I LOVE when people make statements about what a group of people should do before investigating to see whether or not they HAVE been doing said action. Sex workers have been organizing. For decades. Possibly way before this person was even born, because I know that's the case for me.
Then there was this series of comments from a.k.a. Ninapendamaishi:
There are sex workers who want the legalization of sex work and want more rights.
There are sex workers who want to get out of sex work and are having trouble doing so. There are ex-sexworkers who want to abolish sexwork.
To whom should we listen? It's not a black-and-white issue."
Then why in the blue blazes are you treating it as a black-and-white issue? Here's a suggestion for you. It's radical and subversive: LISTEN TO ALL OF THEM! The first two camps are the sex workers who do and have always comprised the sex workers' rights movement. The group of ex-sex workers who want to abolish sex work are usually found with other abolitionists, like the Melissa Farley site she linked to in another comment with this statement, "They did some studies on prostitution. According to them, like 90% of prostitutes polled in 3 different studies by 3 different organizations said they'd like to leave the industry". This tired statistic continues to be trotted out and anyone with half a brain cell would ask, "which prostitutes?"
Also, saying 90% of a work force wants out proves nothing. Guess what? About 100% of the mainstream work force wants out too! Many people would assume "eventual retirement at age 60-65" as the answer but that'd be just as flawed as saying that the 90% of prostitutes who want out wish to leave sex work because of any abuses suffered during their time as a prostitute. Some of that mainstream work force wants to leave not for retirement, but to be a stay-at-home mom OR dad. Others just don't want to work and pray that they'll hit the jackpot. Still others hate their job, find it degrading, demeaning, not what their college degree said they should be, etc. Some want to leave to go back to school and start a new career. And of course ALL workers, with the exception of true workaholics, want to retire from their job rather than die at their desk.
So it goes with prostitutes. Who wants to work their ENTIRE adult life? Yes, many are very anxious to leave because of physically, mentally and emotionally abusive bullshit that too often accompanies sex work at certain levels and they are just sick of it all. Others want to go back to school and start a new career, like their non-sex work counterpart. Still others want to start a family and may not feel sex work is family friendly. Others find the job degrading or demeaning. Many want to hit that same lotto jackpot their non-sex work counterpart does! Wow, look at that! Normal desires from...normal people! Yes, newsflash: sex workers are normal people. You may go on with your day.
What's more with a.k.a Ninapendamaishi's comment, I'd like for her to rethink it like this, "
There are women who want the legalization of abortion and want more rights.
There are women who want to get an abortion and are having trouble doing so. There are women who want to abolish abortion and women's rights.
To whom should we listen? It's not a black-and-white issue."Still having a problem figuring this out Ninapendamaisha? No? I thought not.
But back to spike the cat's claim and why I did this post. I was planning on doing an, albeit, superficial highlight of sex work organizations in the US and around the world. That comment voluptuouspanic told me about made me expediate the writing of this post. Having met Margo St. James, Robyn Few and Scarlot Harlot (among other luminaries) at this summer's Desiree Alliance Conference, that comment just blinkered me. So what have those women been doing all these years then? Talking to themselves? Quietly whispering about how sex workers need their rights? Ha! I don't think so! Especially not the awesome, feisty, firecracker Robyn Few! Believe me, you will never forget meeting her, she's fantastic. Another word, I am sure at previous points in history, groups of prostitutes banded together for safety in numbers. Certainly one can look at the words of illustrious courtesans like Veronica Franco or Ninon de Lenclos who asserted that courtesans and prostitutes and by extention all women are deserving of respect. But then this post would go on forever and it's long enough.
As voluptuouspanic pointed out in her response, that no one has been listening or when they do, it is often belittled and ignored. My highlights on sex worker rights organizations will largely focus on those with an online presence (or reference to them) for this reason: so that you, the reader, can actually access THEIR words instantly. The orgs I cover here are but a fraction because not everyone has access to the internet yet. But rest assured, they are out there. And if I miss any, let me know.
Furthermore, let me define what a sex worker rights organization is: They are organizations that work for the interests of sex workers and sex workers only. Not religious fundamentalists who couch their thinly veiled misogynistic, morality arguments with readily accepted feminist cant. Not said feminists who hide THEIR thinly veiled misogynistic, moralistic crap in paternalistic, authoritarian cant. FOR sex workers and that includes, especially, punishing truly abusive clients and pimps and NOT punishing or persecuting the good clients from whom sex workers make their income. These organizations want to make as many resources as is possible available to ALL sex workers regardless of whether that worker wants to leave immediately or stay. These organizations DO NOT devalue the experience of any sex worker, male, female, transgender, intersex, queer, straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, positive, negative, neutral, white, black, Asian, Latino/a, American, Indian, Dutch, Kenyan, Chinese, Thai, Canadian, streetworker, escort, pornstar, hostess, rent boy, courtesan, PSO, domme, dom, pro-sub, high-end, average, ability status, educated, uneducated, middle-class, working-class, WHATEVER. They may have focuses on specific ethnic or gender minority groups in their main society, which is fine. Finally, sex worker organizations first and foremost want harm reduction, whether that comes in the form of decrim, genuine police protection, being treated as a human being (yes!) or the mere ability to rent an apartment without having to hear someone's SHIT about what you do for a job and living in fear of being evicted. Unfortunately, there are abolitionist organizations that claim to work in the interests of sex workers and may actually call themselves a 'sex workers rights movement'. However they will only help sex workers who agree to the abolitionist viewpoint. Nothing wrong with only wanting to be a rescue organization, but just be up front with your aims. Couldn't be that you're afraid that you'd get no takers. So why lie?
