Sex worker violence vigil scheduled for Woodruff Park

Former Atlanta exotic dancer Stella Zine is organizing vigils here and in Athens for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Image If you see red umbrellas descending on Woodruff Park this evening, don’t blame it on the weather.

Today Atlanta joins more than 54 cities around the world in recognition of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers by holding vigils to raise awareness and fight for human rights. Red umbrellas serve as the universal symbol for sex worker rights. The Atlanta vigil is scheduled to take place Wednesday, Dec. 17 at Woodruff Park (referred to as Troy Davis Park on the event Facebook page) at 5:30 p.m. Another vigil will happen in Athens this Fri., Dec. 19.

First organized by the Sex Workers Outreach Project in 2003, the annual December 17th recognition, as it’s called, began with the 2003 sentencing of serial killer Gary Ridgway, who confessed to murdering more than 70 prostitutes in the ’80s and ’90s in Washington State and California. According to stats compiled by SWOP-USA, more than 160 sex workers were killed around the world in 2014 and 34 in the U.S.

Athens-based organizer Stella Zine, who has been been involved with the sex worker rights movement for two decades, was an adult dancer in Atlanta for 12 years before starting the support group Scarlett Umbrella Southern Arts Alliance last year. In addition to fighting against violence perpetrated against sex workers, December 17th is a stand against the criminalization of sex work, says Zine. This is her first year organizing a vigil in Atlanta, which she was inspired to do after she “saw what was happening to the street-based sex workers in Atlanta, which are the most vulnerable and targeted,” she says. She points to last year’s controversial prostitution banishment proposal, largely targeted at Midtown Atlanta’s transgender prostitute population, as an example of the kind of harmful legislation targeting an already vulnerable population.

Mayor Kasim Reed ultimately replaced the banishment proposal with a task force charged to come up with alternative solutions, which led to the formation of Solutions Not Another Punishment Coalition (SNaPCo).

Zine also believes the fees and fines adult dancers must pay club owners to work, as outlined in recent CL story “Body Politic,” can lead strippers on the lower end of the economic spectrum toward prostitution.

“It pushes people on the street, basically, and other not as safe places,” says Zine, likening the movement to anti-poverty work in a city that has the highest economic inequality in the nation. “In Atlanta, that’s a problem.” While the sex worker rights movement has been led largely by white women and trans women of color, Zine believes social stigma has kept more affected women of color from getting involved. “Women of color deal with so much targeting and criminalization already,” she says.

Speakers at today’s Atlanta vigil will include executive director of Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, Mona Bennett, and Dolores French, a former sex worker whose vocal advocacy dates back to the ’80s in Atlanta. Though she’s not sure what kind of turnout to expect, Zine will have masks on-hand for sex workers who may want to protect their identity due to the stigma faced by sex workers, including those who work in a legal capacity such as strip clubs.

International Day to End Sex Worker Violence vigil. 5:30 p.m. Wed., December 17. Woodruff Park, Peachtree St. at Edgewood Ave. 5:30 p.m. Fri., December 19. UGA Arch in Athens. See Facebook page for more info.