“The victim narrative and rescue mentality that most Democrats take around sex work is not helpful,” said RJ Thompson, a human rights lawyer, longtime sex worker, and director of the Sex Workers Project. “We do not need to be rescued, we need our human rights protected.”
SWRF has made a generous donation of $1.2 million to SWP to significantly increase SWP’s capacity, size, scope, and impact. With this gift, SWP is able to hire a Director of Communications, Director of Development, Director of Research, Organizing, and Advocacy, and an Associate Director for State and Local Campaigns, as well as locally based organizing consultants. While continuing to focus on legislative efforts in New York, SWP will also focus on building a statewide campaign in Oregon to decriminalize and destigmatize sex work, partnering with SWR and other national, statewide, and local human rights organizations through 2020 and beyond.
Testimonies from New York to Los Angeles tell the same story: officers aren’t above privacy violations, enforced acts of public nudity and inappropriate physical contact. The Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center in New York City found that 17% of sex workers had been sexually harassed, abused or even raped by police officers.
The Sex Workers Project (SWP) and the Human Rights Project (HRP) stand in solidarity with all those voicing their outrage at the continued state violence perpetrated against African/Black people in the U.S.
“Sex workers are heavily affected by measures such as social distancing and business shutdowns because they simply cannot go to their workplaces anymore, and are seeing a sharp decrease in their clients. Unlike employees from ‘mainstream’ businesses, many sex workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits,” says Lynn Liu, the development and communications associate at the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City.
The first time Lynly Egyes met her, Borjas pulled a birth certificate out of the bag. Egyes was then a lawyer with the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center and had recently taken the case of a young immigrant transgender woman who was in jail, facing felony assault charges for defending herself against an attacker—an exceedingly common predicament.
Egyes, 38, says she first met Borjas while working for the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center. At the time, Egyes remembers she was representing two incarcerated transgender women; Borjas “just showed up” with a much-needed birth certificate for one of the women, pulling it out of the Mary Poppins roller bag she always carried with her.
Jessica Peñaranda is director of movement building at the Sex Workers Project. An advocate of Decrim NY, she said there is still plenty to be done. “Until we can have fair wages, affordable housing, and a welfare system, society will continue to punish sex-workers. There are so many things to do to bring every part of the system together as a community.”
“Trafficking is a lot more complex than that,” said Rosie Wang, director of Legal Advocacy and Services at the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center. “Traffickers will force their victims to do criminal actions for them, like shoplifting and carrying drugs. They’re not eligible for relief because they’re not prostitution-related but they are trafficking-related.”
Thompson is now a human rights lawyer and the managing director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center. It's among several organizations that are advocating bills to decriminalize sex work in New York City and New York state. They already have the support of various state lawmakers.
"Opposition to sex work comes from a deeply moralistic and religious place," says RJ Thompson, director of the Sex Workers Project in New York, a human rights lawyer and a long time sex worker himself. "But it has no public policy rationale."
“The Sex Workers Project has been a leader in the national sex workers rights movement,” he stated. “You know, many of our clients are transgender women, many are undocumented, many are queer, many are people of color.”
The New York City research draws on interviews with court participants and direct court observations, and was conducted by the GHJP and the Sex Workers Project, a New York City-based organization providing legal services and other support for sex workers and people who have been trafficked.
Diversion from Justice and Un-Meetable Promises are products of a multi-year collaboration between the GHJP and the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center (SWP-UJC) in New York. The collaboration, supported by the Levi Strauss Foundation, sought to bring the resources of the academy to support NGOs working with marginalized communities.
Cracking down on digital sites could also push sex workers into riskier street-based work that is more prone to violence, exploitation or police targeting. R.J. Thompson, director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center (where the author once interned), and also a sex worker, says, “Working online and being able to screen clients online is really a great harm-reduction tool.
“It reduces safety for sex workers,” explained RJ Thompson, who serves as managing director of the Sex Workers Project and is a sex worker himself. “It pushes folks who work online back to street-based work, which has much higher incidences of violence, public health issues including HIV and other STIs, state violence in terms of police harassment and arrest.”