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December 17th: A Memorial for Sex Workers
In the early 1980's, a serial killer was on the loose in the Seattle area and would be known as the "Green River Killer" as many of his victims were found there. He targeted women— specifically outdoor sex workers and homeless teenage girls. He killed at least seventy women before finally being caught almost twenty years later. For two decades he kept on terrorizing and murdering without much intervention from police or detectives putting their resources into finding clues to solve the cases. When he was finally caught, he first claimed he was innocent before admitting to murdering the victims he suspected to be sex workers: "I would kill as many prostitutes as possible...I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."
He was sentenced to life in prison on December 17, 2003. December 17th was proclaimed Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers started by Annie Sprinkle, former prostitute, porn actor and activist. “If the victims had been teachers, nurses or secretaries or other women, I suspect–as Ridgway did– that the killer would have been caught much sooner. It’s so important to remember those people, and to let the public know we care and we need and deserve safer working conditions. Also, if sex work was decriminalized, maybe police would take the violence murders of marginalized folks working on the fringes more seriously."
Every December 17th, cities around the world hold memorial vigils for sex workers we lost to violence this year. For a few years I went to Seattle to march in solidarity and volunteer as they had an active Sex Worker Outreach Project community. Then in 2018, we created a Portland-based sex worker activist support group and I organized and led our first December 17th vigil in downtown Portland. We marched in the cold rain holding our red umbrellas and candles, reading hundreds of names out loud to humanize who they were and not let them be forgotten statistics. With gawking Christmas shoppers asking us what our march was about, it was both mournful and cathartic to educate onlookers about how they can vote to support sex workers and trafficking victims to stem the violence of criminalization.
Due to COVID concerns, the last two years of memorials have been held online. Current and former sex workers, and their allies can join us in reading the names and listening to their stories on December 17th from 7pm-10pm EST on a live broadcast. Listen to the podcast about December 17th here.