Press Release from the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE):
From Turkey to Sweden, recent murders and violent attacks on sex workers spark an unprecedented wave of international action calling for an end to stigma and criminalisation.
Last week, with one day apart, members of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers (ICRSE) learned of the violent murders of two women. On Tuesday, Dora, a trans woman and sex worker in Kusadasi, Aydin in Turkey was stabbed by a client. On Thursday, Jasmine, a mother of two children and a sex worker, was also stabbed – by her ex-husband.
ICRSE and all its members are offering its condolences to all family members, friends and colleagues of Dora and Jasmine. But the sadness and grief that those murders provoke has also raised activist anger and revolt at the systems worldwide that fail to protect sex workers from discrimination, violence and murder.
Those two tragic deaths should be a wake –up call for all of us: human rights defenders, feminists, LGBT activists, policy makers and anyone who refuses a world where people – because they are selling sexual services – are seen as less worthy of human dignity and respect and therefore more likely to be seen as unfit mothers by the state, or to be the victims of brutal and heinous crimes.
1. Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, an ICRSE member organisation in Turkey wrote: “Violence against trans sex workers in different forms has been a common and widespread reality in Turkey. The overall reported incidents of trans sex workers murders has been 31 between 2008 – 2012 in Turkey, constituting the highest number in Council of Europe states. Another case that we have experienced this week was the violent attack of another trans sex worker from Ankara – Ela – who was shot by gun from her arm by one of her clients and she may lose the functioning of right arm. The Turkish Government must take every necessary step to ensure trans sex workers from violence”.
2. Rose Alliance, an ICRSE member and sex worker organisation on which Jasmine was on the Board: “Our board member, fierce activist and friend Petite Jasmine got brutally murdered yesterday (11 July 2013). 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. They told her she didn’t know what was good for her and that she was “romanticizing” prostitution, they said she lacked insight and didn’t realise sex work was a form of self-harm. 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. She 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!”
Sweden, with its reputation of gender equality, transparent government and respect for minorities, is also known for passing the 1999 law that criminalises the clients of sex workers. In considering all sex workers as victims and all clients as abusers, the Swedish state denies agency of women selling sexual services. This paternalistic approach, aggressively promoted to other countries as “protecting women” actually led to an attitude that infantilises women and discredits their choices and experiences, and has led to the violation of the human rights of women. Women caught selling sex are seen as unfit mothers and subsequently have their children forcibly taken away from them, and denied housing and and disregarded as victims of false consciousness and male violence, an approach that fundamentally denies their agency and their own articulation of their experiences
The Swedish State and its so-called social workers preferred to give custody of two children to a man known for his violent and abusive tendencies instead of their mother because she was a sex worker and according to them, didn’t know what was good for her or her own kids.
Despite her warnings that the man was violent, she had to go through four court cases and in her final years she barely saw them due to her husband refusing to work with the system that granted her access. When she finally met with her son in in July 2013, their father stabbed her to her death. In one final moment of mother instinct, Jasmine was said to have made sure that her son was out of sight as she noticed her husband was about to become increasingly aggressive.
The story of Dora, a transgender sex worker in Turkey was a different setting however noticeably still connected in that stigma and discrimination played a huge part in the impunity with which her attacker would murder her. More conservative than Sweden and with a noticeably poor record on human rights, gender equality and respect of minorities, Turkey is also failing to protect sex workers from violence. Though prostitution is not illegal in Turkey when operated from brothels (one by one shut down by the government to satisfy public morality, and by consequence, leaving more women to work, unsafely, in the streets) the stigma faced by trans women is so high that very few found ways of making a living other than through sex work.
Kemal Ordek, chair of Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association said, “Discrimination against trans women in education and employment sectors is widespread. Many trans women end up in doing sex work under risky environments. Sex work is regulated in Turkey in a manner which paves the way to criminalise those unregistered sex workers – even though the laws does not require so – as any step taken in relation to sex work is criminalised under the Turkish Penal Code. The police are generally one of the perpetrators of violence, pushing sex workers under more risky environments where they are more open to violence from people posing as clients or gangs.” The 31 reported murders of trans women in Turkey in the last five years is likely to be far lower than the real number.”
And so it happened that in two countries with completely different approaches are employed to sex work, gender equality and trans recognition, only two days apart, two sex workers were fatally stabbed. Neither of these approaches to sex work recognise that stigma and discrimination against sex workers leads to violence and abuse, and rather than the state condoning and perpetuating this stigma, states must work with sex workers to challenge the marginal status of sex workers.
Societies and government, in Europe and worldwide, need to question what they are doing wrong and what they should change so that the stigma and violence against sex workers finally ends.
In the words of Jasmine’s mother, “My lovely daughter, they did you so wrong – they stole you from your children, they stole you from me. I will do whatever I can to fight your fight. And I promise i will do whatever it takes to see your children, my grandchildren safe with me. I know who held the knife, but they might as well have put it in his hands! My love – you will live on forever in our hearts and souls – and we will keep your candle burning”
In response to these murders and continual violence, and in memory of Jasmine and Dora, sex workers and allies across the world have mobilised to create a mass spontaneous international day of action and memorial. In London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Brighton, Berlin, Vancouver, Helsinki, Canberra, and Västerås in Sweden – a total of 24 cities over three continents so far – sex workers will gather outside the embassies and consulates of the Swedish and Turkish governments, or in parks or public places to protest what has been called the state-condoned murders of Jasmine, Dora, and so many others. Enough sex workers have suffered or died because of stigma and criminalisation. We demand change!
Shame on Turkey! Shame on Sweden!
Violence against sex workers must stop.
CONTACT: Luca Stevenson, ICRSE Coordinator
firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 7821 540 004