As it’s coming to the end of this year’s ‘16 Days of Activism’ campaign I have deliberately chosen to write some of what might be deemed the more controversial elements of my activism at this stage. Today I choose to focus on an example of gendered violence and sexual violence against those who make up the sex work industry. Violence against sex workers is one of the most common forms of abuse against women which occurs in an entrenched system of bias and entitlement. The saddest element of these incidences however is that due to the stigma and taboo involved with this type of work, we have been socially manipulated into thinking that these women are not attributed to their basic rights. The thinking being sex workers not being deserving of the same protections as all other women is one which has been propagated for eons. However if we are to speak of the elimination of violence against women then that must mean against all women without any exceptions.
Most reports in the media which document violence against sex workers will first draw on a reference to the victim’s identity as a ‘prostitute’. Thus representing a normalised but harmful action which provides a distancing effect in which readers are able to point to a woman’s vocation as a justification of her abuse. This binary effect which allows readers to associate sex workers as women of loose morals, ethics or whatever other bullshit that is promoted allows an element of victim blaming with regards to her ‘behaviour’ giving rise to her assault. Such an element paints those involved in the sex work industry as dirty, sinful, deviant and diseased resulting in a sense of apathy from the general ‘good, pure and demure’ public. This form of stigma is far-reaching, pervasive and arguably does more damage to sex workers than their work itself.
By labelling sex workers in this way as the ‘other’ a level of comfort is retained distancing these women and thus promoting the notion that well actually, ‘she deserved it’. Not only is this type of thinking misinformed and cruel but more dangerously it feeds into a culture which reaffirms violence supporting attitudes about all women. If I hear one more person mindlessly utter the words of ‘well she knew the danger involved’.. I may just self combust.
The truth is that sex workers, especially those who are trans women of colour, experience disproportionately higher rates of sexual violence. According to Huffington post, “globally sex workers have a 45-75% chance of experiencing sexual violence at some point in their careers and a 32-55% chance of experiencing sexual violence in a given year”. Within the sex work industry women commonly report being raped by clients and/or being raped by their pimps. One of the most disturbing facts I have read states that 1 in 5 police reports of sexual assault from urban US emergency rooms are filed by sex workers. This group by and large presents as younger, poorer and suffering of a greater number of injuries than other victims requiring medical attention.
When considering the intersecting elements of identity of sex workers themselves, varying studies have found that youth, those who are homeless or have been previously arrested for prostitution or are drug users are especially at risk of violence. This violence being perpetrated both by clients as well as police and justice officials. Trans women face disproportionate profiling as sex workers and police misconduct and sexual assault while in custody. Thus representing a pervasive example of how race, class, and criminalisation of drug use and sex work intersect to make women vulnerable to state violence.
The question I pose to you now is, are all human beings not deserving of the basic right of protection? Does the exchange of money negate the right of freedom from abuse, assault and murder? Our society desperately needs to redress negative attitudes which normalise violence against sex workers and victim blame as a form of pushing violent behaviour into obscurity based on the ‘reputation’ of those being subjected to these incidents.
End. – Day 14.