Safety First! Decriminalise now!
Following the murders of two women, Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine, on the 9th and 11th of July, sex workers, their friends, families, and allies are coming together to demand an end to murders and other violence, criminalisation and stigma. Demos, vigils, and protests in front of Swedish and Turkish embassies or other symbolic places have been organised in 25 cities – for more info see: jasmineanddora.wordpress.com.
On 11 July, Petite Jasmine, a sex worker in Sweden, was murdered by her ex-husband. Her good friend and colleague Pye Jakobsson, Rose Alliance, commented:
“Our board member, fierce activist and friend Petite Jasmine has been brutally murdered. Several years ago she lost custody of her children as she was considered to be an unfit parent due to being a sex worker. The children were placed with their father regardless of him being abusive towards Jasmine. He threatened and stalked her on numerous occasions; she was never offered any protection. She fought the system through four trials and had finally started seeing her children again. Yesterday the father of her children killed her.”
Ms Jakobsson also commented on how the 1999 Swedish Sex Purchase Law which criminalised sex workers’ clients, has increased discrimination and stigma against sex workers and led to tragedies of this kind:
“The law builds on the idea that women who sell sex are weak and exploited. Sex workers have been reduced to “victims” by professionals, politicians and others in authority. Abuse and discrimination has increased as a result, including police raids against sex workers in their own home. More sex workers are being judged as unworthy mothers and losing custody of their children with devastating consequences. Jasmine always said “Even if I can’t get my kids back I will make sure this never happens to any other sex worker”. We will continue her fight. Justice for Jasmine!”
On 9 July, Dora Özer, a trans sex worker was murdered in Turkey. She was the 31st trans person to be killed in Turkey since 2008. Protests were held in Adana, Ankara, Diyarbakir, Eskişehir, İstanbul and İzmir, some of which were met by police in gas masks. Kemal Ordek, chair of Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association comments:
“Dora Ozer was murdered by one of her clients on 9th of July in Kusadasi, Turkey. Our advocacy actions over the last seven years, to highlight the high level of murders targeting trans sex workers in Turkey, have alarmed the Turkish Government. The response has been ignorance and more oppression. Trans sex workers face systematic and widespread discrimination in education and employment which push them in the sex industry. Even though sex work in Turkey is not illegal in theory, every action related to sex work is illegal. This creates risky environments for every sex worker. Police violence and sexual and physical violence from clients and gangs is rampant. Unless sex work is decriminalised in a way to protect the labour and human rights of sex workers, these murders will not stop. End discrimination towards trans women, ensure safety in the sex industry!”
In the UK, sex workers face an epidemic of rape and other violence.
Sex workers in London are 12 times more likely to be murdered than other women.[i] What are the police doing about this? Forming task forces, not to protect sex workers, but to arrest women. Raids, prosecutions and imprisonment of sex workers have soared further undermining safety.[ii] In some areas, nearly every woman working on the street has a conviction for soliciting and an Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO) imposed on her. Breach of an ASBO carries a five year prison sentence.[iii] Even when sex workers come forward to report violence we face arrest.[iv]
Decriminalisation was introduced in New Zealand in 2003 with verifiable success: sex workers felt more able to report violence and attacks were cleared up more quickly.[v]
Politicians should be looking to New Zealand not Sweden for leadership in any efforts to change the law.
Safety First! Decriminalise now!
[i] Silence on Violence, GLA member Andrew Boff, 2012.