Reaching out and connecting with outdoor (street-based) sex workers.

Hi everyone, myself and a few friends of mine that have a bunch of outdoor (street-based) sex work experience decided to do some training for all of you that are interested in the street-based economy, and how to offer support.

Specifically we drafted two documents, How to be an ally to outdoor(street based) sex workers and how to outreach to outdoor (street based) sex workers, the short version.

My favorite is the how to be an ally document, and it’s short, so I’ll repost that here below.  This is not intended to replace the more general version sex workers put together earlier, but to augment it:

  1. Don’t push yourself on me in the name of help if I don’t want or need it. I have the ability to make decisions for myself. Honor my decisions even if you don’t agree with them.
  2. We have lots of people offering us “help,” but most are NOT actually meeting our needs. Meet my needs, not your desires. If you don’t know what my needs are, it is ok to ask.
  3. If you offer help and I accept, follow through on your promises. Do not lie to us or give us a false sense of hope. Be real about how much you can and will help.
  4. If you offer help, I want it to address my immediate needs! Not something that will help me 5 years from now. For instance, if I don’t have food, a place to sleep or my fix, then scholarships for school have very little relevance in my life.
  5. Some people are happy in this life. Thinking I require help OUT of this life is bad thinking on YOUR part.
  6. Don’t assume I’m strung out and need help kicking. Maybe I’m not strung out or maybe I have no desire to quit.
  7. Don’t pity me or feel sorry for me. Remember, anyone can end up in a rough place in life. When someone pities you, it makes you feel “less than” or ashamed of your lack of ability to get yourself out of the rough situation you found yourself in. Remember, it could be you standing here working next to me later!
  8. If you want to help, make yourself available and perhaps offer options. Let me choose the type of help I want/need, not what you think I need.
  9. Don’t judge me! If you are judging me, you are not in a position to help me.
  10. Don’t tokenize me. Street-based workers come from all different races, genders, religions, socio-economical backgrounds and education levels. Don’t assume that just because “Pretty Women” is your favorite movie, you know me.
  11. Be patient if I need help. Chances are I’m in survival mode, and you need to respect where I am, not where you want me to be.
  12. Respect me. Don’t be afraid to look me in the eye.

Legislators Urge Ban on Media Shown to Reduce Rape

Women’s groups have been in a state of hysteria lately over Republican efforts to restrict abortion rights, but they’ve been curiously silent about the efforts from BOTH sides of the aisle to restrict women’s other sexual rights.  For example, they’ve said nothing about the recent attempt by over 100 senators and congressmen to “crack down” on certain widely-available materials which have been demonstrated to decrease rape rates, namely porn.

Radley Balko of The Agitator isn’t a sex worker rights activist, but he’s a staunch defender of the rights of people to do what they like with their own bodies, including sex work.  In this article from April 7th, he demolishes the congressmen’s false claims about the “dangers” of porn with statistical proof of the social problems which have decreased as porn has become more widespread:

And in fact, every single one of these problems are trending in the opposite direction. And it isn’t even close:

  • Sex crimes against children: Down 53 percent between 1992 and 2006.
  • Abortion: The abortion rate has dropped by about 25 percent since 1993.
  • Teen pregnancy: In 2009, teen pregnancy hit its lowest rate in the 70 years that the federal government has been tracking the statistic.
  • Divorce: The U.S. divorce rate is at its lowest level since 1970.
  • Domestic violence: The rate of reported domestic violence in the U.S. dropped by more than half between 1993 and 2004.
  • Rape: The forcible rape rate in the U.S. has dropped from 41.1 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 28.7 in 2009. That latter figure is also an all-time low.

These numbers are overwhelming. What’s more, there are at least a couple of studies suggesting that the widespread availability of pornography is partially responsible for some of these trends, especially the drop in reported rapes.

Balko has recently been hired by Huffington Post, which means his eloquent voice for decriminalization will soon be heard by many more listeners than ever before.  I urge sex workers to read his column often; he’s definitely an ally.

Diversity, Privilege, Inclusion, and Related Topics…

Opponents of the sex workers’ justice movement have sometimes used the topic of privilege to discredit our movement, saying that we represent the most prestigious side of sex work and are thus oblivious to the non glamorous sides of the sex trade or industry.  Though they use this issue to try to discredit us,  some of the main leaders in the anti-sex work movement are also privileged in various ways.

Yet, the issue of privilege is not only used against us by opponents, but it is also a very contentious issue within our movement. Because the U.S. sex workers’ rights movement has traditionally consisted of largely White, indoor, non street-based sex workers who are often considered to be on the more elite side of sex work and middle to upper class, some within our movement have expressed concerns about this movement representing mainly a very privileged sector of sex work, with the most marginalized groups of sex workers being underrepresented.

This has led some within our movement who fit into the “privileged” category ( as it has been defined) to express feelings of being shunned or excluded and treated like their contributions and voices are unimportant amidst the attemps to include traditionally underrepresented groups.

Though I’m not trying to invalidate anybody’s feelings of exclusion or inclusion within our movement, I’m concerned that we’re moving too far to the opposite side of the spectrum, in which the terms such a “privilege, diversity, inclusion, ” etc. are treated like taboo topics and people who address valid concerns about these issues are perceived to be mega-PC types who are trying to make people feel bad about their privileges.

At our previous Desiree Alliance conference, there was a diversity workshop which was well attended. However, I feel that the support for this was mixed, in which some people seemed to take it very seriously, but some seemed to have the attitude that this is just another attempt to be ultra PC and that it gets in the way of our organizing and achieving practical goals.

