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Girls & Women

This Sex Worker Took a Brave Stand at the Las Vegas Women’s March

Cris Sardina took the stage before an enormous crowd at the Women’s March in Las Vegas, Nevada Sunday and delivered a courageous message on behalf of marginalized women in the US and around the world.

“I am a mother, I am a grandmother, and I am a sex worker,” Sardina said.  “We are a strong and fierce community made up of every color, every race, every identity, every shape, every economy, every religion, and so much more.”

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts By Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

Sardina directs the DesireeAlliance, an organization that advocates for the rights of sex workers. Nevada is the only state in the US that has legalized sex work as long as it occurs inside state-regulated brothels.

But by Nevada law, brothels can only operate in counties with populations below 700,000, which prevents legal sex work in the counties containing Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada’s two biggest cities.

And even though the women who work at the brothels experience relative security and protection, they continue to face devastating stigma. At the same time, countless sex workers throughout Nevada, the US, and around the world experience frighteningly high rates of sexual violence and murder.

Read More: The 9 Warning Signs That Modern Slaves Are Hidden in 'Plain Sight’

Studies suggest that up to 75% of female sex workers experience sexual violence at some point in their careers. Worldwide, sex workers are ten times more likely to contract HIV because of their multiple sex partners, susceptibility to sexual violence, and inconsistent condom use.

Violence and murder are particularly common for transwomen, especially transwomen of color, who perform sex work.

Global Citizen campaigns to end sexual violence and ensure that all women and girls are safe. You can take action here.

Though a global movement to empower sex workers and regulate the profession has helped some sex workers, millions of other girls and women are trafficked, exploited, and compelled to serve as sex slaves.

In the US,for example, sex trafficking based in massage parlors has become a $2.5 billion business and most of the women affected are young immigrants from Southeast Asia. Over the past several years, ISIS has kidnapped thousands of Yazidi women and girls and forced them into sex slavery. In countries like India, the sex trafficking of children remains a crisis.

Read More: Indian Sex Slaves Are Being 'Hidden' in Secret Passageways and Cupboards

In addition to facing violence and abuse from their clients and traffickers, sex workers also fear being arrested for exchanging sex for money.

"I understand I am a sex worker for a living, but I deserve the same human rights as everybody else," a London sex worker told the BBC last year. "Every time I come forward to report violence I end up threatened to be arrested and prosecuted for working in a brothel.”

"Next time I suffer violence, I sure as hell won't report it," she added.

But Sardina’s brave statement helps galvanize sex workers and encourages others in society to stand up for the rights of sex workers, including many who attended the event in Las Vegas.

“I want you to see the sex-worker rights movement as part of the solution and not the problem,” she told the crowd. “I’m a sex worker. And I have the right to be here.”