by Annie Sprinkle
In 2003 “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgeway confessed to having strangled ninety women to death and having “sex” with their dead bodies.
He stated, “I picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
Sadly, some Seattle area prostitutes, their boyfriends or pimps, knew the Green River Killer was Gary Ridgeway for years. But they were either afraid to come forward for fear of being arrested themselves, or when they did come forward the police didn’t believe them over the “upstanding family man” Gary Ridageway. It seemed as though the police weren’t working very hard to find the Green River Killer. If the victims had been teachers, nurses or secretaries or other women, I suspect--as Ridgeway did-- that the killer would have been caught much sooner. Ridgeway remained at large for twenty years.
From working as a prostitute myself for two decades I know that violent crimes against sex workers often go unreported, unaddressed and unpunished. There are people who really don’t care when prostitutes are victims of hate crimes, beaten, raped and murdered. They will say:
“They got what they deserved.”
“They were trash.”
“They asked for it”
“What do they expect?”
“The world is better off without those whores.”
No matter how people feel about sex workers and the politics surrounding them, sex workers are a part of our neighborhoods, communities and our families and always will be. Sex workers are women, trans people and men of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, classes and backgrounds who are working in the sex industry for a wide range of reasons. Many of us are out and proud, and spend a lot of time trying to explain to the public that we freely choose our work and we are not “victims.” But the truth is, some of us have been, or will become, real victims of rape, robbery and horrendous crimes.
When Ridgeway got a plea bargain in 2003, he received a life sentence in exchange for revealing where his victims’ bodies were thrown or buried. As the names of the (mostly 17- to 19-year old) victims, were disclosed, I felt a need to remember and honor them. I cared, and I knew other people cared, too.
So I contacted Robyn Few, the founder of the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) based in San Francisco and we made December 17th as the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. We invited people everywhere to conduct memorials and vigils in their countries and cities. Robyn co-produced an open-mike vigil on the lawn of San Francisco’s City Hall.
Since 2003, each year hundreds of people in dozens of cities around the world have participated in this day to end violence-- from Montreal where people marched with red umbrellas, to protests against police brutality in Hong Kong, a candlelight vigil in Vancouver, a memorial ritual in Sydney, a dance to overcome pain and trauma in East Godavery, India. More events are planned for 2008, the sixth year of the event.
The concept for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is simple. Anyone can choose a place and time to gather, invite others to gather and share their stories, writings, thoughts, poems, and memories of victims, related news and performances. Or people can do something personal, alone at home, such as lighting a candle or taking a ritual memorial bath. We encourage discussions among friends, by email, on blogs. People are encouraged to list their events at the SWOP website so others can attend them, and to share the power of their actions. People can also participate by making a donation to a group that helps sex workers by teaching them about dangers and how to best survive. Two such non-profits are St. James Infirmary and AIM Healthcare. (Editor’s Note: Read more about the St. James Infirmary in this article in On The Issues Magazine.com.
This December 17, 2008 many sex workers will converge in Washington, D.C. on for a National March for Sex Worker Rights where marchers “will take a stand for justice, and the freedom to do sex work safely. We are calling for an end to unjust laws, policing, the shaming and stigma that oppress our communities and make us targets for violence.” People are encouraged to join SWOP and other activists in Washington and to endorse this march.
Every year when I create or attend a gathering on December 17, it is a deeply moving experience. I take some moments to feel grateful that I worked as a prostitute for so many years and came out alive. I remember those who didn’t survive and I fear for those who won't unless real changes are made -- namely safer working conditions and the same police protection other citizens get without recrimination.
November 18, 2008