Last Friday, June 2nd, was International Sex Workers’ Day. That day is in memory of a historic sex Worker protest that took place on June 2, 1975 in Lyon, France.
A combination of events sparked this protest. A few sex workers had been murdered in the area and the Police had shown no commitment to solving these cases. The murderer hadn’t been captured and the local police reacted to these crimes by increasingly enforcing prostitution laws. In other words, the police weren’t protecting these women and the criminal penalties were making them more vulnerable to violence.
Sex workers would have to risk going to jail if they wanted to come forward with information about a serial killer. In response, a group of roughly 100 sex workers who called themselves “the French Collective of Prostitutes” decided to take extreme action. They chose a highly visible scene to stage their protest. They gathered at a local church and refused to leave until their basic rights were observed.
They also hanged a banner (in reference to their children) from within one of the windows that read, “We do not want to see our mothers in prison.” The French Collective of Prostitutes were inside of the Saint-Nizier church for eight days before the police raided the building. Upon entrance, many of the women were beaten by these law enforcement officers.
|Photo - Jenn Farr/Flickr|
Needless to say, this very public act of political speech gained a great deal of media attention. It sparked a wave of interest and helped lead to the formation of several sex worker activist organizations. This brave act became an international story and every year since then June 2nd has been recognized as International Sex Workers’ Day. In some countries, it’s called International Whores’ Day.
Out of curiosity, I held off on writing this post for a few days because I wanted to see how much media coverage the International Sex Workers’ Day would receive. I wrote a similar post last December, “U.S. Media Ignores International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.”
If you’re not familiar with the significance of December 17th, it is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. (There’s a horrific backstory to why that day is commemorated and it’s explained in full in the article.) Anyhow, long story short, there was barely any recognition of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers by corporate media outlets within the U.S.
With that knowledge in mind, I assumed that at least one media outlet in the U.S. would cover the International Sex Workers’ Day. Guess what? I was wrong.
If you’re on social media, you probably noticed that National Donut Day dominated Internet traffic on June 2nd. Case in point, there were over 150,000 posts on Twitter related to this topic.
Granted, most readers prefer light-hearted topics on a Friday. Furthermore, most Americans don’t support the decriminalization of prostitution. And those who support decriminalization may enjoy a brief mental escape with some silly memes about donuts. Clearly, a liberal take on prostitution policy doesn’t fall in line with mainstream news. However, it’s a sad state of affairs that not one American news organization was willing to cover this story.
On the other hand, there was some media recognition of International Sex Workers’ Day in other countries, particularly where prostitution is either legal or decriminalized. One article in Australia quoted a local sex worker activist, Julie Bates.
“But unfortunately, stigma is rife and very few sex workers can stand tall as we’re still treated as second class citizens.”
Americans need to hear that kind of perspective. After all, the media has a very influential role in shaping public opinion. Hence, there needs to be fair and balanced coverage of this issue. Suffice it to say, that hasn’t happened in the United States. Instead, the average American has been inundated with news reports that conflate human trafficking with prostitution.
Occasionally, there is a prostitution news report similar to what happened yesterday. A police officer in Ridley, TN was arrested for official misconduct and patronizing prostitution. He’s accused of having sex with prostitutes in his police car while on duty on multiple occasions.
According to the investigators, this police officer paid for sex. And that may be the case. However, police officers frequently extort prostitutes for free sex. And the average person is completely unaware of this issue.
Understandably, it’s difficult to quantify this problem because sex workers operate in the black market. However, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (the famed “Freakonomics” duo) conducted a study, which included eyewitnesses, and found that 3% of prostitutes’ sex acts were performed for free with police officers.
Most sex workers don’t report these sexual assaults because their line of work is illegal. However, a recent scandal in the Bay Area revealed that over 30 police officers had sex with one particular sex worker, Celeste Guap. Four of those officers had sex with her while she was underage. Guap explained that she felt compelled to have sex with these officers in order to stay out of jail. Two weeks ago, the city of Oakland agreed to a nearly $1 million settlement.
On a related note, there’s also been some media coverage about Michigan closing a legal loophole that allowed police to have sex with prostitutes during undercover stings. However, the coverage was flawed on multiple levels. First of all, there’s the official rule and there’s the way that events actually unfold in the real world.
Secondly, most news outlets reported that Michigan was the last state to close this loophole. That’s not true. A sex worker activism group in Alaska, Community United for Safety & Protection (CUSP), is actively lobbying the state legislature to end this practice. Conversely, various Alaskan police officials have also lobbied to keep this loophole in place. They’ve insisted that an officer would be fired for engaging in such activity. Yet, police officials claim that this loophole shouldn’t be closed. Suffice it say, that’s a very contradictory viewpoint.
One police official told the Alaska Dispatch News that he was offended by the suggestion that police officers would abuse their authority in this manner. Well, you can watch this NSFW video with multiple testimonies from sex workers in Alaska who’ve been violated in this exact manner.
You don’t need to be a scholar to realize that it’s a human rights crisis when a particular group of people can be targeted for rape with little to no fear of legal repercussions.
To wrap up, this is only one of numerous issues that result from criminalizing prostitution. Unfortunately, the American media is generally unaware of the injustices that sex workers are subjected to. Or, the industry is unwilling to report on these human rights violations.
 Gail Pheterson. A Vindication of the Rights of Whores. Seattle: The Seal Press, 1989. Print. P 5
 Nils Ringal. Love For Sale: A World History of Prostitution. New York: Grove Press, 2004. Print. P 373
 Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. New York: William Morrow, 2009. Print. P 45