December 17th, International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, is a day to remember the varied and myriad ways in which violence is enacted against sex workers, to commemorate and mourn those we lose each year.
I drove six hours and two hundred miles from where I live to attend the December 17th vigil in Brighton hosted by Brighton Feminist Collective.
I missed it. We arrived just as it ended and people left for home.
This is the speech I had planned to share at the vigil, which BFC kindly invited me to share after the fact.
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Fundraising and awareness posts for Amber on tumblr (please share):
TRANSCRIPT below the cut
Hi, my name is Charlie and the Brighton Feminist Collective have invited me to read out a speech that I intended to read at the vigil yesterday, for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I say intended because despite having driven two hundred miles to attend the vigil, what we didn’t anticipate was that we would miss it. Which we did. By a matter of maybe like five minutes; we arrived literally as half of everybody was going home. So we effectively drove for six hours and two hundred miles to go to the pub. With some incredibly cool people, but still. So, thank you Brighton Feminist Collective for inviting me to read out my statement anyway.
I wanted to speak to those gathered for the vigil, an opportunity the M25 decided to squish somewhere between inadequate signage and angry London drivers, to underline the ways in which violence is enacted against sex workers in both personal and societal levels, and the fact that one does not exist without the other.
The ways that societal or ‘macro level’ violence- international and governmental consensus, state legislation, police intervention, societal stigma, etc- causes and enables personal or ‘micro level’ violence- physical and emotional abuse, sexual violence, isolation, ostrasiation- is something that conversations around sex work are all too often eager to gloss over.
All too often, sex workers are treated as fitting into one of two categories; “empowered” (not representative) vs “exploited” (can’t talk for themselves). Conveniently, this black and white treatment of sex worker’s lives cannot account for the multiple and constantly changing state of anybody’s existence.
Fundemental to fighting the violence that sex worker’s face is to pay attention to sex workers actual lived experiences and the unimaginable variety of contexts and, yeah, complicated, contradictory, and fundamentally human ways that sex workers exist and sex work is enacted.
This includes acknowledging the nuanced and complex ways that violence is enacted against sex workers. At the hands of clients, at the hands of law enforcement, and at the mercy of the law.
Amber Batts faces 10 to 25 years in prison and a place on the sex offenders register for engaging in sex work in a way that keeps sex workers safe.
Amber Batts is not accused of threatening or harming anyone. She is not accused of abuse or coercion. She is not accused of any sexual abuse or violent acts.
Alaskan sex worker and trafficking victim rights organisation Community United for Safety and Protection (CUSP) explains that she is accused: “primarily of doing things that increase the safety of people in the sex trade: marketing online, checking customers against a blacklist, negotiating independent contractor agreements with workers, maintaining an indoor place of prostitution, and of course engaging in conduct that aided or facilitated prostitution. When people in the sex trade associate with each other, advertise online, screen clients, and work indoors it increases their safety.” more information and CUSP’s statement on Amber’s situation can be found at sextraffickingalaska.com.
And yet in the media Amber is being referred to as a ‘pimp’ and a ‘trafficker’, and she’s being treated as though she’s already been convicted. After posting two $15,000 bonds to be out on bail, authorities also require her to be on third party custodian full time. This means that Amber is on house arrest and is only allowed to leave her house 3 times a week to attend support group meetings, and she is having to wear an ankle monitor that she has to pay $600 per month for.
“I am concerned about the health and welfare of my friend Amber and her children in the event an emergency arises and she doesn’t have the right to even go to the emergency room without risking being put in jail,” said her friend, Elena Stewart, “she cannot even shop for food.”
Her current attorney, Rex Butler, will be withdrawing as her defense counsel because she doesn’t have the ability to pay him.
She is in dire need. Please go to supportamberbatts.wordpress.com for more info, including ways to donate.
Amber’s case is illustrative of the gross misuse and misapplication of laws designed to help prosecute dangerous and violent abusers. She was arrested under anti-trafficking legislation; Since Alaska’s sex trafficking law was passed in 2012 it has been used systematically in lieu of prostitution laws.
This is violence. This is state violence; the application of legal processes to persecute and punish vulnerable populations.
Currently we are only encouraged to think of violence against sex workers in black-and-white, personal, micro terms that sensationalise the exotic, shocking and exciting stories of horrific abuse even as this narrative completely ignores the banal, everyday, common abuse and harassment that sex workers- and all vulnerable populations- face and the way that this is enacted and enabled in impersonal, societal attitudes and international and national legislation.
It’s just not exciting. Legislation isn’t exciting. Legal battles are not exciting. Talking about sex worker’s needs in terms of labour and work freedoms and rights isn’t exciting.
Examining the needs of sex workers in terms that acknowledge the varying and incredibly complicated realities of the sex trade and of work and labour itself isn’t exciting. It’s difficult, and won’t get your NGO funding, and doesn’t fit onto pithy advertising campaigns, it won’t sell your book, nobody is going to hand you a column on the Guardian for it, and just isn’t exciting.
What it is, is desperately needed. Amber Batts needs decriminalisation. She needs support. She needs a state and a society that isn’t hellbent on ignoring her reality for something more exciting.
Society is letting sex workers down. Governments are letting sex workers down. Feminist organisations are letting sex workers down. We need to do better.
So, thank you to Brighton Feminist Collective for hosting the vigil in the first place, thank you to Brighton Feminist Collective for giving me a chance to say this now, and thank you specifically to Darcy, Frankie and everybody else who let me rant at them for about seven hours. You guys rock.
Thank you for watching this video, all links to everything I’ve talked about will be included down there somewhere, and yeah. A transcript will also be provided. Thank you.
Are you even working?