In 2003 "Green River Killer" Gary Ridgeway confessed to having
strangled ninety women to death and having "sex" with their dead bodies.
"I picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up
without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right
away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because
I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting
Sadly, some Seattle area prostitutes, their boyfriends or pimps, knew
the Green River Killer was Gary Ridgeway for years. But they were
either afraid to come forward for fear of being arrested themselves, or
when they did come forward the police didn’t believe them over the
"upstanding family man" Gary Ridageway. It seemed as though the police
weren’t working very hard to find the Green River Killer. If the
victims had been teachers, nurses or secretaries or other women, I
suspect–as Ridgeway did–that the killer would have been caught much
sooner. Ridgeway remained at large for twenty years.
From working as a prostitute myself for two decades I know that violent
crimes against sex workers often go unreported, unaddressed and
unpunished. There are people who really don’t care when prostitutes are
victims of hate crimes, beaten, raped and murdered. They will say:
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"They got what they deserved."
"They were trash."
"They asked for it"
"What do they expect?"
"The world is better off without those whores."
No matter how people feel about sex workers and the politics
surrounding them, sex workers are a part of our neighborhoods,
communities and our families and always will be. Sex workers are women,
trans people and men of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, classes and
backgrounds who are working in the sex industry for a wide range of
reasons. Many of us are out and proud, and spend a lot of time trying
to explain to the public that we freely choose our work and we are not
"victims." But the truth is, some of us have been, or will become, real
victims of rape, robbery and horrendous crimes.
When Ridgeway got a plea bargain in 2003, he received a life sentence
in exchange for revealing where his victims’ bodies were thrown or
buried. As the names of the (mostly 17- to 19-year old) victims, were
disclosed, I felt a need to remember and honor them. I cared, and I
knew other people cared, too.
So I contacted Robyn Few, the founder of the Sex Worker Outreach Project
(SWOP) based in San Francisco and we made December 17th as the
International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. We invited
people everywhere to conduct memorials and vigils in their countries
and cities. Robyn co-produced an open-mike vigil on the lawn of San
Francisco’s City Hall.
Since 2003, each year hundreds of people in dozens of cities around the
world have participated in this day to end violence– from Montreal
where people marched with red umbrellas, to protests against police
brutaility in Hong Kong, a candlelight vigil in Vancouver, a memorial
ritual in Sydney, a dance to overcome pain and traum in East Godavery,
India. More events are planned for 2008, the sixth year of the event.
The concept for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex
Workers is simple. Anyone can choose a place and time to gather,
invite others to gather and share their stories, writings, thoughts,
poems, and memories of victims, related news and performances. Or
people can do something personal, alone at home, such as lighting a
candle or taking a ritual memorial bath. We encourage discussions
among friends, by email, on blogs. People are encouraged to list their
events at the SWOP website so others can attend them, and to share the
power of their actions. People can also participate by making a
donation to a group that helps sex workers by teaching them about
dangers and how to best survive. Two such non-profits are St. James Infirmary and AIM Healthcare.
This December 17, 2008 many sex workers will converge in Washington,
D.C. on for a National March for Sex Worker Rights where marchers "will
take a stand for justice, and the freedom to do sex work safely. We are
calling for an end to unjust laws, policing, the shaming and stigma
that oppress our communities and make us targets for violence." People
are encouraged to join SWOP and other activists in Washington and to
endorse this march.
Every year when I create or attend a gathering on December 17, it is a
deeply moving experience. I take some moments to feel grateful that I
worked as a prostitute for so many years and came out alive. I
remember those who didn’t survive and I fear for those who won’t
unless real changes are made — namely safer working conditions and the
same police protection other citizens get without recrimination.
This piece was first posted on On The Issues Magazine.