Vigil calls for end to violence against Sacramento sex workers

Participants include two mothers who are still piecing back their lives

Barbecued meats steamed from aluminum platters, lathering the low-roofed Harm Reduction Services clinic in Oak Park with a sour tang. Funky quilts draped down cubicle walls and a handmade sign reminded visitors: “Please don’t fix in your car.”

On that chilly Thursday night, December 17, HRS lent the room to organizers as a staging area to commemorate the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The observance began in 2003, as a rebuke to Gary Leon Ridgway, a serial strangler of upward of 70 women, who targeted sex workers and runaways in Washington. As part of a plea deal that spared his life, Ridgway, dubbed the “Green River Killer” by the press, said he selected the women because they were easy targets.

The idea that sex workers aren’t missed when they disappear is noxious to Kimberlee Cline, a sex worker and member of the local Sex Workers Outreach Project. “There are people who care about us,” she told attendees. Twenty cities speckled across a dozen nations reiterate that message every December. This was the second year in Sacramento.

Joining for the first time was Monroe, a 23-year-old sex worker who had fled both her pimp and the FBI. She came at the invitation of SWOP Sacramento director Kristen DiAngelo, who helped Monroe access housing and drug counseling.

Monroe has taken advantage of the second chance, paying off old traffic fines through the state’s new amnesty program and getting her driver’s license reinstated for the first time in five years. It’s depleted her savings, but not her spirits. Additionally, an HIV test brought both negative results and a wave of relief.

People may think lowly of sex workers, she told those gathered for the vigil, “But we’re really just good girls.”

Offering emotional support at a folding table piled with plastic plates and winter coats was Cocoa. In June, tears ran down her dazed face as the sex worker sat in a fast-food restaurant and recounted the routine violence of the streets. She was using then, and limped badly. Six months later, it was as if she’d shaken off a zombie virus. DiAngelo couldn’t help but dote. “Look how beautiful she looks,” she said.

Overhearing, Cocoa laughed bashfully. “Now you made it awkward,” she said.

Behind her, arrayed on a back table, were about 30 neatly stacked bags, packed with hygiene products and winter-weather supplies. In 45 minutes, the two survivors would head to Stockton Boulevard—Sacramento’s notorious prostitution stroll—and dispense them to the sex workers who were still out there.