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December 17th Community Vigil & Memorial

Footage from our December 17th vigil and community memorial in Toronto.

December 17th Introduction (Transcript): December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers- a globally recognized date honouring the lives of sex workers lost to violence, abuse and criminalization. The day originated as a memorial for the victims of Gary Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer, who deliberately targeted low income, street-based sex workers in Seattle knowing law enforcement, the press and public would turn a blind eye to these losses. It’s a scenario all too familiar to us - and has happened again and again with Daniel Holtzclaw, Robert Pickton and more recently, right here in the village, Bruce McArthur.

December 17th has become a globally recognized date sex worker justice groups like ours honour annually to remember those we’ve loved and lost.

In Toronto this date means a lot to our community and is a time to reflect on the escalating violence against sex workers locally. The COVID-19 pandemic, emergency orders, expanded police powers and a number of local crises around housing and shelter, income inequality, food insecurity and more has left so many of us struggling day to day. As we talk about violence against sex workers - and what violence means - we must talk about the physical and sexual violence our community experiences as a result of criminalization and stigma, but we must also talk about violence as erasure, exclusion, isolation and the barriers so many of us face in accessing basic humanitarian aid.

In the downtown east and across the GTA we’ve lost a number of our community members to violence - at the hands of police and as a product of hate crimes against sex workers. We’ve also lost many of our community members to suicide, the overdose crisis, and the complete lack of social supports. Last week the Toronto Homeless Memorial added 30 names to their community vigil for the month of November - the highest number ever added to the memorial. Heading into the cold winter months, conditions in Toronto are so difficult that unless our people receive housing, emergency food and funds, people will die.

Violence looks like physical assault.

Violence looks like sexual assault.

Violence looks like erasure and discrimination.

Violence also looks like social policies that leave us to die.

When we call for an end to violence against sex workers, we’re calling for an end to a wide range of social, political, direct and indirect forms of criminalization, abuse and erasure that kill our communities - from the police, to violent perpetrators, stigmatizing rhetoric and harmful social policies.

Today is about challenging that violence and naming the fact that violence against sex workers looks like anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous sentiments, transphobic and homophobic attacks, classist and racist rhetoric and more. Our movement for sex worker justice is not fully formed until it is a movement that challenges all of these things and centers sex workers closest to harm: Black sex workers, Indigenous sex workers, queer and trans sex workers, disabled sex workers, poor sex workers and more. We hope to do this today through our community speakers and highlighting the work we’re doing led by Black and Indigenous, queer and trans sex workers of colour locally. Photos and videos by The Weekly Rant.


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