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Demonstrators protest violence against sex workers

BY MITCH MCANDREW | DECEMBER 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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Local community members lined the Pedestrian Mall in recognition of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on Wednesday evening.

This year, Iowa City joined more than 58 cities across the globe in raising awareness for the cause, according to a press release from the Sex Workers Outreach Project.

The national group, responding to Gary Ridgway’s sentence, organized the event, generally referred to as Dec. 17, in 2003 for his two decade-long killing sprees.

Ridgway, better known as the Green River Killer, was responsible for the murder of approximately 70 women, mostly sex workers. Dec. 17 was organized to protest the negligence of the deaths because of the women’s occupation.

The outreach project claims this violence can be linked to the criminalization of sex workers.

“This is just one of the many ways that criminalizing sex can be dangerous,” said Conner Spinks, the organizer of the event.

The group compiles an annual list of the names of sex workers killed in bouts of violence, and this year’s list totals more than 160 homicides worldwide. The United States accounted for largest percentage, around one-third, of these slayings.

According to the press release, female sex workers are 17.7 times above the national murder rate for women and 400 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average citizen.

“The problem is that we don’t view these issues the same because they deal with sex,” said Hannah Russell, advocate for sex-worker rights who attended Wednesday’s protest.

She noted that many transactional sex situations are disregarded simply because they are not considered prostitution.

“Transactional sex is a lot different than prostitution, and the two aren’t often distinguished from each other,” she said.

Spinks said that the recent surge of anti-police brutality sentiment provides a valuable opportunity to raise awareness for the issue of sex-worker marginalization.

“There is a lot of people in Iowa City who are galvanizing around the police-brutality issue, and many support reforming the criminal-justice system,” she said.

While public opinion hasn’t necessarily centered on police harassment of sex workers specifically, Spinks believes that the issue is relevant.

“There hasn’t been much discussion on sex workers yet, but they are certainly one of the most vulnerable groups,” she said.

Spinks also said the discrimination is compounded by the demographic of sex workers in the United States.

“Typically, these people are minorities in some way, whether it be race, gender identity, or economic background,” she said. “You can’t talk about violence against sex workers without talking about racism, sexism, and LGBTQ discrimination.”

Protesters at the event attempted to raise awareness by sharing statistics and speaking to passersby about the issue.

“I’m here because I think issues that affect these people are extremely important,” said Max Pilcher, a first-year English and gender-studies major whose interest in the subject was spurred by coursework at the UI.

All demonstrators agreed that raising awareness is extremely important to solving the violence.

“Awareness means that people have less stigmatization, and hopefully, these people will stop being treated as objects of scorn but victims of violence,” Pilcher said.

The ultimate aim of the protest was to ease the discomfort of talking about sex-worker issues.

“We need to start a dialogue to solve this,” Russell said.


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