Las Vegas is home to myriad service workers and laborers, and some of them work in the sex industry. On Sunday, June 2, the Las Vegas Sex Worker Collective will march to support International Whores’ Day, an event highlighting the issues sex workers face around the world.
Cam girls, professional dominatrices, prostitutes, strippers and porn stars are all part of the wide and varied sex worker spectrum. Valerie Stunning, a local activist, stripper and member of the LVSWC says that this year’s IWD event is meant to bring together people in the community, as well as show respect to those who spearheaded IWD in the 1970s.
On June 2, 1975, more than 100 sex workers occupied the Église Saint-Nizier, a church in Lyon, France, to protest inhumane working conditions said to have driven workers further underground. Following the murder of two sex workers, the Saint-Nizier was occupied for eight days—recognized as the beginning of the international movement for sex workers’ rights.
“The workers were tired of being ignored and brutalized,” Stunning says, “so they occupied a church to make a point, [saying], we matter and we’re dying.”
Last year was the first in which the Las Vegas collective marked IWD. Nearly 200 people showed up for the march, which was planned in just a few weeks, according to Stunning. This year, the collective has been planning for more than two months and hopes to see a greater turnout.
The Vegas march begins at 6 p.m. at Downtown’s Llama Lot—on Fremont Street between 9th and 10th streets—with an afterparty set for Jammyland.
In 2018, two laws—the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)—were signed into legislation by President Donald Trump. They were also the focus of last year’s march, Stunning says, as they helped to shut down the controversial Backpage.com and Craigslist personals, sites that were commonly used by sex workers.
Proponents of FOSTA and SESTA argued that the bills would curb sex trafficking and allow victims to seek justice against the websites where trafficking occurred. The bill received bipartisan support in congress and the senate. Meanwhile, opponents say the bills have made it more difficult for consenting sex workers to advertise and work in safe environments.
“H.R. 1865 [FOSTA] will give survivors access to the civil remedies that they deserve, produce more prosecutions of bad actor websites, more convictions, and more predators behind bars,” Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R) and Ohio Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (D) wrote in a 2018 statement supporting FOSTA. “Because of this legislation, fewer businesses will enter the sex trade, and fewer victims will ever be sold,” the statement continued.
But Stunning and other consenting sex workers in Las Vegas say the bills make it harder for sex workers to vet clients, pushing them offline and into the streets, and that its passage could actually make human traffickers more difficult to find and prosecute.
“Obviously it’s awful—no consenting sex worker is pro sex-trafficking. But that’s something often conflated in the media,” Stunning says. “People choose [FOSTA and SESTA] as their thing they want to support, but they don’t bother to learn about consenting sex workers and these laws. There are subtle ways to target consenting sex workers that push us underground.”
End Child Prostitution and Trafficking USA, an organization that supported SESTA and FOSTA, did not respond to a request for comment.
This year, Stunning says, FOSTA and SESTA are still on the collective’s radar, but the goal of the march is more about humanizing workers. “We deserve to be recognized as a part of the community, [for people to know] what our issues are, how we’re being harmed, how we have little to no rights. We do a lot of legislative work, and decriminalization [of prostitution] is something we work toward.”
Efforts like decriminalization also require more people to educate themselves on the issues, Stunning says. “No movement in the history of movement has ever been successful without allies,” she says. “We want to invite civilians, people who are not sex workers, to see us beyond our jobs, and to recognize this is something that’s important and we need help.”
The Las Vegas Sex Worker Collective grew out of the 2017 Women’s March, working on behalf of sex workers to get their messages and voices heard. “Myself and a few other sex workers in town who have a pretty large internet following banded together, like, ‘Hey, women’s rights are sex workers’ rights are trans rights, and we need to take up space and be seen.’”
For Sunday’s event and march, Stunning says she hopes more people are motivated to come out and learn about sex workers’ rights, even if they feel the issue doesn’t effect them directly. “We’re inviting a lot of our community partners to participate this year,” Stunning says. “We deserve rights, just like any other labor group.”