The Sex Workers Outreach Project

Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!! Today I thought I would highlight a group of women that often get left out of the picture when it comes to advocating for women’s rights and agency: sex workers. Specifically, I want to highlight an organization that fights for sex workers' rights: Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).

(All information comes from the SWOP website, which can be found here)

Let’s start with some myths about sex workers:

  • Myth: "Prostitution is violence against women (or gang rape, or slavery)"
    • Fact: "Although violence, particularly against street workers, is common, most violence is perpetrated by non-clients, individuals who pose as clients, law enforcement officials, and a very small proportion of clients. The same goes for clients of indoor workers. While news reports frequently vilify clients of sex workers, even abolitionist organizations recognize diversity in what motivates clients to solicit prostitutes" (SWOP).
  • Myth: "The average adolescent prostitute is a female who is virtually a slave to a pimp."
    • Fact: "According to a study of New York adolescents in the sex trade, nearly half of adolescents are male or transgender. Only 8% were coerced into entering the sex industry" (SWOP). 
  • Myth: "The sex trade is inherently harmful."
    • Fact: "Violence, mental and physical health risks, and marginalization are not inherent to the sex trade any more than they are inherent to sexual identity or orientation. Stigma and criminalization are the root causes of harms directly related to sex work. These harms are compounded by intersecting oppression for large numbers of sex workers" (SWOP).

SWOP is a grassroots organization with chapters across the U.S. The closest chapters to us are Chicago, Kentucky (state-wide chapter) and Michigan (state-wide chapter). Their services include a community support line, educational webinars and fundraising for sex work festivals, outreach supplies, office space, etc. They also do a lot of work towards the Interntional Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, which is December 17th.

SWOP fights to not let these myths dominate conversation. They work with these values in mind:

  • Dignity & Respect
    • History has used “respectability politics” to excuse the abuse, criminalization and murder of sex workers.
  • Community
    • Will be strengthened by valuing diversity—must rely on a strong community for organization and advocacy
  • Accountability
    • Provide educational tools to members to increase intersectional approach
  • Self Determination
    • “Our bodies are our own” → Provide resources and knowledge for people to make informed choices about their bodies
  • Sex Work is Work
    • "Emotional and physical labor"

This International Women’s Day, and every day, remember to empower all women. True feminism is intersectional and works for the advancement of women no matter their sex, background, race, occupation, etc. To argue for women’s agency and control over their own bodies is to advocate for sex workers' rights.