What is the The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers?

The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is held annually on 17 December by sex workers, their advocates, friends, families, and allies. The day calls attention to hate crimes committed against sex workers worldwide, as well as the need to remove the social stigma and discrimination that have contributed to violence against sex workers.

When was the day first recognised?

Originally conceived as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle Washington, United States (US) in 2003, it has now evolved into an annual international event. Cities around the world organise actions and events on the day. This year (2015) events took place in over 60 cities around the world.

What is the ratio of trans people among sex workers?

There is very limited research and data available on trans sex workers’ engagement in sex work. The majority of research focuses on cisgender female street-based sex workers, thus creating a limited understanding of the issues faced by LGB and trans sex workers.

The proportion of trans people among sex workers is context-specific. According to the TvT Survey on the Social Experiences of Trans and Gender-diverse People (TvT Survey), ninety-nine per cent of survey respondents in Colombia, 76 per cent in Turkey, 68 per cent in Venezuela stated that they earn their living by doing sex work.

TAMPEP’s mapping report from 2009 states that 6 percent of all sex workers in Europe are transgender, while 7 percent are cisgender male. However, these figures could be higher, as there are very few projects working with cisgender male and trans sex workers.

The large number of sex workers in certain countries is likely to relate to the high level of discrimination in the labour market, as well as to the extremely worrying degree of exclusion, violence and discrimination faced by trans and gender-diverse people at school.

Why do trans people engage in sex work?

Trans people engage in sex work for a variety of reasons, most commonly because they live in a transphobic environment and face structural barriers to access to education and employment, and thus have limited economic and employment opportunities. The lack of quick, transparent and accessible legal gender recognition is a further driving factor. Bullying in educational settings could, at least partly, be fended off by identification documents with the name and gender matching gender identity or expression. Without this recognition, school drop-out rates, underperformance and suicidality remain a reality for many trans people in education.

In a number of countries, for many trans people their low level or lack of education and the perceived difference between a person’s gender expression and data in personal documents also put legal employment and fair payment out of reach. As a result they are exposed to poverty, homelessness and inadequate access to healthcare, including the inability to finance gender reassignment. These factors all contribute to the large number of trans people among sex workers in several contexts.

What are the most pressing human rights threats against trans sex workers?

Criminalization manifesting in laws and other legal measures is a serious threat to many trans sex workers. Various aspects of consensual sex work are criminalized globally, and even in legalized environments, state actors use other means to fine and harass sex workers, e.g. nuisance and public moral laws, non-sex work related administrative offences. Similarly, the criminalization of ‘so-called crossdressing’ and ‘gender reassignment surgery’ is still enforced in some countries in the Global South and East along with anti-homosexuality laws that also frequently target trans women who are perceived as gay men by law enforcement and the judiciary system.

Trans sex workers therefore are burdened by laws that are transphobic and anti-sex worker simultaneously, and being under extreme economic pressure they are unable to escape persecution. At the same time, non-sex worker trans people are still oftentimes perceived as sex workers and their social inclusion and acceptance are undermined by whorephobia.

Trans sex workers’ right to health is also frequently violated. Due to criminalisation of trans identities, homosexuality and sex work, punitive environments, social marginalisation and continuing stigma, discrimination and violence and availability of affordable, confidential and respectful HIV and health services, they are hit hard by HIV globally. Frequently, trans sex workers are targeted by abusive interventions, such as mandatory or forced HIV and STI testing and treatment. Condoms used as evidence to press charges against sex workers, including street based trans sex workers for prostitution related offences have also been documented worldwide and in the European region.

What forms of violence are experienced by LGBT sex workers?

Trans sex workers are threatened with a myriad of abuses, including rape, beatings, extortion, police maltreatment, death threats, forced eviction, deportation and discrimination, including exclusion from health services.

