By Cody Corrall
“Sex work is real work,” Sophie said into a megaphone in Daley Plaza Friday afternoon. A sizable crowd of sex workers and allies gripping handmade signs and red umbrellas returned the chant with equal measure.
June 2, known as International Whore’s Day or International Sex Workers Day, was recognized with demonstrations in Chicago, New York City, Oakland, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Austin and Washington D.C to demand the decriminalization of the profession, the end of police raids and to address the harms of FOSTA/SESTA.
International Whore’s Day celebrates the anniversary of the occupation of Église Saint-Nizier in Lyon, France in 1975 where more than 100 sex workers took over the church for eight days to protest inhumane and unsafe working conditions. During the occupation they chanted “you who threaten us with hell, we come to eat at your table.”
“We as a sex working community and our family have come to eat at the table of those who have threatened us,” Sophie said. “We will make them see our faces and see who their laws, their raids are harming.”
43 years later, sex workers are taking to the streets in seven-inch Pleaser shoes, carrying the added weight of the passage of FOSTA/SESTA.
FOSTA, known as Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and SESTA, known as Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act were signed into law April 11 by President Trump to the dismay of sex workers. In attempts to eliminate online sex trafficking, the bills hold websites liable for any content that could “promote or facilitate prostitution,” even if it’s posted by a third party. Since FOSTA/SESTA was signed into law, sites that host ads used by sex workers to screen clients have been reduced or shut down entirely. Craigslist took down their personal ad’s section for fear of legal ramifications and the popular ad hosting site Backpage has been seized by the U.S government.
Without sites like Backpage, sex workers have lost the resources used to do their job safely. Sex workers are unable to screen clients online and many are being forced to go back to the streets for financial security, which can lead to increased risk of violence, sexual assault or death. A study done at Baylor University found that during the time Craiglist had an “Erotic services” section, they saw a 17.4 percent decrease in all female homicides, not just sex workers. Since the shutdown of Backpage, at least thirteen sex workers have been reported missing and 2 have been confirmed dead, according to anecdotal data acquired by Tits and Sass.
“I stand here in solidarity with my brothers and my sisters and my siblings who cannot be here because they are criminalized, they are in jail, they are dead,” said Avia, a sex trafficking survivor and self proclaimed current whore. “Since FOSTA/SESTA has been passed I have been raped three times by long term clients who have told me that they know that I don’t have any other option. These laws are killing us.”
The seizing of free or low cost sites like Backpage also puts poor, disabled and undocumented sex workers out of their source of income. And for those who cannot physically work on the street, their livelihood is on the line.
“I’m disabled and poor and I just lost my job,” said an anonymous individual in a statement from the Bay Area Pro Support Group. “The only job that is physically possible for me. Every website that I’ve ever used to connect with clients has gone offline and I have no way of getting work now. Thousands of chronically ill and disabled people have just lost their means of survival.”
There was no march on Friday. It was a supportive space for statements and discussions about how these laws affect real people and how they can move forward. When a speaker would get choked up, members of the crowd would say “I love you.” Amidst the pain and the sadness, there was also laughter and hope. Against everything, this chosen family of sex workers say that they are stronger together.
Attendees also stressed the need for allies to speak up and fight for the rights of sex workers and to not make sex workers fight these battles alone. “Social justice issues are kind of a hot button topic and have been in the past decade but we don’t hear anything about sex workers in mainstream media and people in the general population really know nothing about this,” said Rowan, an ally.
“Many of us can’t even admit to the majority of the people in our lives that this is happening because it’s too risky,” said the anonymous individual from the Bay Area Pro Support Group. “We desperately need non workers to talk about what’s happening, to explain to people that these measures only harm. They don’t help trafficking victims or anyone else — but they do ruin lives.”