I can’t remember when we first starting folding cranes to hang in the tree that overlooks the historic El Tiradito Shrine at Meyer and Cushing Streets in downtown Tucson, but it’s become a tradition for the Tucson chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project for the last several years. Each year in the weeks prior to the December 17th event, we get together and fold cranes – one for each sex worker who has fallen victim to violence in the previous year. We write the name of each worker inside the crane.
For me, an origami crane represents the fragility of life. The sex worker population is especially vulnerable to violence because of the criminalization of prostitution which fosters an environment for predators to more easily prey on them – sex work is often done in private and alone, and assaults go unreported due to the very real fear of arrest. In Arizona, the penalties for prostitution convictions are staggering – on your third conviction, you’re a felon and doing six months in prison.
There is also beauty in the origami crane, which represents (for me, at least) the beautiful, healing, soulfulness embodied in the worker and the work itself. What often gets ignored or disregarded is the fact that we provide services which are crucial to the human experience – intimate, emotional encounters, expressed in a physical manner. We hold clients who have recently lost a loved one in our arms. We provide loving touch to those who haven’t been intimately touched in many years. There is beauty in that.
So at our International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers event each December, the cranes hang from string in the tree at El Tiradito, swaying in the gentle night breeze. Each year, there are new cranes to add, new names to recite during our vigil.