I know who held the knife, but they might as well have put it in his hands. – the mother of murdered sex worker Petite Jasmine
Several days a year sex workers and our allies get together, either in person or in spirit, to observe certain occasions. On March 3rd, we agitate for our rights and reach out to our comrades in other countries. On June 2nd, we celebrate our victories and honor those who have gone before us in the struggle. On Friday the 13th (a celebration of my own devising) we ask allies to join with us in the fight. And on December 17th, in a ritual perhaps appropriate for the darkest season of the year, we remember our dead.
Their number is not as grossly disproportionate as prohibitionists like to pretend, but it is still much higher than it needs to be…especially since the cause of it is almost entirely governmental attempts to suppress or criminalize consensual adult behavior. The body count of alcohol Prohibition is legendary, and many hundreds of thousands have died as a direct result of the “War on Drugs”; if we count total casualties rather than just fatalities, the toll is somewhere in the tens of millions. The eradication of an activity which is totally legal if performed for a different motive is even more impossible, and the futile crusade to do so has been nearly as bloody. Under any regime where the sale of sex is either partially or fully criminalized, the great majority of violence against sex workers is inflicted by the police; most of the rest that does not result from the sadly-normal violence inherent in human interactions is attributable to either the dangerous conditions under which sex workers must function in order to avoid police violence, or the marginalization which allows the evil and twisted to pretend that we’re acceptable targets for violence because we aren’t “real” human beings anyhow. Every serial killer who has preyed upon sex workers has voiced some version of this sentiment, and the prohibitionists who support the system which enables the violence either claim that suffering and death of whores are a “price worth paying”, or reveal their sociopathy by declaring that such violence is a good thing.
In places where sex work is decriminalized or nearly so, sex workers are not forced into the shadows. They need not work alone or in secret, without the support of friends or employees. They are able to take their time assessing the character of potential clients, and need not rely upon third parties who don’t “look like prostitutes” in the eyes of the police. Because their clients are also free to transact business, they are able to reject abusive clients and select the good ones who aren’t afraid to approach them. They need not fear violent “rescuers” who invade their workplaces, abduct them, lock them in cages and subject them to brainwashing. They are not the victims of government propaganda intended to convince everyone that they are either subhuman criminals or pathetic, childlike victims ripe for the picking. And when they are victims of violence (as anyone can be in this imperfect world), they have the same legal recourse as anyone else.
Though the past year has seen many examples of the violence engendered by criminalization, one in particular stands out as a perfect illustration, namely the murder of the Swedish activist known as Petite Jasmine:
Several years ago she lost custody of her children as she was considered to be an unfit parent due to being a sex worker. The children were placed with their father regardless of him being abusive towards Jasmine. They told her she didn’t know what was good for her and that she was “romantisizing” prostitution, they said she lacked insight and didn’t realise sex work was a form of self-harm. He threatened and stalked her on numerous occasions, she was never offered any protection…
The Swedish government thus forced her to remain in contact with a violent abuser who eventually murdered her, because as a sex worker she was not in their eyes worthy of consideration. Her death, a direct result of the actions of the Swedish state, triggered off a series of anti-criminalization protests on four continents; these protests, and similar ones for other murdered sex workers, demonstrate the true spirit of December 17th: we choose to honor our dead not merely by weeping for them, but by fighting for the day when no more of us have to die for a sick and twisted fantasy of governmental control over the private choices of individuals.