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Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, 17 December

The commemoration dates back to 2003, when it was first organized, originally to remember the victims of an American serial killer who singled out sex workers and teenage runaway girls and killed them. It has since become an international event, with more activists and organizations joining every year, as sex workers face similar, institutionalized abuse, violence and discrimination globally.

Hate crimes and violence against sex workers stem from prejudices, social stigmas and the corresponding laws and regulations that ban prostitution. This harmful situation perpetuates the abuse and persecution of people who, in all other respects, observe the laws.

ICRSE’s 2009 campaign urges safer working conditions and respect for sex workers. Punitive laws against sex workers or their clients forces the sex work scene into a shaded zone, where the access to services and support needed by sex workers is limited, while the risk of becoming victims of violence is high.

The most effective way to promote sex workers’ rights and to fight the various forms of hate crimes and discriminating laws is through enhancing community work. The 17 December campaign focuses on intensifying social participation in events and activities related to sex workers’ rights.

Therefore we call everyone willing to join to express their support, solidarity or concern through messages, statements and testimonies and to circulate those. We encourage activists to make and display or publish pictures, videos, installations, drawings, performances or any other form of expression suitable to manifest their support for safer working conditions for sex workers.

Sex workers or activists should also share effective or new examples of protection so that they can learn from each other’s experience. This could include different self-organization and self-defence techniques.

The easiest way to express solidarity for sex workers is through using the red umbrella symbol. It can be displayed in an infinite number of ways: it may be worn, drawn, printed, stickers can be stuck etc. The creative online use of the red umbrella is also unlimited. The general public, however, is not really familiar with its meaning, so some clarification may be necessary.

History of the Red Umbrella
The red umbrella was first used by sex workers as a symbol of resistance to discrimination in 2001 in Venice, Italy. On the occasion of the 49th Venice Biennale of Art sex workers walked the streets of the city in a Red Umbrellas March as a part of the "Prostitute Pavilion" and CODE: RED art project of Slovenian artist Tadej Pogacar. Sex workers marched in Venice and used megaphones and red umbrellas, drawing attention to the bad work conditions and the human rights abuses they face. The march started at the Pavilion tent and went through the city centre.

The route involved the geography of the social history of sex workers, from the famous Venetian courtesans Veronica Franco and Gaspara Stampa until today.

In 2005 the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) adopted the red umbrella as the symbol of sex workers’ rights. A march with almost 200 participants was organized as the closing event to the European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour and Migration conference held in Brussels, Belgium. Since that day the red umbrella has been welcomed by sex worker activists and their allies around the world.