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Sex Workers Are Human Resources By David Block Special to the Press/Review
Like all days on the calendar, December 17 has its share of momentous historical occurrences.
On December 17, 1821, Kentucky abolished its debtors’ prisons. On December 17, 1944, Major Gen. Henry C. Pratt issued Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective Jan. 2, 1945, Japanese-American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes.
December 17 is also a pivotal date for sex workers because on that date in 2003, Gary Ridgeway, known as the Green River Killer, confessed to killing 49 women, most of whom were sex workers. He was convicted that day. In response, former sex worker Annie Sprinkle and the Sex Workers Outreach Project’s (SWOP-USA) co-founder Robyn Few organized a memorial that was held that same day on the lawn of San Francisco City Hall where 60 to 80 people attended.
As a result, on every subsequent December 17, sex workers, their families, and friends gathered in cities throughout the world and in Philadelphia to honor their fallen brethren. They call this day, The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
This past December 17 in Philadelphia, two events were held: In the afternoon, about two dozen people gathered at the Thomas Paine Plaza to the west of City Hall, to create a safe space to cultivate community conversations. Then in the evening at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PHILA MOCA) activities included reading the names of sex workers who were murdered this year.
The 59 names that were read out loud also appeared on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Memorial Video- 2018-USA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R94zGYi874M
“We, as one global community renew our commitment to solidarity on December 17,” said Melanie Dante, former sex worker who was one of the organizers at the Philadelphia events this year. “December 17 Events aim to raise outrage at violence against sex workers and strengthen sex worker communities and responses to the systematic, daily violence and exclusion sex workers experience.”
One of the other Philadelphia event organizers, Anita DeFrancesco, SWOP Committee Person for Dec 17 events, added, “It’s to let sex workers know that their voices matter.”
DeFrancesco became passionate about helping sex workers after her cousin, Donna Gentile who worked in that field, was murdered in 1985 in San Diego, Calif.
“She was a runaway from Philadelphia,” said DeFrancesco. “She had an unstable upbringing. ”
DeFrancesco believed that the authorities treated the investigation of her murdered cousin as if her life did not matter because she was a prostitute.
Information can be found about this murder in DeFrancesco’s 2018 memoir, The Donna Gentile Story.
Carol Smail traveled from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to seek justice for her daughter, Rickie Morgan (1980-2016).
“My daughter was a heroin addict and that caused her to be a sex worker,” said Smail. “On July 16, 2016, she was brutally murdered in Kensington. She had been hit in the head with a brick. She had her throat slashed. She was found naked laying on the sidewalk dead.”
She has been unable to cope. “I tried calling homicide to find out the detective assigned to my daughter’s case. I found out that the detective had retired. They wouldn’t give me any information because it was confidential … I was her mother!”
Smail and about a dozen people accompanied her to the Office of the Philadelphia District Attorney, Lawrence S. Krasner. She called from the lobby demanding to see him, but he was out. Instead, Courtney Knoedler, Assistant Supervisor of Victim Witness Services met with her. Although Knoedler promised that she would do all she could to help Smail, Smail left feeling less than completely reassured. She said that she would believe it after seeing results. Knoedler refused to talk to this writer because she did not receive authorization to speak with the media.
“I don’t want another mother to feel the pain that I have,” said Smail.
Psychologist Steve Eichel of Newark, Del., attended to provide support.
“I see a fair number of people who either are or who were sex workers,” said Eichel. “I think that most people would be surprised at the number of individuals who engage in sex work to finance college or graduate school. They come in and they have unbelievable histories of trauma. And most of the trauma that they’re reporting is not from childhood but from their line of work. Sex work is so underground that sex workers are treated like third class citizens.”
Eichel observed that the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers is essential because it gives people the opportunity to see that sex workers are not monsters, but people like everyone else.
Gabrielle Monroe, 38 of Pittsburgh has no shame about being a sex worker. She was a homeless teenager living in her car, but when she turned 18 and became a sex worker, she soon earned enough money to move into an apartment.
“I still do it because I want my children to have a better life than I had,” said Monroe.
Victoria McCormick, author of Victoria of Dallas and owner of Badass Cat Press got involved in the adult industry back in 2005 at age 34 to earn extra cash. She was not destitute. In fact, she was a real-estate broker, but decided to give the adult industry a try.
“I was leading a double life,” said McCormick who lives outside of Philadelphia. “I soon got addicted to the attention and the extra money.”
Sex workers and their families and friends can get help.
For more information, log onto www.december17.org
Philly vigil set for 31 sex workers slain in U.S. this year
Updated: DECEMBER 11, 2017 —
Rickie Morgan was beaten with a brick and stabbed, her naked and bloody body found in a Philadelphia alleyway in July 2016. Prostitutes who worked the same Kensington area remembered her has a sweet girl.
Advocates say her death didn’t come as a surprise. Alone and vulnerable, sex workers like Morgan face potential violence from johns and from police, they say.
This year, 31 sex workers have been killed in the United States, including a stripper from western Pennsylvania. A vigil will be held for them Sunday afternoon at Thomas Paine Plaza.
