NEW YORK CITY. On Sunday, December 17th, sex workers and their supporters gathered at vigils around the world to mark the annual Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, honoring the sex workers who died as victims of violent crime this year, and raising the issue of violence against sex
workers to the public.

In New York City, participants will gathered for a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South in Manhattan. This year..s list of names of murdered sex workers will be read aloud, participants will be encouraged to speak or offer a prayer, and a
moment of silence will be observed.

At the event, organizers read a statement demanding that authorities step up their investigation of the Atlantic City serial killer and officially announce a moratorium on arresting prostitutes to encourage cooperation between local sex workers and police. The statement also challenged the media to report on the case in a way that respects the humanity of the women who were murdered. Atlantic City is only one example of these sorts of problems. Many more violent crimes against prostitutes remain unaddressed by the justice system, but exploited in the media.

The event is organized by Prostitutes of New York (PONY), $pread Magazine, and the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center.

The Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was inaugurated in 2003, conceived by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) based in Berkeley, California after the conviction of Gary Ridgway (the ..Green River Killer..), a serial killer responsible for the murder of at least 48 prostitutes in Washington State. One particular statement in his confession outraged sex workers, and determined the need for a very public memorial that raises issues of violence against sex workers to lawmakers, police, and the media: "I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."

“Four women have been murdered by a serial killer who preys on street workers in Atlantic City, NJ. The Prostitutes of New York (PONY) calls upon the FBI and police not to repeat the mistakes of other cities. We can’t afford to let the body count rise. The actions of investigators and police will determine how many women die and if the killer is brought to justice.”

“Police must immediately institute a moratorium on arresting prostitutes. When there is big news about prostitution, authorities often feel pressure to ‘do more.’ This usually means arresting more prostitutes. Last week, a police spokesperson said that Atlantic City cops made more than prostitution 1000 arrests this year and did not indicate any plan to change tactics.”

“As long as prostitutes view police as an enemy to be avoided they will not come forward with information. A moratorium sends the message that prostitutes’ lives are valued and that police are serious about stopping the murders.”

“At a minimum, police must not increase arrests. Stepped up enforcement creates dangerous new problems. When more indoor prostitutes are arrested, workers shift to outdoor work, creating more potential targets for the killer. When a particular “track” or “stroll” sees more arrests, prostitutes move across town. Migrating workers are hard for law enforcement to monitor and place prostitutes into unfamiliar territory, making their situation more perilous. These sorts of problems compounded the difficulties that Washington police faced with the Green Bay Killer.”

“Atlantic City investigators must listen to prostitutes. Too often, stereotypes about prostitutes cause police to discount valuable information. Vancouver is sad example of this. For two decades, police ignored reports of an active serial killer, assuming that over forty missing women were simply “transients.” Despite alarming reports from prostitutes about Robert Pickton’s farm, it was years before it was searched and the killer arrested. Ignoring leads is negligent at best; imagine the outcry if the women were nurses instead of prostitutes.”

“Police must earn the trust of local prostitutes. Trust is hard to build, and unfortunately, one bad cop can jeopardize community-police relations. Sexual harassment, violent incidents, and sexual/economic exploitation of sex workers by police must be severely punished. To avoid problems, the police department could require sensitivity training.”

What is the Intl. Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers?
On December 17, 1975, 150 French prostitutes occupied a church in Lyons, protesting, among other things, the unsolved murders of a number of local prostitutes. Four years ago today, sex workers in California inaugurated December 17 as the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, largely in response to the Green River Killer, who murdered at least 48 prostitutes in Washington state.

For more information:
$pread Magazine
Urban Justice Center's Sex Workers Project
Sex Workers Outreach Project