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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance (NJRUA) held its first event in honor of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17.
NJRUA is a grassroots organization of dedicated to advocating for the human rights of sex workers in the state of New Jersey.
Approximately two dozen members of the New Brunswick community came to support the organization and its goals to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers and to honor those who have passed away.
Event organizer Derek Demeri began with a small description about the organization itself and what the attendees could expect at the event.
The hosts led the attendees outside to the small cemetery in the back of the church where a candle light vigil was held to honor sex workers around the world who have experienced violence or have been murdered at the hands of clients, cops, serial killers and other perpetuators of violence.
A woman named P.J. stood at the front of a half circle formed by supporters holding lit candles and read a long list of names of sex workers who have passed away in different parts of the world like Brazil, California and Honduras.
The most notable part of the reading was how many workers were listed as “unknown” in place of their names.
Shortly after reading the names of the sex workers being commemorated, a young woman sang a song called “River” and read a poem she had written dedicated to sex workers.
Demeri also read a poem he had written with detailed imagery about the life of a sex worker.
Following the vigil, there were three workshops occurring simultaneously facilitated by community leaders.
A retired sex worker named Janet led the workshop titled “How Criminalization Perpetuates Violence.”
This workshop gave an overview of different ways criminalization makes sex workers vulnerable to violence.
NJRUA believes “all forms of sex work should be decriminalized and that the voices of sex workers should be heard when deciding on policies that impact them,” according to their press release for this event.
The second workshop hosted by a woman named Emma was called “Intersectional Justice: Understanding Violence Base on Race and Gender.”
This workshop explored how socio-cultural attitudes toward sex work has created a world where sex workers disproportionately face arrest, deportation, police brutality, sexual abuse and workplace violence.
A third workshop led by a woman named Bharti was titled “Yoga and Breathing for Stress Management.” This workshop acted as a stress reliever and explored breathing techniques and different yoga positions to relieve stress and improve mental clarity.
Attendees came for a variety of reasons, whether they knew a sex worker who had passed away, or were sex workers themselves, but each shared an interest in raising awareness about sex worker issues and advocating for sex worker human rights.
A senior at Rutgers University named Avey asserted, “I attended the event because Derick, the cofounder of the NJ branch is a friend of mine, and I was quite interested in the topic because I feel like not enough attention is given to sex workers and what their needs are, specifically, on how to humanize and industry that is often demonized.”
Patrice, a junior at Rutgers commented, “It’s an issue that people do talk about, but without knowledge. Therefore, there is a lot of misinformation about sex workers. I didn’t know a lot about the issue but I wanted to attend to support human rights.”
The International Day to End Violence Against Sex workers first started in 2003 and takes place every year on December 17 in honor of the victims of the Green River Killer, a serial killer in Seattle, whose victims were mostly female sex workers.
Some of the activists involved in NJRUA are current or retired sex workers who have first hand experience regarding a lot of the legal and sometimes personal matters surrounding sex work.
Since it began in 2003, the Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has garnered national attention and has empowered people from all over the world to organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence.
More information is available at www.december17.org.