December 20, 2023
Each year, on December 17, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (D17) brings together community members, advocates, and allies to honor those who have been lost to violence and abuse. The day also marks a renewed commitment to promoting rights, health, safety, and visibility for sex workers and related communities.
The annual event was first recognized in 2003 when community members in Seattle, Washington, came together to remember the victims of the Green River Killer. That year, Gary Ridgeway pled guilty to 48 counts of murder, though he is suspected of having nearly 80 victims, most of them sex workers or runaways. Just this week, investigators identified the remains of Lori Anne Ratzpotnik, a 15-year-old who had run away from home in 1982. Two victims remain unidentified and there are three women — Kassee Ann Lee, Kelly Kay McGinnis and Patricia Ann Osborn — who were last seen in the Seattle area in the early 1980s. Authorities note they “are listed on the official Green River Homicides list,” but Ridgway was not charged in their disappearances.
In an interview, Ridgeway describes having targeted sex workers because he “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.”
Ridgeway was not alone, nor was his logic incorrect. Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper), Jack the Ripper, Robert Hansen, Robert Pickton, Joel Rifken, Steve Wright, Benjamin Atkins, Donald Murphy, and Richard Cottington are all serial murderers who have admitted to targeting sex workers for their crimes either because they believed they would not get caught, or because they believed sex workers were immoral and expendable. A 2011 Indiana University found that between 1970-2009, 22 percent of confirmed victims of serial murderers were known sex workers and prostitutes. These numbers increased throughout the study, reaching a high of 69% from 2000-2009.
Law enforcement is often apathetic to cases involving sex workers, confirming serial murders’ view that they are expendable. “No Humans Involved” is a designation that has historically been used by police, politicians, and judges when looking at crimes committed against sex workers and other marginalized individuals, a heartbreaking acceptance of the continued violence against these communities and the belief that they are unworthy of human rights.
Importantly, D17 is also a day to recognize the hard work and dedication to justice and human rights of so many organizations and individuals promoting rights for sex workers, survivors of human trafficking, LGBTQIA2S+ individuals, racial justice, immigration reform, and more. It is a celebration of solidarity in the face of oppression and systemic inequality.