Creating Community for Incarcerated Sex WorkersA chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP)
SWOP Behind Bars is a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of people who face discrimination from the criminal justice system due to the stigma associated with the sex trade. We advocate for full decriminalization of consensual sex work, ending cash bail, drawing attention to the effects of generational poverty on sexualized violence against marginalized and vulnerable women while providing services and support with a focus on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy.
Why is the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars?
Since the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) “Behind Bars” inception in May 2016, SWOP Behind Bars (SBB) has sent out over 15000 newsletters to prisoners in 14 states. We have coordinated over 2000 pen pals. We have coordinated more than 20000 books through Amazon Wish Lists, 3000 book donations, and approximately 450 GED self-study guides to prisoners and prison libraries. We have funded 9 college level scholarships and presented at human rights conferences and rallies. We have provided reentry support for 120 recently released prisoners and we have written a reentry guide to help incarcerated people transition back to their community. We have fiscally sponsored 4 other like-minded organizations. We have a diverse Board of Directors that includes people who have been and still are incarcerated. We support men, women and trans folks.
Why is SWOP Behind Bars? There are more than 200,000 women currently behind bars in the U.S., and that number is on the rise. In fact, women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the country. The rate of incarceration for women has been growing nearly twice as fast as that of men since 1985, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and account for about 7% of the total prison population in the U.S. The fastest growing population behind bars is black women. Prostitution is one of the few crimes where women are arrested more frequently than men, but prostitution alone does not explain the growing numbers of Black, Latino, and trans-women behind bars. If we are going to make reforms to crimes based on morality, we need to consider laws that disproportionately affect women, such as the prohibition of sex work. Sex workers are often subject to the same “revolving door” punitive approach that people convicted of drug offenses receive; women do time, but never receive the resources, social, economic and, psychological support that would enable them to leave the industry if they choose. We don’t often consider that sex work can be an intentional choice. Whether or not it is a symptom of poor economic conditions or volition it is always considered inherently immoral.
In order to address this we need to widen the discussion to include issues that Black, Latino, and trans women are disproportionately affected by. The illegal purchasing of sex is ultimately what sustains the market and forces sex work underground. The stigma has to be removed around the discussion of sex work in order to protect the human rights and, as recently suggested by Amnesty International (AI), the dignity of the women in it who often need access to housing and, health care. By decriminalizing both the buying and selling of sex we can focus our efforts on those who truly need assistance and making other avenues of employment available, especially for trans women. Laws prohibiting sex work are based on a moral code that doesn’t fully consider the implications. If we are going to reform non-violent crimes like drug use and selling that are founded on societal beliefs, we also need to consider other non-violent crimes, regardless of stigma and moral objections. The question of decriminalization or legalization cannot be limited to marijuana, but needs to be expanded to encompass sex work. We need to rethink the way we currently differentiate and treat between violent and non-violent persons convicted of offenses and push for decriminalization of sex work and the correlation to decreasing crimes against women; these progressive reforms normalize and regulate sex work rather than further stigmatizing and conflating an underground industry with human trafficking. With these efforts we can reduce sexual violence in the US, ameliorate conditions for a marginalized portion of the population, and destigmatize what is a reality for many women.
Florida Senate Bill 450 with the Orwellian title “Human Trafficking” would create a registry for people found guilty of the loosely defined crime of “soliciting, inducing, enticing, or procuring” another to commit “prostitution, lewdness, or assignation.” Such people,...read more
Florida Senate Considers Creating Prostitution Registry: Florida Senate Bill 540 with the Orwellian title “Human Trafficking” would create a registry for people found guilty of the loosely defined crime of “soliciting, inducing, enticing, or procuring” another to commit “prostitution, lewdness, or assignation.”
Such people, once prosecuted would be added to a registry entitled “Soliciting for Prostitution Registry.”
About this essay: Against FOSTA/SESTA was chosen as the First Place finalist in Slixa’s call for entires on the subject of FOSTA/SESTA. In addition to a cash award for the author, this designation also came with a matching contribution to a provider-focused service organization of the author’s choosing. Congratulations to Lucy Kahn. Slixa is proud to support SWOP – Los Angeles in their thoughtful and important work.read more
Currently & formerly incarcerated survivors have stated again and again how important letters of support are to their well-being. Letters are also important strategies to build relationships and organizing coalitions across prison walls. Here’s a basic guide for...read more
NSWP Threads: Impact of Anti-trafficking Policy and Practise on Sex Workers’ Human Rights in Thailand
NSWP on EMPOWER Thailand: A panel from ‘Mida Tapestry’, created by migrant sex workers to compliment the ‘Hit and Run’ sex worker research project. The tapestry was first publically displayed at the 12 February, 2012, launch of the ‘Hit and Run’ research initiative in Bangkok, Thailand. Image attributed to EMPOWER Foundation.read more
Emily created two original Haiku on sex work and incarceration via the SWOP Behind Bars Instagram. We love our IG FAM! They speak volumes in small strong sentences!read more