Conversation Between Sex Workers: International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers 2018

By Tamika Spellman, HIPS Advocacy Associate — Twitter: @tamikahs66

December 17th marks International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Every year, on this day, we come together to memorialize those we have lost this year — many of them are Black, trans women of color, who unfortunately suffered violence while just trying to survive by engaging in sex work — and recognize the strength and solidarity in the fight for the rights, empowerment, safety, and visibility of all sex workers.

Last week, I sat down with four other sex workers to talk about our experiences, to support each other, to listen to each other, and to advocate for our right to be safe, empowered, and seen.

Criminalization and policing is the root cause of harm to many people, especially for people who are profiled by the police and treated unjustly by the criminal legal system. This includes people do sex work, people who are Black and brown women, queer, trans, gender non-conforming, poor, immigrants, and more.

In a 2008 study of sex workers in DC, nearly 40 percent of sex workers who had an encounter with police were verbally abused by the officer, and nearly 20 percent were asked for sex from the officer.

We don’t need statistics to tell us that. We know because we have lived it. We know because our friends have lived it.

We must decriminalize sex work, so that people can be safer, so that, when people are attacked, they are not discouraged from seeking justice. Policing and criminalization of sex work is one of the primary sites of racial profiling, police violence, and mass incarceration of Black and brown women, girls, and trans and gender nonconforming folks.

I implore you to look at it from our perspective, one of circumstance and survival. Sex work is what I have for the time being, but so long as its criminalized, it will be all I have. Free me and give me the opportunity to do more. Until then, our records keep us trapped in a vicious cycle of violence, jails and arrest that extend our records and essentially trapping us in survival sex work for life.

On December 17th and every day, listen to sex workers — support us, lift us up, extend the liberties and freedoms that everyone else has to us.

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Tamika Spellman, Advocacy Associate, HIPS

Twitter: @tamikahs66