An acronym for Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (indeed), COYOTE is the Mother of the Prostitutes Rights Movement in the United States. Without COYOTE, the rest of us activists would not be where we are now, which is why I started with this one. A successor to the now-defunct WHO (Whores, Housewives and Others, that is lesbians), COYOTE was started by Margo St. James in 1973 out in San Francisco, CA. 1973, people! This pretty much makes the official movement about thirty-five years old and Margo St. James is still going at it. Thank you, Margo! Read the rest of the COYOTE and Margo St. James story here.
Acronym: Sex Workers' Outreach Project. From their site: "SWOP promotes the health, safety and wellbeing of sex industry workers in a way which enables and affirms their occupational and human rights and is the leading agency in NSW for HIV prevention amongst sex industry workers." I am not sure when SWOP-Australia was established but it was before October 2003 because that is when it's American counterpart came onto the scene.
SWOP-USA was established in October 2003, which makes it five years old this month, by Robyn Few who had been arrested and convicted by the Feds who already solved the problem of catching bin Laden. Oh wait... Here is SWOP's campaign statement, if you will: "SWOP, at its most basic, is an anti-violence campaign. As a multi-state network of sex workers and advocates, we address locally and nationally the violence that sex workers experience because of their criminal status." The organization has the following regional chapters: SWOP-East, SWOP-Chicago (yay us!), SWOP-Alabama, SWOP-Tucson, SWOP-NYC, SWOP-LA, SWOP-NorCal, SWOP-Michigan, SWOP-Texas and SWOP-LV. We are not Legion yet, but we're working on it!
Acronym: Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive. Established in 1993 in Washington, DC. From their site: "HIPS' mission is to assist female, male, and transgender individuals engaging in sex work in Washington, DC in leading healthy lives. Utilizing a harm reduction model, HIPS' programs strive to address the impact that HIV/AIDS, STIs, discrimination, poverty, violence and drug use have on the lives of individuals engaging in sex work." HIPS specifically provides services such as peer education and outreach, a 24-hour client hotline, syringe exchange, among others.
BAY area Sex Worker Advocacy Network and Prostitutes' Education Network provides updates on legislation, organizing efforts for or against said legislation, and gathers information on the status of sex work and sex workers and their rights from around the world. It's been around for years online, at least six I would say, but I couldn't find a definitive establishment date on the site. The webmistress is the trailblazing Scarlot Harlot.
A seven-year-old organization also based in Washington, DC. It was established in September 2001. Different Avenues is not exclusively geared toward sex workers, however, many of their outreach services are certainly needed by some sex workers and they assist them without judgment.
Exotic Dancers Alliance:
Technically, EDA is defunct. But I still wanted to highlight the fact that they existed, for the point of showing a definite sex workers' rights movement. It is described as, "a co-foundling of the organization BAYSWAN". EDA existed from May 1993 to September 2004: "Presently, Exotic Dancers Alliance advocates on behalf of exotic dancers and other sex industry workers locally, nationally and internationally, promoting the decriminalization of prostitution and de-stigmatization of all sex industry workers."
Scarlet Alliance is an Australian organization that was formed in 1989: "Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, through our objectives, policies and programs, aims to achieve equality, social, legal, political, cultural and economic justice for past and present workers in the sex industry, in order for sex workers to be self-determining agents, building their own alliances and choosing where and how they work."
I first heard about the Desiree Alliance before its first conference in Las Vegas in 2006 and this summer here in Chicago I finally got to attend. It was fantastic and I met so many awesome women and men there. The Desiree Alliance Conference is a gathering of various sex worker rights organizations from here and around the world, as well as any individual, unaffiliated sex worker or ally that wishes to attend. Co-founded and co-directed by Stacey S. and Susan Lopez: "The Desiree Alliance is a diverse, volunteer-based, sex worker-led network of organizations, communities and individuals across the US working in harm reduction, direct services, political advocacy and health services for sex workers. We provide leadership and create space for sex workers and supporters to come together to advocate for human, labour and civil rights for all workers in the sex industry."
