Ten is the number of bodies that have been found on Long Island's southern beaches since December. The first four, all found between December 11 abd 13, were confirmed to be the remains of women who had had some experience in sex work. The next was found on March 29. Three more were found on April 4, and two were found today. The identities of those most recently found have not been determined, and police have not made a definitive statement about whether all of the murders are connected.
So far, none has turned out to be Shannon Gilbert, the search for whom turned up these other victims.
I suspect they will turn out to be related, victims of a serial killer who targets women who, among all of the other things that they do in their lives, also exchange sex for money.
SWOP-NYC has responded with a statement that rightly reminds us that the dangers of sex work are the dangers of stigmatization and isolation, and not particular to the exchange of sex for something else of value.
I just spent three days at my statewide union's Representative Assembly where health and safety was one of the key concerns.
Are you a union member, or a friend or family member of a union member? If so, please come out. Please identify yourself that way in conversations. Please stand up for unions and for the basic worker rights that they protect.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, only 11.9 percent of workers in the US were represented by unions, and that number is only as high as it is because about a third of public sector workers are union members.
What does this have to do with sexuality? First of all, without unions there can be no economic justice in a capitalist society, and without economic justice, sexual freedom is impossible in any meaningful way. To fully realize our sexual freedom we need basic economic security.
Second, there is a lot to be learned from the coming out campaigns of the LGBT movement. When we are visible we reveal ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable, but we also become three dimensional human beings to those who have previously seen us as one-dimensional stereotypes.
Ron Weitzer sent me this collaborative video in which a group of women thoughtfully argue in favor of sex worker rights. It's a bit more than nine minutes long but take a look at it and check out some of the related videos. Let me know what you think!
PS: I looked around on YouTube for a link to info about the collaborators and couldn't find anything. If you were involved in the making of this video and you want the project credited more completely or would like to share more information about it please let me know how to do that by using the contact form to send me an email.
I am just getting home from a long day at work and have not yet blogged about International Sex Worker Rihts day. But I sat down at the computer with a cup of tea and tried to collect my thoughts, and the first thing I saw as I browsed was this:
Today (March 3) is International Sex Worker Rights Day. I would like to observe the occasion here by listing and highlighting some things pertaining to sex work/sex workers’ rights lately that I find cool/uplifting/heartening/lovely. The t-shirt I am wearing in the picture, by the way, was produced by the fabulous and local-to-me organization HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive).
Today, Labor Day, I'm thinking about work. I look around my apartment and am awed by the amount of work required to produce everything in it. The hours of labor represented by just the items sitting on my desk is astonishing. There are about a dozen books, an eye glass case, a tape dispenser, a roll of fishing line (why do I have fishing line on my desk?), a lamp, a bottle of ink, a couple of fountain pens, a wooden top, a few CDs, one DVD (Kill the Artist, by Andreas Troeger), a cup full of pens and pencils, two flash drives, an iPod, a pack of stationery, two notebooks, a date book, a New York Times magazine ("Why women's rights are the cause of our time", Aug. 23, 2009), and that is just the layer that is visible! When I add to that the service work involved in my day to day life. And it makes me think about the many paths that lead to all that work.
In my mail today from Southern Poverty Law Center:
"No woman should be forced to sacrifice her personal dignity and human rights for a paycheck ... These women -- some of the most vulnerable people in our society -- are being raped, violently assaulted, and otherwise exploited .... "
No, this isn't a story about sex trafficking. This is a story about immigrant women working in factories in fields all across the country. And SPLC's response is not to criminalize their work, thus penalizing the victims, but rather to help them file lawsuits against their employers and attackers. You can read about one such case, U.S. EEOC, et al. vs. Tuscarora Yarns, here.
It struck me as a stark and important contrast to the antiprostitution activists who claim to be working to help victims of exploitation but who are really further victimizing them by criminalizing their livelihood instead of prosecuting abusers. SPLC's strategy makes it clear that they understand the issues: All people have a right to earn a living. No person should be subject to abuse, violence, or exploitation at work. Workers in many industries put their bodies at risk to do their work, but those risks should be minimized and worker safety is everybody's concern.
This is a lesson that feminists who claim they want to protect women in the sex industry ought to learn.
A Father's Day Reflection
The story of Sarah Coral Hanson-Young illustrates two intersecting themes that entrench male privilege - the representation of gender in politics and the imbalance in responsibility for parenting. It is of concern that many (but not all) legislatures under-represent women, ensuring a cycle in which women's interests remain a low priority and decisions that are gendered continue to be taken. Yet so long as women carry an unequal burden of domestic and child-care responsibility this is unlikely to change appreciably.
From sex worker and human rights activist Douglas Fox of the International Union of Sex Workers:Why Sex Workers Need the IUSW.
I was thinking about the red umbrella image that I associate with sex worker rights and how the symbolism and the slogan are significant beyond that one very important movement. The umbrella of labor rights needs to cover all marginalized workers who are currently without protection of their basic rights.
I'm thinking especially of the connections between sex work and migrant work. Both categories of workers are so often targets of stigma, scapegoating, and abuse.
Imagine a labor movement that gathered up all workers and fought for their safety, their dignity, and their right to a decent standard of living. Imagine uniting workers around the globe so that employers could no longer exploit workers in one nation to undercut workers in another. Imagine not being arrested, deported, beat up, or murdered because of your work.
The right to work is a basic human right. The right to autonomy and control over one's body is a basic human right. A decent standard of living, physical safety, and personal freedom should all be basic human rights.
My wish for today is that we each do something, anything, that honors or celebrates the dignity of those whose work is stigmatized or made invisible. And if you get a moment, drop by in the comments and let us know what you did.
If you bought a 2009 NYC Sex Blogger Calendar, your money went to support the amazing nonprofit education and advocacy organization Sex Work Awareness. They've already done lots of good work with the money. One important project, Speak Out!, is a series of media workshops for sex workers, training them to deal with reporters and to make their own media. The day-long workshop has just been offered for the first time and by all accounts was very successful. At the end of the day participants produced this short public service announcement. It's only a minute long. Please watch it!
If you're curious about what participants thought about the workshop, here's a link to a very moving blog post by Calico, who describes some of the challenges and some of the accomplishments of the day.
Visit Sex Work Awareness at http://sexworkawareness.org to learn more about their media advocacy and public education work.