Today, December 17th, 2015, Women With A Vision, Inc. joins sex worker communities and social justice organizations from around the world in recognizing this International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Sex workers’ rights advocates will stand together today to highlight the various forms of violence sex workers experience in their countries.
Since our founding, WWAV has fought for the human rights protection of street-based sex workers and their families. Violence against sex workers is all too common and largely goes unreported due to stigma and criminalization. Many of the sex workers we work with at WWAV have experienced some form of violence — sexual assault, domestic violence, and/or structural forms of violence. The stigma, discrimination, and criminalization faced by sex workers makes them even more vulnerable to this violence and creates a climate where violence done to sex workers is seen as socially acceptable. Transgender women, women of color, poor women, formerly-incarnated women, and drug-using women are particularly marginalized as sex workers, facing multiple fronts of risk from violence.
Studies have shown between 50-75% of sex workers have experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime. The stigmatization of sex work often means that sex workers experience barriers to accessing criminal-justice support when they are attacked. Even when reporting sexual assault, abuse, or physical violence to the police, sex workers may find that they are not believed or taken seriously by law enforcement. Criminalization of sex work and the resulting punitive laws and policies against sex work also means sex workers face the threat of prosecution even when reporting violence done to them.
Many sex workers are also vulnerable to state violence, facing predatory policing and multiple arrests — often being arrested without evidence of wrongdoing — and facing long periods of detainment, harassment, and even physical violence and sexual assault at the hands of authorities.
Across the country, we witnessed this vulnerability to violence play out in the media this month when the story of Daniel Holtzclaw made national headlines. Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma police officer, was convicted last week on five counts of rape and 13 other counts of sexual assault. His victims were women invisibilized by systems of oppression — thirteen low-income black women with criminal records, many of whom had a history of drug use and sex work. He was able to use his power, authority, and resources to target women he thought no one would believe. This case brings to light all the ways race, class, and criminalization of drug use and sex work intersect to make women vulnerable to state violence.
Today Women With A Vision remembers the names of those lost to violence this year, and we renew our commitment to making visible a community so often invisibilized, stigmatized, and criminalized. We fight for sex workers’ access to justice, safety, and bodily autonomy. We work to give space and resources to sex workers organizing on the ground for their basic human rights. We stand with sex workers in New Orleans and across the globe.
Today we renew our commitment to working to remove the social stigma, discrimination, and criminalization that contributes to violence against sex workers.
Founded in 1989, Women With A Vision, Inc. (WWAV) is a community-based non-profit working to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions and punitive policies that hinder their health and well-being. WWAV accomplishes this through relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research. For more info visit www.wwav-no.org.
WWAV, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, based in New Orleans, Louisiana.