Sable Pickett, a 19-year-old Black woman, was kidnapped and murdered by two serial killers targeting sex workers in Anaheim, Calif., in 2014. Alphonza Watson, a 38-year-old Black trans woman also known as Peaches, was shot to death Dec. 14, 2017, in Baltimore. Gemmel Moore, a Black gay man, was found dead in Ed Buck’s home in July 2017 in Los Angeles. During a New York City police prostitution raid on Nov. 27, 2017, Yang Song, a woman from Shenyang, China, fell to her death from the third story of the massage parlor she worked in.
Last year, Donna Castleberry was shot eight times by undercover officer Andrew Mitchell on Aug. 23 in Ohio. Melissa Ramirez, Guiselda Alicia Cantu, Claudine Luera and Humberto “Janelle” Ortiz were all shot in the head by Juan David Ortiz, a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Laredo, Texas, in September. Ashanti Carmon, a Black trans woman, was shot to death in Maryland on March 30.
This extremely incomplete list of sex workers recently murdered by stigma, patriarchy, white supremacy, transphobia, ableism and by a world that can’t let women and gender-oppressed people have control of their bodies or have financial autonomy, can be summarized as sex workers who have been murdered by capitalism. The list also includes April Ellis, Ashley Brandeberry, Brittney Taylor, Brandie Seals, Jessica Newcomb, Isabell Pam, Jennifer Ann Wilson, Jarrae Estepp, Josephine Vargas, Kianna Jackson and Essence Owens.
Sex workers have ‘long, badass history’
But as sex workers are murdered and assaulted with impunity, they are fighting back. On Feb. 1, hundreds of construction workers, farm laborers and sex workers in Delhi, India, came together to demand better working conditions for all.
In the U.S., sex workers are currently fighting against the misnamed SESTA/FOSTA acts, which criminalize sex work, promote stigma and wrongfully link sex work with sex trafficking. Sex workers’ organizations are demanding decriminalization as they pack courthouses and show up in the streets.
Sex workers have a long, badass history of standing with one another and with all women and gender-oppressed people around the world. Asociación Mujeres Meretrices de la Argentina en Acción por Nuestros Derechos, the first trade union for sex workers in Latin America, was organized in 1994. In 2007 sex workers in Bolivia sewed their lips together as part of a hunger strike demanding that brothels be reopened.
On June 2, 1975, more than 100 sex workers occupied Saint Nizier church in Lyon, France, demanding the end of fines, police harassment and the release of 10 sex workers who had been recently imprisoned for doing their job. The parish priest refused to call the police on them, and the neighborhood brought them supplies. Eight days into the occupation, police forcibly removed the women from the church.
June 2 is now commemorated as International Whores Day. Last year there were protests and demonstrations with thousands pouring into the streets across the globe to say sex workers are human and sex workers are workers.
Workers World Party was represented in many cities across the U.S. with signs reading, “Self-determination for sex workers,” “Sex workers want rights, not rescue” and “Poverty is criminal; sex workers are not.” As June 2 approaches, we look forward to continuing to show up in support of all sex workers: full service, cam-girls, strippers, sugar babies, porn stars, etc.
How can you support sex workers?
- Do not out sex workers! Sex workers get to decide who knows, when they know and how they find out.
- Show support in person and online for the decriminalization of sex work.
- Denounce SESTA and FOSTA and all laws that criminalize sex work and wrongfully conflate sex work and sex trafficking.
- Counter social norms that depict sex workers as lazy, dirty, diseased and not actually workers. Sex work is work, and it must be understood as part of the labor struggle.
- Support organizations run by and for sex workers. Pay sex workers for their services and labor.
- Always remember, fuck the police.