We imagine our memorial to be beautiful and statuesque; it would attract residents and tourists to its powerfully uplifting message of community building, courage, and resilience. To date, we have imagined a wrought iron lamppost, a bronze plaque affixed to the post, and a bronze stiletto-heeled shoe at its base. As sex workers’ rights movements grow internationally, from India to Cambodia to New Zealand to Mexico, we know that the time is right to announce publicly, through a majestic West End Memorial, that sex workers were, and are, worthy of collective respect, belonging, and humanity.
Sex Worker memorials around the world
In the red light district of Amsterdam, Netherlands, a life-sized bronze statue that honours “millions of prostitutes” around the world, was unveiled in 2007. Titled Belle, the monument depicts a woman who stands confidently, even defiantly, in a doorway. The inscription on the bronze plaque reads: “Respect sex workers all over the world.” Created by Dutch artist Els Rijerse, the sculpture resides in front of the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest church, in the city’s red light district. Belle was inspired by Mariska Majoor, a former sex worker and community activist in Amsterdam.
In Sydney, Australia, sculptor Loui Fraser built her life-sized statue, Joy, out of cement, marble dust, and steel. In 1997, Joy was placed her within a red frame and situated in the sculpture garden at Macquarie University. Fraser wanted to pay tribute to the thousands of women who had historically sold sexual services in the area. She recalled, “I believed it was time these women were recognized as part of our society and our history, particularly in that part of Sydney.” To quote historians Raelene Frances and Julie Kimber, “Joy did what good public art arguably should do: she forced people to confront issues that might otherwise have remained submerged. In doing so, she uncovered the limits of tolerance in a Sydney inner-city community that had lived with prostitution in its midst for most of its history.”
In 2010, the Cross Bones Graveyard Plaque and Memorial Shrine was installed at the Cross Bones graveyard in South London, England to honour unnamed prostitutes – the ‘Winchester Geese’ – who were buried underground during medieval times. People who visit the plaque, and the iron fence to which it is attached, leave mementos such as flowers, gloves, fans, feathers, ribbons, charms, poems, pictures, oranges, and stockings. According to local historian, Patricia Dark, the Cross Bones shrine is a place where one goes to celebrate the “Outcast Dead” – “the people that no one remembers.”
There is a bronze plaque affixed to the Condor Club, a nightclub, and later striptease bar in North Beach, San Francisco. The plaque, “Where it all began,” honours the birthplace of the “World’s first topless & bottomless entertainment, Topless, June 19, 1964; bottomless, September 3, 1969, Starring Carol Doda.” Doda (1937-2015) was a gutsy white American exotic dancer who challenged obscenity laws and danced until the 1980s.
A plaque was attached to a small granite boulder in downtown Ukiah, California (pop. 16,000): “To the Ladies of the Night Who Plied Their Trade Upon This Site.” Ukiah, in Mendocino County north of San Francisco was voted the “best small town to live in California” in 1996.