On Sex Work and Survival: Why We Must Stand With Alisha Walker

Like all criminalized people, Alisha is more than a mugshot. (Photo: Sherri Chatman)Like all criminalized people, Alisha is more than a mugshot. (Photo: Sherri Chatman)

This guest post from Support Ho(s)e, a coalition of Chicago sex workers and advocates, explains why those of us who believe in the rights of sex workers and the sanctity of self-defense must stand with Alisha Walker, a young woman who has been criminalized for taking a life in defense of her own. If you would like to learn more or get involved in the fight to free Alisha, you can visit the “Justice for Alisha Walker” Facebook page.

We recently became aware of an article published in the Chicago Sun­-Times, originally titled “Hooker gets 15 years for stabbing Brother Rice teacher to death” (they have since amended the title), that promotes an anti-sex worker, misogynistic gloss on the traumatic events it purports to report on.

The Chicago Sun-Times not only saw fit to publish a piece that spread stigma and shame against a survivor of client­ violence, they also used degrading whore-phobic language, and sensationalized headlines. The purpose of such dehumanization by the Sun­-Times was to mold Alisha Walker into a monster who deserved the harsh sentencing Judge Obbish handed down. This article, and others like it, hold up the client­-victim as an upstanding citizen and member of his community, and demonize the woman who killed him in self­-defense.

Alisha Walker was working when she was attacked. Her attacker, Alan Filan, was a regular client who became aggressive, hostile, and demanded unsafe services while under the influence of alcohol. When Alisha refused, he escalated from threats to violence. As she felt her life at risk, Alisha fought back. For defending herself, and saving the life of another woman who was on the scene, she is facing 15 years behind bars.

(Photo: Sherri Chatman)(Photo: Sherri Chatman)As scary as this sounds, it is nothing new. The police, judges, and State’s Attorneys often pursue punishment that is meant to belittle, degrade and humiliate in order to deter others from “choosing a dangerous trade.” Our trade is only dangerous because we are criminalized and live in a society that is built on carceral “solutions” that ruin lives. These measures are designed to “teach a lesson,” this lesson however destroys lives. This case needs to be reframed. We are tired of this demonization and stigma. The events of this story are devastating, to all families involved, however Alisha’s work should not be what is on trial. Why aren’t we asking about the implications of having a Judge who has ties to the client-victim’s sister (who is also a judge) and lobbyist brother? We aren’t we asking why Alisha was held without bail or trial for two years? Why aren’t we willing to believe a woman when she is attacked? These questions confront the corruption and oppressive nature from which the criminal justice system is made.

That is why we, Support Ho(s)e, a coalition of Chicago sex workers and advocates, stand with Alisha Walker. And this is why we should all be standing with her, and others like her, who have been unfairly sentenced by a system that profits off of our incarceration, and disregards our humanity.

We are inspired by the work being done by organizations such as California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Free Marissa Now, Love & Protect, and Stand With Nan­Hui, who have coined the hashtag #SurvivedAndPunished for campaigns and initiatives for survivors who are dealing with state violence for defending themselves against intimate partner violence, domestic attacks etc. From their vision statement, “The Survived And Punished Project demands the immediate release of survivors of domestic and sexual violence and other forms of gender violence who are imprisoned for survival actions, including: self­-defense, “failure to protect,” migration, removing children from abusive people, being coerced into acting as an “accomplice,” and securing resources needed to live.” We want to expand upon this to include client­-violence.

Because of the criminalized nature of most of our work, it is difficult to raise awareness, and rally to our cause. However, just because our work is considered unlawful does not mean that we are unworthy of human dignity, and protection as workers.

When we are subjected to violence, we are jokes, and when we survive we are punished. When our actions are reported, we are not deemed worthy of names, we are only “prostitutes, “hookers,” and other words that strip us of our humanity. We however are all human beings, and deserving of respect. Punishing us for striking back against the dangerous working conditions imposed upon us by our unfair criminalization is disgusting and unjust.

Our demands are rooted in the desire to see a better and more just world for sex workers involved in all facets of the trade. These demands are detailed as follows:

We want safe working conditions. This means we should have the right to live and work in peace. We also should have the right to self­-defense if our lives are endangered.

We want an end to Judges like Obbish & Assistant State’s Attorneys like James Papa. This includes being held without bail, or without charge. We want rights not rescue. This means we want to see the decriminalization of our work, an end to police profiling and brutality. We also see a future in the formation of collective bargaining organizations, and unions for sex workers. We want self determination, and an end to criminalization.

We want justice for Alisha Walker. She should be free to live, work and decide what’s best for her and her body.

(Photo: Sherri Chatman)(Photo: Sherri Chatman)