Thank you The English Collective of Prostitutes for collaborating once again and raising your opinion to the public.
On Saturday January 21st 2017, Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States. Yet another man voted for a position of massive global power with openly racist, discriminatory, misogynistic politics: no wonder the day was marked by mass public outrage in the form of women-led protests in over sixty countries across the world, from England to Australia. In expressions of rage and solidarity, people took to the streets, rallied outside detention centres, and even, in the case of Antarctica, protested on the seas. Setting the agenda was the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.
The march drew attention for the fact that it had more far attendees than the inauguration itself. Around 400 bus permits were issued for Trump’s big day, compared to an estimated 2,000 bus permits for the Washington march. It also attracted interest for its sceptical beginnings. The march’s leadership initially drew criticism for being made up predominantly of white women. After three prominent activists of colour joined the chairing board, the official platform aligned itself with a proudly inclusive and intersectional framework. Part of this intersectionality was the following statement: "we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements." This was history in the making...the largest major women’s march in history to support sex workers— around 87% of whom are women.
Back in England, sister marches were held in London and other cities. Aptly, the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), a London-based sex worker-led group that has campaigned for sex workers’ rights since 1975, firmly asserted a presence there. Sex workers and those in precarious work are most likely to be negatively affected by governments that restrict and reject unionising, welfare systems, labour conditions, racial justice, reproductive justice and women’s rights. However, that is not the only reason why we joined the Women’s March. Our presence was crucial because any march against Trump is a march condemning violence against sex workers.
In the run up to the election, several women came forward whom Trump had assaulted. One was Jessica Drake, a sex worker and sexual health educator. Speaking in October 2016, Trump 'explained' his criminal act: "she’s a porn star…oh, I’m sure she’s never been grabbed before." That being said, he revealed himself to be part of the unjust system of legal and personal marginalisation that sex workers face, in which they are denied their basic human rights to bodily autonomy and their agency to give or refuse consent. We protested to represent and pay tribute to those who bear the brunt of the spread of fascism and patriarchal state systems: working mothers, people of colour, migrant women, transgender people and the rising number of people pushed into sex work by destitution only to be persecuted by their governments for trying to survive. We protested for sex workers who face sexual violence, and whose work conditions are made more dangerous by the threat of criminal records, police brutality and prison.
This should be understood in light of Amnesty International’s recent demand for a full and global decriminalisation of sex work as an issue of, as they put it, ‘critical human rights.’ In their 2015 policy recommendation, they acknowledged years of research showing that criminalising sex work results in ‘increasing vulnerability to human rights violations while engaged in sex work and in limiting options for voluntarily ceasing involvement in sex work.’ Amnesty joined a long list of decriminalisation advocates, including the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.
The world is waking up to the fact that, like the criminalisation of abortion, any laws that restrict the actions and bodily movements of women consequently harm women. They disproportionately impact the safety of marginalised groups, such as trans women and women of colour, who are already more likely to be criminalised for their work, gender and race. Janet Mock, part of the Women’s March Policy Table, explained: "as a trans woman of colour who grew up in low income communities and who advocates, resists, dreams, and writes alongside these communities, I know that underground economies are essential parts of the lived realities of women and folk. I know sex work to be work. It’s not something I need to tiptoe around." ECP did not tiptoe either—we marched, and will continue to do so until governments all over the world allow all women and non-binary people to be free and safe in their work, in their bodies, and in their lives.