The below is a letter from Astrid Renland, a criminologist and the manager of Prostituertes interesseorganisasjon i Norge (PION), a sex workers’ rights organisation in Norway. Astrid has kindly agreed for me to publish her letter on this blog.
Rest in Peace, Jasmine!
On July 11th, 2013, the Swedish sex-worker activist Jasmine died after being stabbed to death by her ex-husband. Jasmine had finally been able to meet her two children again after a long battle against her violent ex-husband and Swedish social services over the custody of her children. Why did she have to fight for her own children? Because she was discriminated against as a sex worker.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Jasmine several times. She was among the most decent people I’ve ever met, and also one of the strongest. Jasmine used her own lived experiences in her activism for sex worker’s rights. Her ex-husband, on the other hand, used her work against her to keep her away from her children.
Social services had initially deemed her unfit as a mother and caregiver, because Jasmine worked as a sex worker. Although she was later awarded shared custody of her children, her ex-husband denied her access to her children, until eventually, she lost custody at a trial last February, as the court now found her lacking a connection with her children. During the final trial, Jasmine’s right to see her children was reinstated. But the second meeting with her son ended with death, despite supervision by a social worker.
Before she died, Jasmine posted comments on Facebook about how wonderful it was to meet her children. She had dreaded to meet them because she was afraid they would reject or not recognise her – a fear that turned into an incredibly happy reunion for both mother and the children. But the next message was from Jasmine’s mother who reported that she was stabbed to death. She was 27 years old. Two young children without a mother have now, like the rest of their family, friends, work colleagues and activists, lost someone they will continue to love and value highly.
Jasmine will end up in the statistics of domestic violence. Her death is an unimaginable tragedy, but it is also a story of Swedish authorities’ prejudices and discrimination against sex workers.
The same could have happened in Norway; to work as a sex worker is widely seen as incompatible with being a caregiver. If someone is found to sell sex during ‘raids and rescuing’ activities, they will automatically be reported to the local child care offices by the police. There are cases where there are no signs of child neglect or other issues that may affect children’s wellbeing, but nevertheless they end up as child care case, often justified by nothing more than social stigma and prejudice against women who work as sex workers.
Prostitution research shows that many sex workers experience more violence in their private lives than they do as sex workers. This is mainly a result of their partner’s knowledge that the threshold to report violence is higher because of the women’s type of work. Many sex workers report that their work is used against them in cases of divorce and battle for child custody. As a result, the majority of sex workers in Norway use a lot of energy to keep the work hidden from family, friends and public authorities.
Rest in Peace Jasmine; may your story result in reflection, regret, anger and solidarity.
– Astrid Renland
Oslo, 15th of July 2013