International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."On the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, 17 December, Jean Urquhart has given her support to the voluntary organisations that work to protect the health and saftey of sex workers in Scotland.

Thousands of sex workers and sex worker-led organisations around the world, and their allies, mark each 17 December as the the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The event began in 2003 to honour the sex workers who were murdered by the Green River Killer in Seattle, and 2015 is the 12th annual event.

Jean joined the sex-worker charity ScotPep, the grassroots collective Sex Worker Open University (SWOU), the community health project Umbrella Lane and HIV charity Terence Higgins Trust Scotland in observing the day and calling for the decriminalisation of sex work, as proposed by Jean’s Prostitution Law Reform Bill.

Criminalisation and stigma mean that sex workers are disproportionately vulnerable to violence, including in Scotland. Jean has brought forward the proposed Bill to change the law to make sex workers safer, and her proposals that have been supported by every sex worker-led organisation in Scotland.

Jean said:

“When I started speaking with sex workers in Scotland I was struck by what they told me about how the law makes them less safe. For example, two women working together for safety in a flat can be both arrested for brothel-keeping, which forces sex workers to work alone – and signals to predators that they are ‘easy targets’.

“It should be unconscionable that the law makes sex workers so vulnerable to violence, and I’m proud to have brought forward proposals that are based on what people who sell sex say will keep them safe. International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers should be a day of reflection, and I hope that my colleagues in Holyrood will reflect on whether it should be acceptable for another year to pass with sex workers in Scotland still denied access to safety and justice.”

Luca Stevenson, co-founder of the Sex Worker Open University, said:

“Violence against sex workers is endemic across Europe. Too often, the supposed ‘solution’ is presented as the criminalisation of clients – a disastrous policy failure that has made sex workers vastly more vulnerable to violence, HIV, and stigma. Jean Urquhart’s proposals can lead the way in Europe in showing that laws built around respect for sex workers are possible.”

Nadine Stott, ScotPep co-chair, said:

“Sex workers in Scotland have seen another year pass where criminalisation has meant that they are still vulnerable to violence. However, there is also hope: for the first time this year, a debate about sex work policy launched with the voices and concerns of sex workers themselves at the heart of it. We’re looking forward to 2016, hopeful that this will set the tone for future discussion about the laws that affect sex workers. Only then can policy be shaped in such a way as to push back on the epidemic of violence that sex workers in Scotland face.”

ScotPep board member Raven Bowen said:

“Today as we light our candles and honour our dead, we also recognise that all eyes are on Scotland in 2016, which can be among the first countries to stand on behalf of sex workers and enact legislation that prioritises their health, safety and human rights. Sex workers, activists and researchers are redoubling advocacy efforts across the United Kingdom to ensure that sex workers are never again denied their due rights and the benefits of citizenship.”

Anastacia Ryan, co-founder of Umbrella Lane, said:

“Sex workers were telling us that they were feeling unable to access health and support services in the Glasgow area because of the stigma and judgement that they were being subject to. This is an unacceptable state of affairs: sex workers deserve unimpeded access to health care and to support. We set up Umbrella Lane as a community-led health project to fill this gap, because stigma, judgement, and lack of access to healthcare are also forms of violence against sex workers.

“We’ve been delighted by the supportive response from the community and from sex workers accessing our services – there is a growing recognition that stigma and criminalisation should be consigned to the past, and Jean Urquhart’s proposals are a key part of moving our society forward.”

Robert McKay, National Director at Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland said:

“Tackling violence against sex workers is a crucial component of reducing the transmission of HIV and improving the sexual health of everyone in the industry. This is why the Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland, like our colleagues elsewhere in the UK, has long supported the full decriminalisation of sex work along the lines of Jean Urquhart’s proposals. On International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland again calls on policymakers to listen to sex workers and the evidence – Scotland needs the New Zealand model.”