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December 17 - History

Originally thought of by Dr. Annie Sprinkle and started by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle Washington, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has empowered sex workers from cities around the world to come together and organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence.

Why December 17?
By Annie Sprinkle


In 2003, "Green River Killer" Gary Ridgeway confessed to having strangled ninety Seattle area 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 Ridgeway. 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, we 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. Also 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.


When Ridgeway got a plea bargain in 2003, he received a life sentence in exchange for revealing where his victim's bodies were thrown or buried.  As the names of the (mostly seventeen to nineteen 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 based in San Francisco and we made December 17th as the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.  We invited people everywhere to create and attend memorials and vigils in their countries and cities. Robyn co-produced an open mic vigil on the lawn of San Francisco's City Hall. Since then (2003) each year hundreds of people in dozens of cities around the world have participated in this day to end violence-- from Montreal (they marched with red umbrellas), to Hong Kong (protested police brutality), to Vancouver (they did a candlelight vigil) to Sydney (held a memorial ritual), to East Godavery, India (a dance was organized to overcome pain and trauma.) More events are planned for this, the sixth year.


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.  Read lists of names of those who have been murdered. 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.

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.

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