I feel that addressing issues of diversity, privilege, and inclusion aren’t merely attempts to be PC, but essential to our movement. Sex workers are a diversity of people, so I see nothing wrong with active efforts to include various types of sex workers in our movement. Some groups of sex workers are highly represented, while many are underrepresented. Also, sometimes our privileges do shape how we organize, our values, and our experiences in ways we may often be unaware of.

That being said, it’s also essential to be be inclusive not only of underrepesented groups, but also of highly represented groups within our movement. Just because somebody is privileged in various ways (or is perceived to be) doesn’t make them unimportant to the movement nor should the time, energy, and resources they contribute be unappreciated.

People aren’t typically (if ever) totally privileged or totally unprivileged, but rather there are many types of privilege, so we’re often privlieged in some ways and not privilged in other ways, and of course, there are different degrees of privilege.

Sex Worker Groups Respond to Long Island Murders

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, April 8, 2011
Contact: Dylan Wolf, SWANK, 347-748-9163, swank@riseup.net
Sarah Jenny Bleviss, swop.nyc@gmail.com

New York – Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK) and Sex Workers Outreach Project NYC (SWOP-NYC) are dismayed that four more bodies were discovered on Long Island earlier this week. Police believe that a serial killer is responsible for murdering at least eight people found on a remote Suffolk County beach since December. Reports indicate the murder victims were in the sex trade. As sex workers and allies, SWANK and SWOP-NYC mourn the lives of these individuals and extend our sympathies to their families and communities.

“Sex workers are targeted for violence because of the stigma against what we do,” Dylan Wolf, a SWANK member said, “People think they can do whatever they want to us and they won’t get caught. And because of bad laws, social isolation and discrimination, they get away with it all the time. But like those murdered, we’re not disposable, bad people – we have lives that matter and people that love us. No matter who we are or what we do to make ends meet, we don’t deserve to die – we deserve good lives.”

A recent New York Times article suggested that dozens, if not hundreds, of people in the sex industry have been murdered in New York State since 1990. “Stories like what’s happened on Long Island make us fear for our safety,” said SWANK member Michael Bottoms, “As sex workers, we already know that stigma puts us at risk for being targeted, and so we take as many precautions as we can. But if we do experience violence, most of us can’t go to the cops, because we could get arrested, they might not take us seriously, or they could have been the ones who were violent to us in the first place.”

“When we ignore violence against sex workers, we support a culture where a serial killer can murder eight, twelve, or even dozens of sex workers without the media, the police or the general public being outraged or even thinking twice,” said Maryse Mitchell-Brody, a SWOP-NYC organizer, “We won’t end this violence by keeping the sex trade illegal, because it isn’t going anywhere – this just drives people further underground and makes them more vulnerable to violence. Murders like these show that we must use new strategies to create safety and dignity that don’t reinforce stigma or discrimination.”

To learn more about what you can do to support the rights of current and former sex workers and those with experience in the sex trade to safety and well-being, visit www.swop-nyc.org.

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Panel Discussion on International Solidarity with India’s Sex Workers’ Rights Movement

Wednesday, April 13
5-7pm
The Brecht Forum, 451 West St. (West Side Highway), betw. Bank and Bethune, NEW YORK, NY
Click here for directions

Free and open to the public!

Dr. Smarajit Jana, one of the founders of the DMSC (Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee) in Calcutta, India, and his colleague, a member of DMSC’s organizing committee, are visiting the US in April, and will be speaking at the Brecht Forum on Wednesday, April 13, 5-7pm.

The DMSC is a collective forum of 65,000 sex workers and serves as a model of labor organizing within the sex worker rights community.  DMSC has been extremely successful in securing support for their work from the communist-led government of the Indian state of West Bengal, making the organization unique in the kinds of allies it has made in the course of doing its work.  However, opportunities for sex workers from the Global South to meet with fellow activists, like-minded scholars and allies in the Global North are few and far between, unlike the opportunities for networking among anti-human-trafficking activists, which abound, due to governmental support for the abolition of prostitution.  This exciting event will bring together sex workers’ and labor rights activists in New York with activists from India in a rich discussion on what’s happening, and what the way forward might be.

This event is sponsored by: the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project (SWOP)-NYC, The Brecht Forum, South Asia Solidarity Initiative, the Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a coalition of sex workers’ rights advocates in New York City.

Human Trafficking Program in Chicago

One of my regular readers in the Chicago area forwarded this to me.  SWOP Chicago is involved, and some points we often make are on the agenda so those who will be in Chicago in two weeks may be interested.

THURSDAY April 14
6:30-8:30pm
Human Trafficking: Strategies and Solutions
*Featuring our own Serpent Libertine!

http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/_programsevents/_upcomingevents/_2011/_human%20Trafficking/apr14.html

Human trafficking, for sex, for other forms of labor, or any purpose of involuntary servitude, is an exploitative practice that is prevalent in countries all around the globe, including the United States.

Activists and scholars fervently debate the definition of trafficking, moral distinctions that are often made between labor and sex work, various understandings of victimhood, and questions about the intent and success rate of “rescue operations.” In addition, there are complexities of migration to consider and debates about the relationship between forced labor and the global economy.

Join us for an evening of discussion and education. Scholars and activists working to end trafficking will discuss their strategies and positions. Hull-House history and Jane Addams’ relationship with the movement to end “white slavery” will be highlighted.

Panelists represent the following organizations:
Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
The International Organization for Adolescents
National Immigrant Justice Center at the Heartland Alliance
Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago