I used to be a regular activist: a familiar face at protests of every kind, from environmentalism, to nuclear power, to feminist struggles and free education. I could have papered my whole flat in flyers and posters and protest literature.
After a while, I burnt out and got sick and tired of never seeming to make a difference, no matter how many people chained themselves to whatever, no matter how many miles walked in whatever weather or how many hours were spent persuading people to care about things they manifestly did not give a shit about.
I mostly stopped being an activist because I started realising that I was changing more minds sitting down with people in pubs and actually talking to them, writing polemics on the Internet and frankly seeming to achieve about the same or more social change without leaving my bedroom. And now I mostly achieve social change by sucking off people who have the power to change things, and gratifyingly I also get paid for this.
When I heard the news about Petite Jasmine (on twitter, actually), I was actually surprised at how it affected me. I am ashamed that I take for granted that sex workers in vulnerable conditions and in far away countries will die every day for their lack of human rights. Police brutality, let alone client violence, is a major killer of sex workers in many countries. Police ignoring sex worker abuse or justifying it on the grounds that sex work is inherently dangerous is state-sponsored violence. Further than that, the feminists that support these ideas by advocating for anything but decriminalisation equally have blood on their hands.
Petite Jasmine was a young, beautiful, politically active Swedish woman, killed last week by a partner she had reported for domestic violence. I had interacted with her on twitter; she had been a strong advocate for decriminalisation – and now her death should be the strongest rationale behind full global decriminalisation of sex work on harm reduction grounds. The culture fostered by the criminalisation of clients model, which is the current legislation in Sweden (also called the Nordic Model) is why police in Sweden ignored Jasmine’s pleas for protection and why she was consistently ignored and demeaned on the grounds of her work. There are several great briefing papers out there about the Swedish Model if you really think it helps anyone.
Dora was a trans sex worker also killed last week in Turkey. Trans women don’t have many choices for work in Turkey (or anywhere, see Sophia photos on being trans in Canada, or really talk just to any trans woman, anywhere. It’s really, really fucking hard in employment as a trans woman. Srsly) and many support themselves doing sex work, the same as many other people who struggle in the world of work end up doing sex work because they are non-normative or less privileged on whatever grounds; women, people of colour, queers, differently abled etc.
Even if you don’t support sex work, or think it’s an awesome thing to do, or even think that it can be consensual, fun or empowering; it doesn’t matter. Surely, surely you can support that people ideally shouldn’t die just for doing it. And before you say, no, “ending demand” is not going to end prostitution; that is what they were trying in Sweden by criminalising clients. It hasn’t worked there and now our friend is dead for their fucking little social experiment. Full global decriminalisation is our absolute demand, on safety grounds (fuck all the labour rights and human rights angles we have been banging on about for years) – it is the safest way to work and would be the only appropriate justice for Jasmine’s death. Actually, no fuck it: There is no justice: she should not have had to die for decriminalisation.
There has been a huge outpouring of support for the demonstrations to protest these two deaths: hopefully more than 30 protests on 4 continents. We are organising a global day of action on Friday 19th July. In many of the participating countries, people will gather at either the Swedish or the Turkish embassy at 3pm. We will take red umbrellas, the symbol of sex worker rights, and some of us will take wigs, sunglasses, masks to protect our identities. Every protest we know about is listed (along with a lot of other info and press releases). here
Even if I would be unlikely to lose my life if someone identified me as a sex worker at the demo on Friday, many people still risk their homes or families if their communities knew they did sex work, so demonstrating as sex workers or even allies is a huge deal to everyone participating. But then, I kid myself that my privilege as a white, upper middle class person doing indoor sex work in a “first world” country where it is not illegal (let alone all the other privileges I have) keeps me safe from harm. Similar privileges didn’t protect Jasmine. We so narrowly defeated the criminalisation bill in Scotland recently. How quickly would our culture have allowed a death like Jasmine’s? And how easily could it have been me?