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COYOTE RI observes the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers



The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is observed each year on December 17 to “call attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers worldwide, as well as the need to remove the social stigma, discrimination and indifference that have contributed to violence against sex workers.” The day was originally conceived as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, who preyed on sex workers and other women in vulnerable populations.

“We consider sex workers anyone who earns their living off erotic labor,” said Bella Robinson, executive director of COYOTE RI (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics Rhode Island). “So there’s two different sectors. There’s illegal sex workers which are online escorts in the form of prostitution, then there’s legal sex work like strippers, cam workers, fetish models and phone sex operators.”

This year, the United States passed FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act). The law “basically said that anyone who publishes an online escort ad or prostitution ad, that constitutes trafficking and you’re going to go to federal prison,” said Robinson. “What we saw happening was that all the website platforms that we spent years advertising on and building community to provide support for sex workers in crisis, just disappeared… Within weeks of signing [FOSTA] President Trump quietly defunded legal services for sex trafficking victims.

“So while they always talk about victims and their children, notice that they never talk about lack of jobs that pay a living wage, or affordable housing or access to a higher education…”

Robinson encouraged those in attendance to sign onto two petitions. The first petition concerns Cyntoia Brown, currently serving 51 years in prison for murdering a 43 year-old man man who bought her for sex when she was 16 years old. She was tried as an adult and and sentenced to life in prison. The petition is asking outgoing Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to commute her sentence to time served.

The second petition condemns “the December 11th arrest of three sex workers by undercover law enforcement officers for charges of soliciting for prostitution at the Foxy Lady in Providence.” The letter calls the arrests “a grotesque misuse of taxpayer dollars to oppress adult women whose only alleged crime is selling services to consenting adults in a private location.”

“Our main legislative and policy goal is to decriminalize prostitution,” said Melissa Broudo, a lawyer and co executive director of the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights Institute (SOAR Institute) “Our ideal model would be like New Zealand, where [prostitution] is decriminalized… Decriminalization is the ultimate harm reduction for sex workers and for survivors of human trafficking…”

Sex work was in fact decriminalized in Rhode Island from 1979 to 2009 as long as you were indoors. “When New Zealand decriminalized prostitution, the government ran a five year review about how it was working out, and they found that they had just about rid the sex industry of exploitation, except for when it came to migrant workers, because even if you had a work visa, you couldn’t be a stripper,” said Robinson.

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“So any form of criminalization, whether it’s migration or whether it’s prostitution, it’s what allows exploitation and violence.”

Here is the video shown at the event to memorialize the sex workers who lost their lives due to stigma and violence:

“Stigma is the number one way to kill a sex worker,” said Ramona Flour, executive director at Chaturbate, a legal form of sex work. “Being shamed, not having access to legal services, not having access to medical help. Me going to the doctor and explaining that I’m a legal sex worker, I work on porn sets, I still get doctors being shitty with me. I still get lawyers being shitty with me. I had an accountant fire me. I’ve had my Chase Credit Card banned. I had my Lift account banned, my Airbnb account banned, I’m banned on Facebook, I’m banned on Tinder…”

The next two videos are about harm reduction in the era of fentanyl. In the first video, Michelle McKenzie and Jackie Cleary of PONI (Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention) explain how to use Naloxone and save lives in the event there is a person overdosing. In the second video, another Jackie gives a demonstration on how to use fentanyl test strips.

Bella Robinson
Melissa Broude
Ramona Flour
Art by COYOTE RI Boardmember Sue
Art by COYOTE RI Boardmember Sue
Art by COYOTE RI Boardmember Sue

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.