Philly vigil set for 31 sex workers slain in U.S. this year

Rickie Morgan was beaten with a brick and stabbed, her naked and bloody body found in a Philadelphia alleyway in July 2016. Prostitutes who worked the same Kensington area remembered her has a sweet girl.

Advocates say her death didn’t come as a surprise. Alone and vulnerable, sex workers like Morgan face potential violence from johns and from police, they say.

This year, 31 sex workers have been killed in the United States, including a stripper from western Pennsylvania. A vigil will be held for them Sunday afternoon at Thomas Paine Plaza, across from City Hall.

Dozens of similar events will be held in cities around the world to bring attention to sex workers who were killed and to advocate for “de-criminalization.” It’s the 14th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

“People equate prostitution with the opioid crisis, but there are sex workers who are mothers or who are college students,” said Melanie Dante, a co-organizer of Sunday’s vigil in Philadelphia. She said the full extent of the violence against sex workers hasn’t been documented because it is difficult to collect information.

Dante said she’s passionate about the vigil and the issue because she said she feels “blessed to have made it off the streets alive and I want to see other young people off the street and thriving.” Dante lives in Pennsylvania and spends some of her time speaking on the issue in Philadelphia.

The names of victims will be read at the two-hour vigil scheduled for 3 p.m. No identified victims this year are from  Philadelphia, but at least one is from Western Pennsylvania.

Ashley Ugoletti, a stripper in a Pittsburgh club, was found stabbed to death inside a home of a man who worked as a salon nail tech in Westmoreland County. The man who police say stabbed Ugoletti hanged himself minutes later inside a closet in the home, authorities said.

Rachel West, spokeswoman for the U.S. Prostitutes Collective, said that violence against prostitutes is not prioritized by police or district attorneys, leaving it a shadowy issue mostly hidden from society.

Making sex work a crime “gives a green light to violent men to attack sex workers and get away with it,” West said. “These men know that sex workers are afraid to report crimes for fear that they will be arrested, and if they are immigrants, they fear that they will be deported,” she said.