Please don’t refer to victims of violence as “sacks of bones,” as your President Sonia Ossorio decided to do in this Letter to the Editor on March 19th, 2012.
Shannan Gilbert, Amber Lynn Costello, Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and those who remain unidentified, all discovered on Gilgo Beach, were the loved ones of families and friends. Their lives extended well beyond what they did for work. Their involvement in the sex trade does not entitle you to refer to them as “sacks of bones.” The brutality of their murders is horrific enough, their deaths something our community mourned deeply over the past two International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (December 17, 2010 and 2011). The gravity of this loss does not need to be furthered by dehumanizing them in death.
NOW-NYC’s President is not incorrect in stating that legalizing prostitution would not end the violence, danger and health risks associated with the sex trade. However, decriminalization - or the removal of all criminal laws relating to the operation of the sex industry – has been shown to increase the safety and well being of sex workers, while simultaneously decreasing violence and stigma. Decriminalizing work in the sex trade would allow for victims of violent crimes in the sex trade to seek police assistance, free of reprisal, and minimize the institutional barriers sex trade workers face when seeking healthcare or other social services.
Still, neither legalization nor decriminalization of sex work will stop organizations and individuals from further marginalizing workers in the sex trade, by using hateful language to describe them because of their work, even in death. That is something that we have to work on together: creating discussions acknowledging that every person in the sex trade has human rights that should be respected.
For this reason, it is tremendously insulting to the sex worker community that NOW-NYC would refer to victims of violence in this fashion. This type of stigmatizing language would never otherwise be acceptable to an organization that prides itself on demonstrating respect and promoting equality. We would like to remind NOW-NYC that in 1973, they passed a resolution calling for the decriminalization of sex work. We urge NOW-NYC to reconsider both their language and politics around sex worker issues.
That is why we ask you to stop referring to the victims in the Gilgo Beach murders as “sacks of bones” and consider thoughtful conversations with sex workers regarding sex worker rights. We also encourage you to work with sex worker organizations, such as the Sex Workers Outreach Project, Sex Workers Action New York and the Sex Workers Project, when considering how better to speak about individuals in the sex trade with care and consideration. We believe that open dialogue between advocates and sex workers is the best way to combat violence against people in the sex trade and we welcome that discussion.
SEX WORKERS OUTREACH PROJECT OF NEW YORK CITY (SWOP-NYC)
SEX WORKERS ACTION NEW YORK (SWANK)
Matthias Lehmann, Independent Researcher, South Korea
Christina Parreira, M.A.
Robin Dunn, SWOP Denver
Eileen Rogers, SWOP USA
Kynthia Alice Rosgeal, SWOP-LV