Hey there!

Did you know that on June 2, 1975, around 100 sex workers occupied Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France, to protest against their criminalised and exploitative living conditions? They hung a banner from the steeple that read, ‘Our children do not want their mothers to go to jail’, and launched a media campaign to broadcast their grievances to the world. Their actions made national and international news headlines and started a strike that involved sex workers from all over France.

The sex workers demanded an end to police harassment, the re-opening of the hotels where they worked, and a proper investigation into a series of sex worker murders. In solidarity, sex workers in other French towns took sanctuary in churches in Marseille, Grenoble, Montpellier, and Paris. Across the country, French sex workers joined the action by taking part in an eight-day-long strike.

Despite the national impact of the protest, the police refused to engage with the protestors’ grievances and threatened increasingly harsh punishments. Eventually, the police cleared the church after eight days. Still, this occupation and strike served as the spark that ignited the contemporary sex workers’ rights movement in Europe and the UK.

Each year, on June 2, International Sex Workers’ Day is celebrated with the theme of Access to Justice. The day is used as a platform to amplify the voices of the global sex worker movement and demand equal access to justice.

Sex workers continue to face a range of barriers to accessing justice, both as victims of crime and when charged with crimes. Since sex work is widely criminalised, most sex workers are denied access to the benefits and rights afforded to other workers under labour laws and face the risk of criminalisation, detention, deportation, and legal sanction. We must build upon the lessons learned from the 1975 occupation and strike to increase access to justice for sex workers around the world.

Reference:  nswp

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