Around since the early 90's at least, the Prostitutes of New York, "PONY is a support and advocacy group for all people in the sex industry. We welcome all current or former sex workers, including male, female or TS/TV prostitutes, erotic dancers, nude models, x-rated actors, peep show performers, phone sex workers, S&M/B&D professionals, strippers, madams, and so on. PONY advocates the decriminalization of prostitution and calls for an end to illegal police activity -- such as street sweeps -- in the enforcement of existing laws."
The International Union of Sex Workers, based in the United Kingdom since 2000, is actually the first group I heard of when I began investigating sex work as a feminist. It was very illuminating and it was actually through their old site that I heard about BAYSWAN then from there Scarlot Harlot and her work. The rest is history for me. "The IUSW is part of the GMB, one of the UK's biggest unions with over 600,000 members. We campaign for sex workers' rights at a local, national and international level - to decrease stigma and violence against sex workers, improve working conditions and create a clear and fair sex industry."
International Prostitutes' Collective:
In their own words, "Since 1975 the International Prostitutes' Collective has been campaigning for the abolition of the prostitution laws which criminalize sex workers and our families and for economic alternatives and higher benefits and wages." They have a particular emphasis with sex workers who are women of color.
This is a collection of Chinese sex workers from the mainland and Hong Kong. That's right! The sex workers' rights movement isn't just a bunch of "privileged" middle-class, educated white girls from the US! Melissa Farley must be devastated! They perform outreach, multimedia production, research and social education to benefit sex workers in the nation. I could not find a date of establishment but their website copyright dates from 2000-present.
Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee:
Established sometime around 1992, DMSC formed their own bank because sex workers were barred from opening accounts at other banks and made vulnerable to loan sharks. The bank is called the Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Society, Ltd. (Usha). And yet people like to think sex workers are completely helpless, vacuous morons. A 1997 conference gathered more than 6,000 sex workers from around India. Yes, spike the cat, sex workers organize!
Miluska, Vida y Dignidad:
For those of you who can read Spanish, you will learn that this organization was formed in on October 29, 2002 in Lima, Peru. It is the first organization for the South American country. They focus on concerns such as human rights, public education, and political concerns like legislation among others.
Run by the very people so often unfairly portrayed in the media as poster children for trafficking, sex tourism, childlike women and rampant disease: Thai sex workers. $pread ran a story about Thai sex workers that was extremely informative. To use their own words to demonstrate that they are WELL aware of how they're popularly portrayed, "Some see us as problem makers but actually we are part of the solution." Actually, the entire movement should use that as a slogan. A group of women from Empower run their own bar with established, safe, worker-friendly rules and policies; it's called Can Do! They also run Empower University that has provided education for over 30,000 sex workers over the last two decades.
Boys did it too! Although men are part of the other predominantly female sex worker rights organizations, they had their own grassroots project at one point. HOOK Online is no more, unfortunately.
Star Light Ministries:
I have to do a special shoutout to Lia here. Starlight Ministries is not specifically a sex worker rights organization dedicated to changing legislation. However, it does aim to help destigmatize sex work. Starlight Ministries is a Christian organization (yes, I know!) that primarily works with exotic dancers but all sex workers are genuinely welcomed with open arms. There is no patronizing or condescending here. No, "Well, God would love you if only you got out of sex work!" It's more, "God loves you" period. Let's face it, for many sex workers, that little statement would make ALL the difference in the world. I won't lie, I do not like the Christian Church at all for many reasons. However, Lia and her ministry practice what that whole "Love thy neighbor as thyself" thing is supposed to be. Truly.
I am only stopping here because this post is turning out to be extremely long. However, some other sex worker rights' organizations include, but definitely are not limited to: Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), Stella (Montreal, Ca), The Naked Truth (Canada), Asosida (Chile), De Rode Draad (trans.The Red Thread. Netherlands), and Le Putes (France). I wish I could have found some in Africa, but alas no. I hope there is some sort of even informal organization and that soon they will have the opportunity to access the internet and share their stories, needs, wants and dreams far and wide as well. **Edit** Amber Rhea reminded me of HIRE (Hooking Is Real Employment), started by Dolores French, who is another leader in the sex workers' rights movement, in Atlanta, GA in the mid-1980's.
So, you see spike the cat, et al. over at the Feministing comment thread, sex workers DO organize. Do you genuinely care that we are fighting for our rights? If so, help out. If not, stay out of our way. It was just so offensive to voluptuouspanic and myself to read a statement like that from someone who obviously didn't care to see if it was going to be true or not. It's frustrating because attitudes like the ones expressed in the thread are the reason the movement hits these giant walls.
Look. Listen. Learn. It's that simple.
A couple of days ago I discovered SWEAT, Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce, which is based in South Africa. They launched their sex worker movement Sisonke, which means "togetherness", in October 2003. SWEAT and Sisonke are based in Western Cape. They have many papers and facts about sex work in South Africa.