Sunday, December 17th marks the 14th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Citizens around the world will come together in solidarity to acknowledge those lost.
In Philadelphia a remembrance ceremony organized by M. Dante, Eris Vayle, and Anita DeFrancesco will be held on that date from 3-5 p.m. at the Thomas Paine Plaza, 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd. across from City Hall. The ceremony will feature a series of speakers and include a reading of the names of individuals who have been killed while engaging in sex work. Textile artist and ally Kelly Eileen is creating a larger than life fabric puppet in the style of Vietnam-era political theater representing the collective voice of those who are unable to share their stories.
“Community working together works!” Is the motto of Melanie Dante, EPSU-Philly / SWOP Behind Bars, and D/17 co-organizer, adding that the event is intended to engage the community. “We hope we are making a positive difference,” she says. “We hope we can help heal the spiritual wounds left behind in our shared communities, help get cold cases solved or at least help create closure, and lessen, if not eliminate, the gratuitous serial violence and murder.” Ms. Dante herself was a transient teen and young adult living at street level for over 10 years.
All who work in the sex industry, be they women, men, or transgendered individuals, live with the threat of physical violence. Many have been assaulted by their clients and some have been killed.
In other instances, sex workers have been threatened or assaulted by law enforcement officers. In a survey of New York street-based prostitutes for a study compiled by Katherine Koster for SWOP Chicago, 80 percent of the respondents indicated they had been a victim of violence. While many were attacked by clients or pimps, 27 percent of the respondents reported that the perpetrators of the violence were in fact law enforcement officers.
And when a sex worker is the victim of a crime, they often find the wheels of justice turn slowly. Bella Robinson is based in Rhode Island where she oversees the COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) organization which supports those who work in the sex industry and assists those seeking to leave it. One of Robinson’s chief concerns is the attitude of those who contend that sex workers who are assaulted or killed are somehow responsible for their fate.
There are signs that D/17 is making an impact, that the public perception of sex workers is evolving. Derek Demeri is a co-founder of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance (NJRUA), which champions the cause of sex workers in that state. “As long as criminalization remains the law of the land, people in the trade will continue to die with impunity. As we close 2017, we look for a brighter future where these deaths no longer need to happen.”
That’s a mindset that Sprinkle would embrace. “Creating the first D/17 event was a group effort,” she says, “with Robin Few, Kimberley Klein, Michael Fowley, and myself. I am so very pleased that it is continuing.”
For more information please see: http://www.dec17philly.com
Facebook to RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1742798332428475/