Dozens of similar events will be held in cities around the world to bring attention to sex workers who were killed and to advocate for “de-criminalization.” It’s the 14th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
“People equate prostitution with the opioid crisis, but there are sex workers who are mothers or who are college students,” said Melanie Dante, a co-organizer of Sunday’s vigil in Philadelphia. She said the full extent of the violence against sex workers hasn’t been documented because it is difficult to collect information.
Dante said she’s passionate about the vigil and the issue because she said she feels “blessed to have made it off the streets alive and I want to see other young people off the street and thriving.” Dante lives in Pennsylvania and spends some of her time speaking on the issue in Philadelphia.
The names of victims will be read at the two-hour vigil scheduled for 3 p.m. No identified victims this year are from Philadelphia, but at least one is from Western Pennsylvania.
Ashley Ugoletti, a stripper in a Pittsburgh club, was found stabbed to death inside a home of a man who worked as a salon nail tech in Westmoreland County. The man who police say stabbed Ugoletti hanged himself minutes later inside a closet in the home, authorities said.
Rachel West, spokeswoman for the U.S. Prostitutes Collective, said that violence against prostitutes is not prioritized by police or district attorneys, leaving it a shadowy issue mostly hidden from society.
Making sex work a crime “gives a green light to violent men to attack sex workers and get away with it,” West said. “These men know that sex workers are afraid to report crimes for fear that they will be arrested, and if they are immigrants, they fear that they will be deported,” she said.
Published: December 10, 2017 — | Updated: December 11, 2017 —
￼ TOM GRALISH / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Saying her cousin was a murdered sex worker, Anita DeFrancesco spoke at the 14th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers vigil in Philadelphia Sunday. Organizers, including Melanie Dante, right, read the names of 34 sex workers killed in the U.S. this year.
About two dozen activists gathered at Center City’s Thomas Paine Plaza on Sunday to mark the 14th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers with a grim recital of 2017 murder victims and new hope that local officials are finally taking seriously their pleas to decriminalize sex work.
“This day is a day where we come together to bring light and commemorate these women across the world who went unnoticed – and lived a life that perhaps wasn’t a choice,” said the vigil’s main speaker, Anita DeFrancesco, a local activist whose cousin Donna Marie Gentile was a sex worker who went missing and was found murdered in San Diego in 1985.
DeFrancesco and the event organizers hoped their yearly vigil – which has drawn little attention in past years – could rally support for their goals of keeping sex workers out of jail, as well as encouraging more local support to end violence against the community.
The vigil organizers were encouraged by the attendance of a surrogate for Philadelphia district attorney-elect Larry Krasner, T.J. Ghose, an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Ghose said the incoming DA had pledged during his campaign to drastically reduce criminal prosecutions of sex workers as part of his goal to reduce the number of women of color behind bars.
“Sex work is a gateway,” said Ghose, who has worked with a 70,000-member union of sex workers in India. “If we’re going to end mass incarceration, prosecuting sex workers has to stop.”
Under an initiative known as LEAD, for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, law enforcement and prosecutors working under outgoing District Attorney Kelley Hodge have already made strides in diverting women who once might have been charged with prostitution into social-service programs, Ghose said.
Melanie Dante, one of the vigil organizers, said the event has drawn support from an array of nonprofit community groups since the first one in 2012, but had never before received an endorsement from a prominent politician. “The stigma of sex work proved too controversial to be identified with,” she said, “which greatly saddens and disappoints us.”
The global anti-violence event was launched in 2003 in response to the Green River serial killings of sex workers in the Pacific Northwest; its founder was a Philadelphia native, a well-known sex educator and adult performer who goes by the name Annie Sprinkle. Sunday’s attendees gathered in a tight circle under a steely-gray December sky as shoppers bound for the nearby Christmas Village strolled past.
When the vigil was initially planned, organizers said they would read the names of 31 sex workers murdered across the United States in 2017, but then the number grew to 34 with three additional killings just this week. Dante said the problem fails to draw attention from the news media or public officials, even though studies show sex workers face a risk of violence on the job as much as 400 times the average person on the job.
One of the vigil attendees – Carl Henkle, 43, a nurse-practitioner from Lancaster County who has worked in correctional facilities there – said he wanted to show that supporting sex workers “is sort of a humanitarian issue, because when sex workers are criminalized and need health-care services, they’re shut out.”
“It’s a community of people who are literally not allowed to speak up when they’re being victimized or attacked, which is a human-rights violation,” said co-organizer Eris Vayle, 32, of Philadelphia. She explained that the risky legal status for sex workers leaves them exposed to predatory behavior by law enforcement officers.
Participants with the Trans Equity Project join the vigil. Dozens of similar events were to be held in cities around the world.
Phoebe Jones, coordinator of the Crossroads Women’s Center in Germantown, agreed that criminalizing sex work makes women much less likely to report violence, and thus leaves them more vulnerable.
Many of those who rallied to show support on Sunday were men, such as Ethan Jacobi, 32, a hospital data analyst and a local podcaster who tried to produce a program about sex workers and said he found their myriad problems to be overwhelming. “The best thing I can do is support them,” he said, “mostly by showing up and listening.”
Published: December 17, 2017 — 6:23 PM EST
Photo #J4N (c) Tim Cwiek ePGN