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Starting To Show Up: An Interview With SWOP National’s President, Savannah Sly

New chapter SWOP-Minneapolis honoring Dec 17th 2015 with a vigil. (Courtesy of SWOP-USA and local SWOP chapters)
New chapter SWOP-Minneapolis honoring Dec 17th 2015 with a vigil. (Courtesy of SWOP-USA and local SWOP chapters)

SWOP (Sex Worker Outreach Project) is the most recognized name in sex workers’ rights advocacy in the U.S. Currently, they have over 25 chapters around the country, and a board of directors—SWOP National. The only requirements to be a chapter are that March 3rd (International Sex Worker Rights Day) and December 17th (International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers) are recognized in some way. To avoid outing and endangerment, SWOP does not require its members to identify as current or former sex workers, though the board’s president must always be an out sex worker herself.

Savannah Sly, SWOP National’s president, newly elected in the spring of 2015, e-mailed us about the mistake the SWOP National board felt they’d made not supporting Oklahoma City serial cop racist Daniel Holtzclaw’s victims more as an organization. This mistake highlighted long held bad feeling about SWOP among sex workers who felt the organization did not stand up for sex workers of color, survival sex workers, and other less privileged members of the community. SWOP National wanted to address the community publicly about their commitment to working on these problems. I asked Sly if I could interview her about the way the organization worked and its goal to be more inclusive. The following is an abridged version of our ensuing e-mail conversation:

Activist Spotlight: Derek Demeri on the United Nations and Universal Rights

Monica Jones and Derek Demeri in the United Nations Gardens in Geneva. (Photo by Derek Demeri, courtesy of Penelope Saunders and Derek Demeri)
Monica Jones and Derek Demeri in the United Nations Gardens in Geneva. (Photo by Derek Demeri, courtesy of Penelope Saunders and Derek Demeri)

On May 11th, American sex workers’ rights activists Monica Jones and Derek Demeri met with the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva to advocate for protections for sex workers, in preparation for the Council’s quadrennial Universal Period Review of the US’ human rights record that same day. The following interview was conducted with Demeri, of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance, via e-mail and edited for clarity and length. 

What were your goals in making recommendations to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council? If the Council absorbed just one point from your presentation, what do you hope it was?

Ultimately, we want people in positions of power to hear and recognize the struggle that sex workers have been facing for centuries. Sex workers and their allies know all too well the violence that comes at the hands of the police and [those in] other positions of authority. We know how deep stigma runs in society when sex workers can face eviction from housing or termination from employment for past experience in the sex trade. We know how the government has completely failed to aid sex workers against the HIV epidemic that continues to sweep the country. Our community knows these things, but we need to let the world know.

Unfortunately, there were no specific recommendations that sought to protect sex workers during this UPR [Universal Periodic Review] round of the United States. There were several recommendations that encouraged the United States to do more to end human trafficking, which we of course know means more policing of our communities and public shaming for our work. However, Thailand made a recommendation to have “more holistic monitoring” and “evidence based” research when combating human trafficking, which we can use to support sex workers. Many countries also made recommendations regarding ending racial profiling, torture in the prison system, and ending police brutality, which are all important for our community.

Protect, Don’t Prosecute


(Reposted in full from The Red Umbrella Project)

In the week leading up to December 17, 2010 – the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – the remains of four women who were killed while doing sex work were discovered on a beach in Long Island. Over the past two weeks, the remains of six more bodies have been found in the same area. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer has requested that anyone involved in the sex industry who may have information about the disappearance of colleagues come forward and share this information with the police. But there remains a rather large barrier: prostitution is criminalized, and sex workers have no guarantee that we will be protected from prosecution if we step forward. Therefore, we are calling for amnesty for all prostitution related offenses in Suffolk County until the killer is apprehended.

Sex Worker Activists Targeted By Arson Attack

WWAV Director Deon Haywood

The fearless New Orleans organization Women With A Vision, a group that’s done considerable work for sex worker rights, suffered an arson attack at the end of last week. Their outreach resources—condoms, educational materials, HIV rapid test kits, and anatomical models to demonstrate self-care—were destroyed. This act was one of domestic terrorism; it’s on par with attacks on abortion clinics, and the headline “Arson Attack On Women’s Health Organization” does a great job of summing up the issue at hand. Poor women, trans women, and women of color disproportionately suffer the enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, and an incident this unconscionable should cause prohibitionists to sit up and take notice of the type of company their “sex work is evil” message invites.
What’s truly incredible in all of this is the strength and composure exhibited by WWAV Executive Director Deon Haywood, who says “more than anything, I’m concerned about our clients—but the work will continue.” Below the video you can find the entire text of the letter they sent out explaining the situation and asking for donations of funds or needed items. Please take a moment to read it.

I Don’t Care About Clients

This post was removed at the author’s request.