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.
But it's not just that criminalizing prostitution makes it harder for sex workers to find protection or justice from police. "Arrest and prison are a form of violence," notes an infographic circulating widely on social media today.
Check out #IDEVASW for more on today's events and activism. For more arguments in favor of decriminalizing both the buying and selling of sex, see:
• Legalize Prostitution to Fight Sex Trafficking? Sex Workers Say "Yes"
• Former Sex Worker & Activist Maggie McNeill on Why We Should Decriminalize Prostitution
• Punishing Prostitution Clients Is Not a Feminist Solution
• Sex Slaves and the Surveillance State
• Lets Not Import Canada's Sex Work Bill