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A New Sex Work Activist Organization: SWAAY

Redoubtable blogger, agent provocateur, and ecoporn pioneer Furry Girl launched her new activist group earlier this month, SWAAY (Sex Work Activists, Allies, and You). The site’s tagline is: “SWAAY is a not-for-profit project whose aim is connecting people with resources to learn more about sex work, and to encourage involvement with activism for sex workers’ rights.”

It’s broadly based and appears to be speaking in great part to the general public, explaining what certain jobs within the sex industry involve. Along with a lot of basic information for consumers, there’s a solid list of U.S. and international sex workers’ organizations. The site is completely SFW. A call for submissions from sex workers who are comfortable showing their faces has been posted on the site.

Activist Spotlight: The Migrant Sex Workers Project On Borders and Building Movements, Part Two

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I interviewed Toronto’s Migrant Sex Workers Project co-founders Elene Lam and Chanelle Gallant as well as Migrant Sex Workers Project member Kate Zen over video chat. The first part of that conversation, edited and condensed for posting, is here. The group’s vital representation of a population often absent from sex worker activism inspired me. I was eager to speak them about  their unique justice themed work—advocacy grounded on the autonomy and leadership of migrant sex workers themselves, rather than the rescue themed approaches which wrest that autonomy away from them. 

The MSWP issues four demands to Canada’s government on its website:

  1. The non-enforcement of the anti-sex worker laws of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA).
  2. Labor rights and protections for migrants.
  3. An immediate moratorium on all detention and deportation of migrant sex workers including those undocumented.
  4. The de-funding of anti-trafficking policing and the redirection of those resources to community led solutions.

In the second part of our interview, we discuss these demands as well as conditions on the ground for Toronto’s migrant sex workers.

How do anti sex work and anti immigrant laws hit migrant sex workers harder?

Kate Zen: First of all, the racial visibility of migrant sex workers makes it so that migrants are more readily targeted than any other group [of sex workers]. You see this in Toronto specifically with the targeting of […] Asian massage parlors, with the rhetoric of “all human trafficking must be going on with THOSE people.”I think [for] migrants, because of language barriers, [it] makes it much more difficult to defend what is going on inside. And because of migration and because of immigration barriers [it] makes people much more vulnerable to being deported or further marginalized. It makes it more difficult for people to speak up.

Elene Lam: But this law, actually, it targets, affects more than migrant sex workers. Because of the language [barrier] and because of the connection to the community, most of them, they need to work with a third party. But the law has criminalized all the third parties. Also, the people who work as partners, and peers, or community members, we become criminalized. So that it’s more difficult for them [migrant sex workers] to negotiate, more difficult for them to seek support, and more difficult for them to speak out when they have [experienced] different kinds of violence.

I think the other side is [that] they don’t say anti-immigration law, but actually the anti-trafficking law is an anti-immigration law. They start already at the border control—because when you enter the border there’s so much screening to see whether you’re vulnerable to be[ing] the victim of trafficking. But they are being taken out—so it’s how to stop the people who are moving from the Global South to enter Canada.

But I think what they are doing also creates a panic of the society, and get the support from them. You make the people [have] more fear of the sex worker because they think, “If my neighbor is a sex worker that means they are [involved with] organized crime. If I have an Asian sex worker near me that means I have this trafficking victim near me I should report.”

Chanelle Gallant: While there are migrants in the sex workers’ movement broadly, I see a real gap and a lack of representation and leadership of racialized migrants. I think one of the impacts of criminalization is that it really makes organizing and advocacy more difficult for racialized migrants because they’re at a whole different level of risk than non-racialized migrants.

If You Can’t Accept Facts, You Can’t Be An Ally

A lot of sex workers and sex worker activists had trouble enjoying their July 4th weekend thanks to Ashton Kutcher, who has been waging war against The Village Voice for airing its concerns about his anti-trafficking efforts and misinformation campaign. On almost every non-sex worker helmed website that covered this story, comments consisted of the claims that 1) misinformation is unimportant, irrelevant, or even justified if it’s for a good cause and 2) anyone who criticizes misinformation in the name of a good cause is necessarily against the good cause. In this specific case, that means critics of Kutcher’s bad stats are in favor of child prostitution. (Fun sarcastic commenter’s summation of this position can be found here.) Some have made the similar assertion that Kutcher’s careless campaigning is a good thing because it’s “gotten people talking” about the issue, as if any incidental end justifies the means, or all discussion is automatically beneficial. Judging from what internet “talking” I saw, lots of self-righteous, under-educated people are feeling even more morally superior than they did before, and many experts and activists feel even more discouraged and devalued.

Louisianan Justice

Deon Haywood

The end of June saw some big, wonderful news coming out of Louisiana that hasn’t yet gotten a mention here on T&S. (I blame Kutcher. It’s always his fault!)

Until two weeks ago, prostitutes arrested in Louisiana could be charged under an ancient “Solicitation of Crimes of Nature” law which would, if convicted, give them the status of felon and registered sex offender. Trans women and women of color were disproportionately targeted; other sex workers might be lucky enough to receive misdemeanor charges under the (separate) prostitution law. Superstar activist Deon Haywood was instrumental in overturning this archaic POS, and she’s guiding her group, Women With A Vision, to now pressure the state to remove 40% of New Orleans sex offenders from the registry, where they were placed after Crimes Against Nature convictions.

But not all is well in The Bayou State. Hypocrisy and, worse, police harassment of sex workers continue unabated. On the same day SCAN was overturned, police announced an (apparently new) policy of targeting clients as vigorously as they do prostitutes. Then two days after the news about the overturn of SCAN, police officers arrested one of their own in a sting operation. And any discussion of Louisiana’s sex work laws isn’t complete with a nod to current state Senator David Vitter, a confirmed, successful solicitor of prostitutes, who hasn’t faced any legal consequences for participating in the illegal industry. He remains fully, unapologetically entrenched in (conservative) politics.

Five Reasons Sex Workers in the US Should Care About the International AIDS Conference

Photo by ReikHavoc on Flickr

1. Because this is the first time in more than 20 years that the U.S. has hosted the event. The IAC will take place in Washington, DC from July 22 to 27. The conference will feature both formal meetings and presentations (with a registration fee) and a Global Village with cultural and activist events (free admission). Interested in pitching an abstract for the conference or a cultural event for the Global Village? Learn more here. The main deadline for abstracts is February 15.

2. Because although Obama lifted travel restrictions against HIV positive people in 2009, there are still travel bans against sex workers and drug users. This means that people who have sold sex or used drugs, even if doing so is legal where they live, are not allowed to enter the United States.

3.Because the sex workers who won’t be allowed into the U.S. are counting on us to make some noise in DC. There will be an international gathering of sex workers happening at a hub conference in India, and we’ll be able to connect with them digitally before and during the conference to share resources and strategies.