They are disproportionately affected by police harassment in most countries. In the TvT survey, all trans sex workers in Colombia reported having experienced police harassment, so did 97 per cent in Venezuela and 79 per cent in Turkey. In TGEU’s ProTrans project, in the recorded transphobic incidents that involved physical and sexual assault and psychological violence at the hands of the police, the majority of the victims were trans-women sex workers.

Violence against trans people may overlap with other axes of oppression prevalent in society, such as anti-sex worker and anti-migrant sentiments and discrimination, resulting in trans sex workers being exposed to multiple forms of abuse. TvT research suggests that trans and gender-diverse murder victims are often migrants in Western and Southern Europe– as in Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain – or sex workers – as in Albania, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the UK – and often both.

To what extent are violent cases against sex workers reported to the police?

Violence against trans sex workers, similarly to violence against non-sex worker trans people, largely goes unnoticed, unchallenged and unreported.

In TGEU’S ProTrans project, 55 per cent of recorded violent transphobic incidents were committed against sex workers in Serbia. All of the sex worker survivors refused to report the incidents to the police as in most of the cases, police officers were the perpetrators themselves.

According to a survey of Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, 42 per cent of all respondents who experienced physical violence did not report these incidents to the police or to a prosecutor’s office in Turkey. Of the incidents that were reported, only 11 per cent resulted in cases in which perpetrators received an appropriate sentence. In the other cases, either the police ignored the complaint or judges acquitted the perpetrators or decreased their sentences.

In what ways does Transgender Europe address the situation of sex workers?

Transgender Europe raises awareness of the human right situation of and violence against sex workers in its research, violence documentation and advocacy. TGEU has included sex workers/sex work activists in governing body and on panels of TGEU councils; emphasising the situation of sex workers when talking about violence against trans people in Europe, e.g. at council panels, workshop; and the first European wide campaign – Justice for Gisberta in 2006 – raising awareness about the murder of a Brazilian sex worker in Portugal.

In order to fill the gap in documenting violence against trans people, in April 2009 TGEU launched its Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) project, a systematic collection, monitoring and analysis of reported killings of gender-variant/trans people worldwide. The Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015 update revealed a total of 1,933 reported killings of trans people in 64 countries worldwide from January 1st 2008 to September 30th 2015. Out of the reported trans murders, 65 % of victims with known occupation were trans sex workers.

In order to give detailed analysis of structural and direct violence, TGEU also researches the social experiences of trans and gender-diverse people, including sex workers in various countries in the framework of its Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide project. The TvT Survey on the Social Experiences of Trans and Gender-diverse People data sample consists of 863 analysed survey questionnaires from 8 countries in 4 world regions: Colombia, India, the Philippines, Serbia, Thailand, Tonga, Turkey, and Venezuela.

In Europe, TGEU works with partner organisations to record discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes and offer community-based support for victims/survivors of violence in the framework of its ProTrans project. In Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Serbia, project partners reached out to trans sex workers to document their experiences of violence and to legally challenge abuse against them.

Who is working on improving the situation of sex workers?

Many sex worker networks advocate for legal reforms and the improvement of sex workers’ situation globally and in Europe.

As a global network, NSWP brings together local, national and regional collectives from across the world, creates opportunities for knowledge and information sharing within the movement, and advocates for evidence-based policies and legal changes.

The history of the the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) dates back to 2002, when a small informal collective of Dutch sex workers and activists developed the idea to organise an international conference that would provide sex workers with an opportunity to track and discuss developments in European sex work policies. The first international conference took place in Brussels in 2005. Since then, ICRSE’s activities focus on providing member organisations and allies with various advocacy tools on issues relevant to sex worker communities in Europe.

Since its very beginning, dating back to 2006, SWAN brings together different organisations advocating for the rights of sex workers – 9 in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Apart from creating a platform for communication and knowledge sharing between sex worker collectives and their allies, i.e. service providers and other civil society organisations working with and for sex workers, SWAN provides its members with advocacy tools, mentoring and support needed to effectively defend and protect sex workers’ rights in harsh legal and social environments.