If you see a bunch of people in your neighborhood carrying red umbrellas, it might not be about the weather. December 17th is the international day to end violence against sex workers, and the red umbrella has become a symbol of sex worker rights and safety.

Why do we need such a day? Well, sex workers have long been targets. In 2003, the “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgeway was just one who made his motivation plain. Confessing to having strangled ninety women to death and having “sex” with their dead bodies, he told the court he chose sex workers, basically because he could.

“I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”

He was right. Fellow sex workers were afraid to come forward with information that might have saved lives for fear that they would be arrested. Those who did come forward weren’t believed. That was part of what spurred  Annie Sprinkle, author, activist and former sex worker to organize vigils on December 17th for the forgotten victims of the “Green River Killer.” Now similar  actions have become an annual event — from Bangladesh to Toledo, Hong Kong to Halifax.

There’s lots to do… rules need to change.  In Philadelphia just two years ago, a man accused of raping a sex worker was instead charged with “theft of services.” Because someone decided it’s not rape anymore, it’s a property crime, when the victim is a sex worker.

Some sex workers around the world are organizing unions demanding legalization to make their work less dangerous, but all call for human rights as equal humans.

Can any be free while all are not free? Sex workers say no one’s safe as long as there’s any category of person, or worker who under the law’s considered fair game for brutal treatment. Those who agree just might want to find their red brolly…

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders, author, and host of RadioNation on Air America Radio, has built a reputation for courageous investigative journalism coupled with compassion and a sense of humor. In writing her last book, Blue Grit, she traveled the country reporting on grassroots success stories and broadcast live to over 150 radio stations from community centers in places including Helena, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Miami, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee. In her television appearances (Lou Dobbs, Larry King Live,) on radio and in her many books (including Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species) and articles (The Nation and others,) Flanders calls for a new politics of fairness, equality and citizen action. Articulating the human dimension of American communities in trouble, her programs have become destinations for those seeking the skills and the will to make a difference. Flanders is a regular contributor to the Nation Magazine and CNN. Before joining Air America, where she was part of the original lineup, and hosted “The Laura Flanders Show” for three years, Flanders was the founding host of the award-winning “Your Call” weekday mornings on public radio, KALW in the Bay Area and CounterSpin, the radio show of the mediawatch group, FAIR.

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