Taking back the corner on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers
SEX It started with a serial killer. Porn star-feminist Annie Sprinkle was reading about mass murderer Gary Ridgeway slaughter of, on his count, 71 prostitutes in the 1980s and '90s. She came across this in Ridgway's explanation of his choice of victims: "I picked prostitutes because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they ... might never be reported missing. I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."
It was a wake-up call for Sprinkle. "We don't have equal protection," says the busty self-termed "ecosexual," who was a sex worker for 20 years and now serves as a role model to many in the radical sex community. Sprinkle reacted by organizing the first International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on Dec. 17, 2003. It's an event that is now recognized in cities around the world.
In San Francisco, Sprinkle's "whore holy high holiday" will be marked by a City Hall vigil for all the sex workers affected by discrimination and violence this year and performance art, followed by a march to the Center for Sex and Culture (sexandculture.org). All the events are free and open to anyone who wants to stand up for those that get paid to lay down.
This year, event organizers have a dangerously prude city policy in their sights: the toxic San Francisco Police Department practice of checking suspected prostitutes' pockets for condoms to serve as proof of intent to have sex for money. It's a policy that Mayor Gavin Newsom and the state's first Latina attorney general, Kamala Harris, support. Sprinkle finds it completely at odds with the mission of promoting safe sex among anyone who could be walking down the street with a rubber in their pocket, as well as dangerous to sex workers. "It's nasty, and really stupid, and so counterproductive — is that the message that we want to be sending?"
Which is not to say that Friday will be devoid of sweet, sexy joy entirely. After all, where would be the fun in gathering up SF's sex-positive community if no one got naked? Later that evening, the Center for Sex and Culture will host a special edition of the national literary series Naked Girls Reading showcasing — yep — naked girls reading literature written by those who spread their legs to make their living.
"It's a great opportunity for feminism and art," says event organizer Lady Monster, who heard about Miss Erotic World 2005 Michelle L'amour's original Naked Girl Chicago series and thought it a perfect fit for our pervy-intellectual burg. She held the first event in April and "it took off like wild blazes," packing venues across town.
An ex phone sex operator who dabbled in private peep shows in her home state of Ohio without being told that the work was illegal, Lady Monster notes that the poor economy and demise of Craigslist escort ads in response to outside pressure has introduced even greater risks to sex workers, pressure that can lead them to accept unsafe working conditions. She feels that the nationwide observance of Dec. 17 "is a way to give people an opportunity to celebrate sex workers' rights."
On stage, her reading event will celebrate their contribution to arts and literature. Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen will be leafing through a book at the night's nudie show; as well as burlesque star Dottie Lux; sex worker activist Robyn Few; Lady Monster herself (who'll be reading from Some Girls, the memoir of Jillian Lauren, the American who lived and worked in a Brunei harem); and Sprinkle, among others. Lady Monster says the requirements needed to be onstage fall into three categories: readers must be accomplished writers, have public speaking experience, and — perhaps the most obvious — they've got be down to make the scene in the all together.
"Three hundred and sixty-four days a year we talk about how much we like our work, and one day a year we take time to realize that there are real victims out there," Sprinkle says. It may be the oldest profession, but even in Gomorrah by the Bay, sex work is still a far cry from society's respected elder.
INTERNATIONAL DAY TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST SEX WORKERS
Fri., Dec. 17
4 p.m., free
Civic Center, SF
NAKED GIRLS READING
9 p.m., $15–$20
Center for Sex and Culture
1519 Mission, SF