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Sex worker singalong

To mark the international day to end violence against sex workers, 'hookers' are staging a carol sin

From its origins in the USA in 2003, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has grown to encompass a variety of different events across the globe.

Whether it's a group of sex workers gathering together to share an evening of informal solidarity, to public actions; from the confrontational – a mass die-in in Chicago in 2007 – to the quirky – carol-singing hookers scampering round Soho in Father Christmas hats, this evening (17 December) in London.

Whatever the event – intimate or open – for once sex workers themselves set the agenda, despite the many voices who attempt to speak on our behalf.

And what sex workers say is that sex work is not inherently violent. It is a transaction between consenting adults.

Many people who work in the sex industry have less experience of violence at work than the general population (for example, 40 per cent of nurses have been harassed or assaulted by patients or their relatives, rising to 79 per cent if they work in A&E).

However, overall, sex workers suffer a disproportionate likelihood of violence at work. Unequal protection under the law is what allows prostitutes to be pimped, enslaved, beaten, raped and murdered.

If working indoors, two women together are breaking the law; the only way to work without the risk of prosecution is in isolation. Criminal gangs target us accordingly, relying on the fact that we are unlikely to report robbery or assault due to fear police will disregard our complaints - or perhaps even take advantage of our criminalisation to notch up an easy arrest.

Working outdoors is also made more dangerous by laws which do nothing to solve the problems of street sex work; planned changes to the law will worsen this. Removing the requirement for “persistent” evidence of kerb crawling decreases the time available for women to negotiate boundaries and prices with potential clients, or to make the decision that the man approaching them is doing so with malicious intent. We already know that there is a correlation between kerb crawling crackdowns and increased violence against street sex workers.

In the teeth of the evidence, ignoring the voices of sex workers themselves, the Home Office presents new proposals as means to protect “vulnerable women”. British law makes all sex workers vulnerable, and those who persist in describing prostitution as violence against women collude with our oppression and social exclusion by choosing to ignore sex workers’ calls for hate crimes against us to be taken seriously by society, and to be ended.

The International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) campaigns for the human, civil and labour rights of everyone who works in the sex industry, for decriminalisation and the full protection of the law and our inclusion in decisions that will affect our rights and safety.

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After a string of jobs in the private sector, including estate agency, television and administration for an architectural practice, Catherine Stephens spent ten years with an environmental campaigning organisation and a further five working with community development organisations. For the past eight years she has worked in the sex industry, and has been involved in sex worker organising for most of that time. She is an activist with the International Union of Sex Workers and is a member of the GMB trades union’s branch for people who work in the sex industry.

She loves her job.