On Friday, sex workers in 36 cities protested violence and fatal stigma, demanding full, international decriminalization of their trade. The demonstrations were directly inspired by the recent murders of Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine, sex workers in Turkey and Sweden, respectively. The two deaths were recognized both as tragedies in their own right and reminders of similar violence against sex workers that doesn’t make headlines.
Today, Caty Simon of Tits and Sass published an interview with the chair of the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, Kemal Iffetsiz Asyu Ayrikotu, on the particular context of the murder of Özer, who was trans. The full interview is worth a read, but I was particularly struck by Kemal’s discussion of the ties between transphobia and anti-sex work stigma in Turkey:
As long as it remains a vicious cycle for trans women to end up in sex work and as long as they quit school, often because they are forced to quit school because of transphobic attitudes; no one in society will think that trans women are fit for any kind of “regular” profession. In Turkey, when a person says “travesti”, the connotation is “sex worker.” So a trans woman is automatically a sex worker in the eyes of the people. And a sex worker cannot be trusted, cannot be hired as a worker in any profession outside of the sex industry, etc. If you want to work at another job, then this may be most possible in the entertainment sector. That’s it. Turkey is a conservative country and conservatism in Turkey is mixed with an orthodox understanding of Islam, patriarchy and heterosexism. Trans people are sinful “perverts” according to this framework. Because trans sex workers are visible to society only at night, and only in certain places (such as the streets of unofficial red light districts) and since we are portrayed as negative figures in the media, prejudices continue to prevail…
Activists think that trans people are murdered just because they are trans. I keep on stating that this is not the case. Dora was murdered mainly because she had no protection from violence, because sex work is not regulated in a manner that provides meaningful protection for sex workers. Yes, she was a trans women and therefore she was a sex worker; however we cannot argue that the murder was only motivated by transphobia. It was both transphobic and whorephobic. When you look at the press statements of other groups on Dora’s murder, you note their sole focus on her trans identity —which is not the right way to frame the issue. Red Umbrella’s press statement is the only one that includes both the transphobic and whorephobic character of this murder, the only one which details how the current legislation around sex work results in the murders of trans women.
Again, check out the full interview here.