On Sunday, Nov. 4, someone walking through the forest of Roumare (outside the French city of Rouen) discovered the body of Cassandra, a trans woman who was apparently burned to death in a fire. Cassandra immigrated to France at some point from Peru and may have been a sex worker.

The essential background for this story is that around 2003 a “battle against prostitution” was declared by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The goal was apparently to push sex workers off the streets, which resulted in forcing the sex trade underground, hence sex workers being forced to trade under riskier conditions. The Forests of Boulogne in particular are well known for being extremely dangerous for the sex workers who have been denied any better or safer place to work.

Recently, there is talk in France of changing from a legal model that criminalizes both sex workers and clients to one that exclusively targets clients, which would be based on the so-called “Sweden model.” However, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law recently released a report that makes clear that the Sweden model does little or nothing to improve the lives of sex workers, as criminalizing clients still results in the trade being driven underground where women are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

All these problems tend to be greatly exacerbated for trans women sex workers and sex workers of color who already inhabit the intersections of social oppression, as sadly illustrated in the case of Cassandra.

As an American, I can’t help but feel anguished that in an election where progressive issues otherwise triumphed, California over-whelmingly passed Prop. 35, which is almost certain to result in greater criminalization and social stigmatization for sex workers, and probably little else.

 

Rest In Peace, Cassandra.

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