High whore holy day: A San Francisco tradition turns nine

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Speaking out for sex: Posters from the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
PHOTO BY JOHN BONNAR

It was Saturday, December 17. A jazz funeral was being held for victims of violence against sex workers at the Center for Sex and Culture. Post-event, its message was still resonating in its attendees. “The holiday was beautiful," sex activist and post-porn star Annie Sprinkle told the Guardian about the ninth year of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers that she helped to found. 

The tradition goes back to 2003, when hundreds of sex workers and their allies came together on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall. Gary Ridgeway, Seattle’s “Green River Killer,” had just been convicted, having confessed to murdering 90 women over 20 years before he was caught. Prostitutes, he said, "were easy to pick up without being noticed...I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”

Bay Area performance artist and long-time sex worker Sprinkle was incensed. She teamed up with Robyn Few of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) to create an event that would raise awareness about the abuse experienced by workers in the sex industry. 

The event has now spread to the far corners of the earth. Last Saturday, vigils, marches, and educational events to commemorate the day took place from Chicago to Cape Town. 

Kitty Stryker, a local sex worker and performer who worked as stage manager for San Francisco's event, said that the mood in 2011 was more celebratory this year. There were spoken word, humor and musical performances that “were celebratory and fierce and fighting back, and performances that were more introspective and hurt, understanding that these things come in balance,” she said.

“It wasn’t all angry activism or all sad crying," continued Stryker. "We wanted the event to be a celebration of people who are still here with us, and support so we can continue to do this work.”

Sex workers rights groups decry coerced or forced prostitution, insisiting that many prostitutes have chosen their profession and deserve the same rights as other workers. This message conflicts with that of many anti-sex trafficking groups, who often conflate prostitution and sex trafficking, and depict all prostitutes as victims.

Sprinkle told the Guardian that the day is especially important because it is planned by and for sex workers and their allies. “It’s become a high holy day of whores. The one day that we all remember the real victims, not these made up situations. A lot of them are not victims, but people like to think we are.”

Sprinkle remembered the story of a friend who was raped and robbed while working as an escort in New York City. The friend reported the crime to the police, and the culprit was apprehended -- along with the victim, who was arrested for being a prostitute. Many sex workers rights activists campaign for the decriminalization of sex work, arguing that if sex workers could report crimes against them to the police, it could help curb high rates of rape, robbery, assault and murder of sex workers. 

Sprinkle pointed out that sex work is not the only risky business out there. “Working in a convenience store or as a taxi driver is also very dangerous. Your risk being killed working at a 7/11.” 

The modern sex workers' rights movement demanded the decrimalization of sex work, working to end the stigma against sex workers in the 1970s. San Francisco was the movement’s teeming center. Prostitutes marched on City Hall singing, “Everybody Needs a Hooker Once in Awhile.” Even Willie Brown attended the fabulous annual Hookers’ Ball.

And this year's news stories provided a poignant reminder of the day's importance. During last summer a serial killer targeting prostitutes in Long Island murdered eight women. He was the third Long Island-based serial killer in twenty years to target sex workers.

Sex workers may still be considered criminals. But if the now-decades-old sex workers rights movement has anything to say about it, that view will evolve in years to come. Hopefully someday we will all be able to walk the streets a little more safely.

Comments

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