D/17 ARTICLE: Under The Red Umbrella

Under The Red Umbrella   

Contributed by an anonymous ally:

Monday, December 17, 2018 will mark the 15th annual observance of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. As people gather around the globe to celebrate the holidays, some mourn the loss of those close to them. In Philadelphia, the observance features two events. 12 PM – 4 PM  Thomas Paine Plaza and 7PM – 10PM Phila MOCA

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The first program will be 12 noon until 4 p.m. at Thomas Paine Plaza just west of City Hall where the game pieces are at, 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd. A graduate of the Goddard Health Arts & Sciences Masters program and a youth survivor worker herself, Pennsylvania resident Melanie Dante, selected the open length of time as a way to create a “safe space” to cultivate community conversations that are awkward in email or at events where the subject matter can be intrusive.

The second program is at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PHILA MOCA) located  at 531 North 12th Street which will run from 7:00 PM until 10:00 PM and include the reading of the names of confirmed  sex workers who have lost or taken their lives in the past year.

Lady Eris of Philadelphia, one of the event organizers, says that stigma has a very real impact on sex workers. “Stigma is a main cause of violence,” she says.

The program at Thomas Paine will include two symbolic gestures. The Red Sand Project Of New York contributed 15 small bags of red organic sand to be poured into cracks in the sidewalk. The sand represents those who ‘fallen between the cracks’ in society because of trafficking. Murder victim Rickie Morgan is defined as a victim of sex trafficking.

Also available will be soft red gauze tape for attendees to cover their mouths representing victims of commercial sexual violence who have been silenced. The soft tape also will allow attendees to remain anonymous if they so choose. SWOP USA and SWOP Behind Bars introduced this form of memorial protest at the International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference in Ohio in memory of Donna Castleberry Dalton, a 23 years old mother of two murdered by an undercover officer in Columbus in August.

Carol Smail will be thinking of her daughter, Rickie Jolene Morgan, who was beaten to death in Kensington July 2016. The mother of two was just shy of her 36th birthday. Her killer has never been found. Smail said she would like her daughter to be remembered for her ability to connect with people. “She had an open and loving heart,” she said. “She trusted everybody. She was always so outgoing with people and loving with people. She always had a good heart.”

Morgan’s death illustrates the dangerous nature of the sex trade. Sex workers are constantly at risk of being assaulted by clients. This danger is heightened because assault victims are often hesitant to seek help from medical professionals or law enforcement. Workers can even be arrested for reporting violence. Indeed. Law enforcement has even been known to victimize women in the sex trade as with Dalton’s death in Ohio.

“Desiree,” who resides in New Jersey, has worked in the sex trade for a decade. In the summer of 2009 she was assaulted by a police officer in Uplands Park, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. A year later, the officer pleaded guilty to civil rights violations stemming from separate assaults on Desiree and another sex worker. He and was eventually sentenced to 25 years in prison. Desiree eventually prevailed in a federal lawsuit stemming from the incident. She notes that incidents like the one she was involved in are why sex workers are hesitant to seek legal or medical help if they are assaulted. “It’s a terrible feeling to feel like you can’t call law enforcement,” she said, “especially doing that type of work.”Desiree says that those who perpetrate sexual assaults are unable to handle rejection and their actions are fueled by anger. “Rejection settles in at some point,” she said, “and they start feeling very hostile and vengeful toward women, especially ones they’re fixated on.”

The date of December 17th was selected for the observance because it was on that date in 2003 that Gary Leon Ridgeway, the notorious Green River Killer,  was sentenced for his crimes.Between July of 1982 and January of 1998 Ridgeway was responsible for the deaths of dozens of women and girls in King County, Washington, the county that includes the cities of Seattle and Tacoma. Many of his victims were prostitutes and others marginalized by society, such as runaways. Ridgeway was sentenced to 48 consecutive life terms for his crimes plus 480 additional years; a plea agreement eliminated the possibility of the death penalty. The first International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers was observed on the day he was sentenced and utilized art as sublimation through the conflicting emotions of relief, grief, anger and fear.

Artwork this year has been contributed by MimiArtz Lancaster County and Johnny Robinson Wayne County, informatics donated by local Philadelphia volunteers, video by COYOTEri, imagery by ClickSavePhoto Kensington, and Flocco’s Family Clothing Of Conshohocken helped design hoodies donated to volunteers and survivors. The blue butterfly representing hope emerging free from death is also in memory of Rickie Jolene. Eagles T-shirts’ from Flocco’s will also be gifted to attendees traveling in to Philly.

One of the original founders of the event is from Philadelphia, offering:  “Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone participating in the Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. You are needed now in 2018 more than ever. You are my s/heros and you will prevail.”  Annie Sprinkle, Post Porn Modernist.

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