The Sex Workers’ Outreach Project Los Angeles Holds Vision Quilt Workshop for International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
by Lauren Levitt
On December 17, 2018 a group of sex workers and their allies gathered in the conference room of the East Los Angeles Women’s Center to observe International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers. The event was organized by the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project Los Angeles (SWOP LA), a local chapter for SWOP USA, a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of people involved in the sex trade and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy.
International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers was started in 2003 by sex worker, artist, and activist Annie Sprinkle and SWOP USA to memorialize the victims of the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, a prolific serial killer who preyed on sex workers and other marginalized women in Washington state during the 1980s and 90s. Today, on December 17 the sex worker community remembers all those lost to violence in the past year.
As people began to fill the room, they enjoyed a warm meal and visited with each other, appreciating the warmth and comfort of community, before musician and adult performer Petra Blair gave a presentation on the connections between gun violence and violence against sex workers. 14 of the 49 sex workers who died in the United States in 2018 were killed by gunshot, higher than any other cause of death, and over half of the women in the United States killed by intimate partner violence, which includes violence from clients, are killed with a gun.
The presentation was followed by a Vision Quilt Workshop, during which participants created panels imagining an end to gun violence against sex workers. During the workshop, Mariah Castañeda, a journalist from L.A. Taco, asked organizers and participants about the impact of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Acts (FOSTA), a federal bill package passed earlier that year which made conditions more dangerous for those in the sex trade by shutting down online advertising platforms and safety resources.
After the workshop, SWOP LA director Zooey Zara led guests in a candlelit vigil for the sex workers who were lost in 2018, during which many tears were shed. The list was longer than the year before, and in addition to the many women who had been murdered, there were a number of adult performers who had taken their own lives. Following the ceremony, everyone pitched in to help clean up the center before wishing each other goodnight.
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