you, Latino women don't exist so you should be safe.

  • GILMORE||

    you going to get picky with me? "Latina"? You got me, i failed 8th grade spanish and took actual Latin instead. i bet you feel really encultured now. You must be a big hit at the local taco truck.

  • kibby||

    Even with just Latin you ought to know that. For shame, GILMORE, for shame!

  • Calidissident||

    Si señor, todas las mujeres en la taqueria estan enamoradas de mi.

  • GILMORE||

    With those kinds of language skills you'll make a fantastic Head Dishwasher.

  • Brian||

    We have to be precise. After all, it does effect wise Latinas.

  • politicsbyothermeans||

    Clearly you've never been to Carnivale.

  • GILMORE||

    and by "Local" he means the back room of his local Vietnamese massage parlor.

    Speaking of which, who else here can boast of the fact that they have lived on a block/corner that was home to genuine old-school street-walking whores for over a decade?+

    (now defunct, gladly for all involved i think) Blame Gentrification!

    Sadly, i do not think they'd win many points for the SCREW AMERICAN!-types here. They were a) all central-american and b) old, probably heroin addicts, and sad beyond comprehension, and c) catered exclusively (AFAIK) to gross, shlubby Hasidic men in minivans. Probably also cops. Because police cruised the block regularly but never once took anyone into custody in 15 years.

    They were horrible and depressing, frankly. I do not miss them much except for the awful, despicable, rent-raising hipsters that replaced them.

  • fish||

    So, that's awesome, right? Only sadly, after a few days, police did what they do and busted in with some batons. The protest ended with the women being arrested and beaten.

    Someone remind me again why we need the "fat blue line" to stand between us and chaos!?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Because without the cops anybody could just break into your home, steal your stuff, and shoot you. Or they could gang up and beat you to death on the street, or chase you on the highway shoot you 100+ times in your car.

  • Brandon||

    arrested and beaten.

    Probably in that order, too. If they tried to beat them first, they might've gotten scratched.

  • waffles||

    Legalize it!

  • paranoid android||

    I think I'll celebrate with a white Russian.

  • fish||

    Raciss......

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    There should totally be a drink called a "White Hispanic". I guess there'd have to be such a thing as a Libertarian Bar.

  • GamerFromJump||

    Tequila with one finger of vodka, garnish with pitted black olive.

  • Rich||

    My pharmacy didn't have any cards, and neither did the Whoremark store. 8-(

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Says here that the prostitutes sat in at the church "with the cooperation of the priest," but that "cops tricked the priest into unlocking a door which they then forced open."

    http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.....-movement/

    This suggests to me that the bishop had overruled the priest about the use of Church property, but it doesn't say what role the Church authorities (apart from the priest himself) played.

    Wouldn't this be fairly significant in deciding whether the demonstrators were respecting property rights?

  • B.P.||

    How does one stage a protest against the cops by taking over a third-party's property? This is like getting pissed off at al Qaeda and invading Iraq.

    Or, if the priest really did consent, how can invading a property with consent of the tenant be considered an act of civil disobedience?

    Stupid whores...

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    OK, so it is officially acceptable to use the term "Whore" hear now. Especially now that ENB used it.

    Good. One of the Peanut Gallery does not like the term.

  • GILMORE||

    So what?

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    I mean, I don't think it's appropriate to use in all settings, but as a cheeky/non-judgmental sort of thing...

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