More than 40 years ago, over 100 sex workers gathered around Saint-Nizier Church in France to protest against the injustice and stigma that made their daily lives almost unbearable.
They gathered on June 2, 1975 in opposition to not only the decades of oppression they suffered, but primarily to the lack of government investigation following the murders of two prostitutes. Their response to that inaction has now turned into a national movement. Sex workers and allies in Europe celebrate International Sex Workers’ Day, also known as International Whores’ Day, annually and all around the world (though mainly in Europe), to advocate for the acceptance of sex workers and betterment of their lives.
The movement has evolved over 40 years. On June 2, 2018, instead of the riots and raids of the mid-70s, the world saw women marching across the streets donned in red to symbolize the lives of sex workers and the terrible conditions they continue to face.
According to the #SurvivorsAgainstSESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) website , the main concerns of sex workers include the immediate discontinuation of police raids, an end to racial and “whore" profiling, continued and improved aid to survivors of trafficking, immediate clemency or release of all incarcerated women facing jail time for sex work, and, of course, the decriminalization of all sex work.
Unfortunately, most forms of sex work in the United States are illegal and largely discriminated against by many. In addition to that, the U.S. government continuously works on putting a stop to all sex work. This is evident through the FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking)-SESTA policy which passed under the Trump administration in April 2018. While the intention of this policy was to address online sex trafficking, it could end up restricting, or rather, completely cutting off online sex services, resulting in a decrease in customers and elimination of a support network for sex workers.
The world has come a long way from what it used to be in 1975, but recent policies like FOSTA-SESTA indicate that we still have a long way to go regarding the livelihoods of sex workers. The first step to supporting sex workers is to start conversations and get people talking and aware. International Sex Workers’ Day comes every year with the goal of raising awareness of the conditions sex workers are subject to. It also serves the purpose of breaking the stigma that surrounds sex work.
Many perceive sex work as dirty, lewd, and disgusting almost instantly the moment it is brought up. This stigma associated with sex work obviously limits support and empathy for sex workers. Erasing the stigma and reinventing what it means to be a sex worker is essential if the endgame is policies that protect sex workers. International Sex Workers’ Day hopes to do just that. With everything from marches to goodie bags with informational packets and lube, to photography exhibitions and performance art, the exposure of sex workers is crucial in breaking stigmas and providing a sex-positive environment for generations.