Press Release from Sex Worker Open University (SWOU):
Wave of international protests spread to Britain, as sex workers and allies remember Dora and Jasmine, and call for an end to criminalisation and stigma.
Sex workers across the world mobilised this week in an unprecedented spontaneous response to two murders of sex working women. Twenty five demonstrations across three continents and both hemispheres are planned for Friday at 3pm – with more being added every day – as sex workers and allies mourn Jasmine and Dora, two women murdered two days apart at opposite ends of Europe. Although in many ways their lives were very different, both brilliant women were made fatally vulnerable to the violent men who killed them by the criminalisation and stigma of sex workers – deliberately fostered by the Swedish and Turkish states.
Luca Stevenson, co-ordinator with the International Committee for the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), the organisation which is supporting local activists around Europe and the world in their demonstrations, said about the UK protests, “It is with sadness, grief and anger that members of Sex Worker Open University will gather in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Brighton and London on Friday the 19th to protest against the murders of Dora and Jasmine. The systemic violence faced by trans* sex workers in Turkey, and the institutionalised stigma and discrimination of the ‘Swedish model’ have both led to the violent deaths of two young women. Governments, civil societies, feminists, LGBT and human rights’ organisation need to wake up and listen to sex workers and work together, with us, so that our rights, our access to justice and our freedom to live free from violence and discrimination can be attained.”
Sex workers particularly emphasised the hypocrisy of the Swedish approach to sex work, which criminalises clients in order to “protect” sex workers, who are positioned as women entirely lacking in agency or voice. In its own report on the effect of the law, The Swedish government acknowledges that its approach increases the stigma that sex workers face – and calls this a “positive” thing. Jasmine was a sex worker in Sweden, and the stigma that the Swedish government deliberately fostered was what allowed her violent ex husband to kill her – she had repeatedly asked the state to intervene in his domestic violence, but had been disbelieved about it because she was a sex worker.
The Rose Alliance, a sex worker organisation in Sweden, said, “Our board member, fierce activist and friend Petite Jasmine got brutally murdered on 11th 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!”
Nine, who delivered support services to sex workers for several years when employed by Edinburgh charity SCOT-PEP, said, “It can no longer be claimed that Sweden’s aggressive campaign against sex work is not also an aggressive campaign against sex workers. In taking Jasmine’s children away from her and in ignoring the escalation of her killer’s behaviour, the Swedish authorities have demonstrated where their priorities really lie in tackling violence against women.”
Nancy Ellis, a sex worker and single mother, said, “I was threatened and stalked by someone violent with very high status, who sought to discredit me as a single mother. The feeling of knowing that people will agree with this because of the work I do, and leave me at risk of violence is a feeling I cannot describe.”
“It is the worst feeling in the world and the experience of it will never leave me and has changed my life irrevocably.”
Sex worker Laura Lee said, “’I am absolutely appalled at the senseless murders of Dora and Jasmine. We know that stigma and whorephobia kill, as does the Swedish model. It is long past time, that as sex workers we are afforded equal rights and are no longer treated as second class citizens. That there are twenty five cities protesting is cause for hope: no longer will we be silenced.”
S, a male sex worker, said, “The murder of Petite Jasmine is a chilling indictment of how dangerous the Swedish model is for sex workers. When will governments and policy-makers stop trying to ‘save’ us from our own lives and instead offer us protection from abuse and stigma. Sex workers are easy targets for those who want to commit acts of violence. The murder of Dora, a trans sex worker from Turkey, by one of her clients is another tragic example of this.”
“We urge all governments to decriminalise sex work and foster societies where sex workers are valued and accepted for who we are. We simply want the right to work safely and free from violence. How many more of us have to die before things change.”
Sex workers highlighted the barely-concealed viciousness towards those currently in the industry that is inherent in the Swedish model. Scotland-based sex worker Molly noted, “The special adviser to the Swedish government on prostitution, Gunila Eckberg, is on film telling a woman who disagreed with her to ‘not expect any help from the women’s shelters’, because ‘this is what happens when you betray us’. Tragically, that threat was really real for Jasmine. And yet Gunila Eckberg is welcome everywhere in Glasgow as a ‘feminist’ and an expert on the ‘benefits’ of the Swedish model; she attended two conferences last year, one hosted by the STUC women’s committee, and one by Rape Crisis Scotland. Advocates of the Swedish model pretend to be feminists, but really they just viscerally hate sex working women – as the results of their policies show”.
Violet, a sex worker, said:
“Most people think that all the violence and murder sex workers endure is from clients. Jasmine died for the want of human rights in Sweden.”
…a so-called socialist paradise of social justice, at the hands of a violent partner, and having reported abuse to a police force who wouldn’t listen because of her work. The pseudo-feminists who built and now export the Swedish model, which fosters an abhorrent climate of stigma towards sex workers have Jasmine’s blood on their hands. During her life, she advocated strongly for global decriminalisation and justice for her death will not be done until we see that goal achieved. No more sex workers must die.”
Sex workers in the UK focused particularly on the policies that led to Jasmine’s death, because the Swedish model is one that is being actively pushed in for in Britain. But we are also gathering to mourn Dora, and protest the policies that led to her death.
Women like Dora, who are both trans* and sex working, experience a confluence of oppressions, ranging from the transphobia that makes it so difficult for trans* women to find employment outwith the sex industry, to the ‘regulationist’ approach of the Turkish government’s sex work legislation, which effectively criminalises those who can’t or won’t fulfill the arbitrary qualifications set but the Turkish state. This de facto criminalisation makes them tragically vulnerable to violent individuals posing as clients.
Sex workers reiterate that ‘legalisation’ or regulationism is not good enough: it does not protect women like Dora, any more than the Swedish model protected Jasmine. We need full decriminalisation, and furthermore we call on the Turkish government to tackle transphobia: the fatal results of which, some in Turkey are already calling a “trans massacre” – with no end in sight, as the government – at best – ignores this hatred, and the violence it engenders.
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 law 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 coming from 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.
Jasmine and Dora were in some respects very different, and many people would perceive Sweden – liberal and ‘feminist’ – as a complete opposite to Turkey, coded as conservative to the point of being patriarchal.
To sex workers, however, these two deaths, two days apart, explode that myth of contrast and instead point to the very similar themes – despite the difference in rhetoric – of criminalisation and stigma being used by the State to foster and permit violence against those it views as undesirable.
On Friday 19th at 3pm, sex workers and allies will take to the streets in cities around the world – there are six protests being planned in Australia alone – and in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Sheffield and Brighton outside Swedish and Turkish consulates. We will use this moment of anger, clarity, and grief to mourn and to organise, because in the words of Jasmine’s mother: “I will do whatever I can to fight your fight … My love – you will live on forever in our hearts and souls – and we will keep your candle burning”.
CONTACT: Luca Stevenson, ICRSE Coordinator
firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 7821 540 004