International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Some burlesque performers, both currently and of the mid-twentieth century, have identified themselves as working in the sex industry. Whether you view it as sex work or no, you may find this of interest.

Above: A strippers' reunion in Times Square, 1989; photo taken from "Queen of Burlesque" by Yvette Paris. Pictured are Ann Corio, Bambi Vawn, Leola Harlow, Jennie Lee, Yvette Paris, and Annie Sprinkle. (If anybody knows of a good website on how to get quality scans, please email me at Everything I used to know about scanning seems to be not working now.)

Today, Monday, Dec. 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Here in NYC, $pread Magazine, SWANK, & PONY are co-hosting a vigil from 5-7 pm on the steps of Judson Memorial Church (55 wash square south, ACE/BDFV to w. 4th or NR to 8th st).

The following text is from the Swop website:

Over the past year, the international sex worker community has mourned the loss of thousands of our comrades, with an estimated 2,000 killed in the United States alone. Over the last year, serial killers have been reported in places like Ipswich, Atlantic City, Edmonton, Guatemala and Russia, and many cases remain unsolved. A few days ago in British Columbia, Robert "Willie" Pickton was sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of six women - he has admitted to killing forty-nine sex workers in total before feeding them to his pigs. Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer of the 1980s, picked prostitutes as victims "because they are easy to pick up without being noticed. . . . I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without being caught." We are seen as nameless, faceless, storyless, useless, and utterly without rights. In Philadelphia, the serial rape and assault at gunpoint of sex worker Dominique Grindraw was written off by Judge Deni as "theft of services," amounting to state-sponsorship of violence against sex workers.

But we will not be silenced, nor will we accept what amounts to genocide against our kind - SEX WORKERS' RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS! By participating in one of tomorrow's events, you are helping the world to see that our struggle is not in vain, and that the sex workers killed in 2007 may be gone, but they are not forgotten. We will not rest until the streets, cities, and countrysides are safe for everyone, everywhere, every worker.

For more information on the day and events happening in other towns, check out

Here is a list of Ten Things You Can Do to Participate written by legend Annie Sprinkle:

1. Do something of personal meaning alone at home; take a ritual bath, or simply think about those who have died, light a candle, make a wish, have a cry, call a friend and discuss the topic, etc.

2. Write a short personal quote or a statement about violence against sex workers and send to the SWOP web site for them to post.

3. Send a donation to a nonprofit group that helps sex workers stay safer.

4. Organize a public memorial event in your town. If not, choose a place, and time, where you can gather. Make an email letter and/or flyer and get it around with news of the event. Invite people to bring writings, stories, readings, thoughts, related news items, poems, performances, etc. Make a circle at the event. Take turns sharing. This will make for a wonderful memorial and be great for consciousness raising and outreach as well.

5. Organize a panel discussion about violence towards sex workers. You can ask a church or other community space if you can do it there.

6. Send news of this event to any and all press you know, so the word gets out that there are people who care about murdered sex workers, and who are concerned with the safety of sex workers out there today.

7. Attend one of the events which is listed on the SWOP web site.

8. If you know any sex workers, send them some information about self-defense.

9. Send a personal email letter to people telling them how you feel about violence against sex workers and the women who were murdered by serial killer Gary Ridgway. Or email this letter around.

10. Read Daisy Anarchy's poem, to yourself or to friends, or at one of the public events. Or email it around.


Anonymous said…
What exactly makes someone a sex worker? Is there a definitive line? Is a cabaret performer or performance artist a sex worker just because they get naked in front of an audience a few times a month of their own volition? Or is a sex worker a person who makes a living from it?
I am sincerely confused by this.
A former sex worker but now just a simple circus girl.
People argue about this all the time. You'll note that I left it to the reader to define.
Anonymous said…
I suppose if sex workers in the United States ever get to unionize the lines will be drawn. I suppose I am feeling a little surprised that is is now so in vogue to be a sex worker. I was a sex worker for years but kept it on the down low and only very close friends knew. I also kept it very hidden from the burlesque crowd here in LA as many people in that scene looked down on it. The only reason I was outed was because I was asked to write a story about my time as a hooker booker and was offered decent $$$ to do so by a wonderful publisher. I was completely scared to out myself in such a public fashion.
While I am completely happy in some ways that ladies like Dirty Martini and Julie Atlas Muz are helping make sex work more acceptable by identifying themselves as sex workers, it also makes me ask how exactly they are sex workers? Performance artists, yes, but sex workers?
Also, does the fact that they identify as sex workers take away from the women that actually do sex work to support themselves?
I thought you would be a good person to ask and maybe even point me in the right direction of people who are examining these issues.
Best to you and yours.
I understand why you're asking about this in respect to burlesque specifically, but part of the point of the first paragraph of this post is that it's not for me to say whether or not another person should or shouldn't identify her-or-himself as a sex worker. So my opinion is that it's up to them, which means that "What is a sex worker?" "Is burlesque sex work?" aren't questions I'm inclined to try to answer. Some people think strippers in strip joints aren't sex workers; some people think bartenders are. My question would be, do YOU feel like you're doing sex work? And whether you say that you do or you don't, I'll believe you.

I frequently talk to burlesque strippers from the 40s-60s, and some of them describe what they did as a form of prostitution and some of them say it was no such thing. I don't think there are going to be any clearer answers about what goes on in neo-burlesque.

In my case, burlesque usually doesn't seem like sex work to me, whereas stripping in strip joints almost always did. People who take that to mean that I'm saying burlesque is great and strip joints suck usually have their own axes to grind.

I don't know that sex work is in vogue. I think people are willing to talk about it, accept it, be confrontational about it, but even if the media reports that it's trendy because of some books and movies and HBO specials, or because the odd girl here and there gets into it because she thinks it's glamourous, mothers still aren't into having their sons (or daughters) date sex workers, and it still doesn't work on most resumes, and most of it is still illegal in the US.

I've more than paid my dues in debates about the meaning of the term "sex worker," but getting into these debates is not my focus at this time. I've been out as a sex industry worker for decades and I don't encourage people to be out, actually, it's very difficult because you constantly get pinned to the wall as being the representative of all sex workers for whom many people then feel entitled to demand that you speak, and if you don't answer all their questions they they act as if you dodged the whole thing and whatever they thought must be right because you weren't willing to engage them and spend hours of your time talking or typing with them, and you really DO regret having been a sex worker. This is why I say I'm no longer an activist. Those hours are now devoted to work; being an activist practically bankrupted and exhausted me, and I have all the more admiration for people who really do it as a result of how difficult it was for me. But I still believe in sex workers' rights and occasionally help promote something I think is important, like what you see in this blog article.

I'm very into raising questions and not so much into providing answers, as far as debates about sex work are concerned.

You might find the discussions you seem to be looking for here: What is a Sex Worker?
Anonymous said…
Thank you!

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