What We Do
Sex Workers Outreach Project- USA is a national grassroots social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education, community building, and advocacy. In 2016, SWOP Behind Bars was founded to carry this mission further; to currently and formerly incarcerated sex workers.
SBB supports the full decriminalization of adult consensual sex work and we are close allies to those fighting for the end of cash bail. In the early days of sex worker activism, sex-positive feminist Margo St James sued the state of California and loudly insisted on improving programs and services for prostitutes in prison. 20 years later, we still loudly protest the criminalization of sex work and try to minimize the harms done under this system. There are so many sex workers in prisons and jails across the US, and they need to know we are here for them. Many do not identify as sex workers, and yet it only takes a cursory search of the Department of Corrections websites to recognize that there is a large incidence of prostitution convictions. Incarcerated ex workers, whether they self-identify or not, do not know about the vibrant sex worker community that is rising up in the US, and we think they should. Even if they choose never to self-identify, we want to give those who have been incarcerated on prostitution convictions human rights information based on the advances of the sex worker rights movement. We want this population to understand certain facts, such as that in August of 2015, Amnesty International voted to recommend full decriminalization for consensual sex work.
When an incarcerated individual becomes an SBB member, we provide them with: information on housing, identification; linkages to case management; food assistance; skills training for re-entry into the community; books from Amazon wishlists, and “Welcome Home” kits upon release which include smart phones and hygiene supplies. companionship and mentoring via pen pals. If they so desire, SBB empowers these incarcerated individuals to become leaders and partners within the sex worker rights movement on the outside.
SBB has sent out over 25,000 newsletters to more than 5,000 sex workers behind bars, coordinated over 2,000 pen pal relationships, facilitated the gifting of over 20,000 books to individuals through Amazon, established 12 prison libraries through donated books, in addition to the donation of more than 400 GED study guides. We have funded 12 college level scholarships, provided re-entry support for over 120 recently released SBB members, and fiscally sponsored 4 other like-minded organizations.
SBB testifies at state legislative committee hearings and meets with local and state legislators to provide information and evidence based research. We want to amplify the voices of sex workers and trafficking victims in policy discussions and solutions.
Our coalition -building extends to all areas of criminal justice reform as well as prison abolition, reproductive rights; HIV and STI law; domestic violence, and anti-trafficking organizations. We fiscally sponsor like-minded projects.
Co-Founders / Executive Directors
Alex Andrews is a 53 year old sex worker alumni who has lived experience under criminalization of consensual sex work. She is the Co-Founder of SWOP Behind Bars and sits on the Board of Directors of NSWP as the North American Representative. Alex has been working with men, women and trans folks who have been incarcerated and also have experience in the sex industry and works to reduce the shame, discrimination and stigma of sex work by showing up at community meetings and town hall discussions on trafficking and using herself as an example to demonstrate that sex workers are just like everyone else. She has been called a “watchdog” of anti trafficking activity and is committed to the unification of sex worker rights in the United States.
Jill McCracken, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Having worked with sex workers and victims of trafficking for over fourteen years, her primary areas of research focus on sex work and trafficking in the sex industry, women and incarceration, and the impact of sexuality education on marginalized communities. Drawing on ethnographic and qualitative research methods, Dr. McCracken integrates community-based, participatory research into her work.
Dr. McCracken recently completed a Fulbright Specialist Project in collaboration with the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective to investigate the presence of violence and trafficking in the sex industry in a country where prostitution is decriminalized. She has conducted trainings for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)-supported organizations, public defenders, human trafficking coalitions, and non-profit organizations. Her work has been recognized through many awards and honors including the International Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference Influential Scholar Award, USF Outstanding Faculty Award, Women in Research and Philanthropy USF Faculty Research Award, and Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Service.
Our Board of Directors
We have a diverse Board of Directors that includes people who have been incarcerated or are still incarcerated. For reasons of privacy, we are not able to list every individual here.
Understanding Sex Worker Rights Issues
Using the Term ‘Sex Worker’
“Sex work” is the exchange of money or goods for sexualized services. We use the term “sex work” to reinforce the idea that sex work is work and to allow for a greater discussion of labor rights and conditions, as well as basic human rights. There are legal forms of sex work like porn and stripping, illegal forms like street-based work or prostitution, and those that fall into grey areas like escorting or working in brothels.
Sex Work Is Not Trafficking
Sex work is done by consenting adults. Sex trafficking, however, refers to coercion or sex slavery. It also pertains to any kind of sex work involving minors, consensual or not. SBB is for the full decriminalization of sex work and completely against any kind of sex trafficking. Unfortunately, the media, law enforcement, moralists, and some anti-trafficking groups conflate sex work with sex trafficking and confuse the issues for the public. There are many ironies within the legal system as well. Often, when a sex worker is arrested, she will be called a “trafficking victim” and strangely, even though she is a victim, she will be prosecuted. This blurring of the terms does nothing to help actual trafficking victims and goes far to further endanger the human rights of sex workers.
Decriminalization Over Legalization
In August of 2015, Amnesty International voted to recommend full global decriminalization for adult consensual sex work. It is important to understand that decriminalization is not the same as legalization and that sex worker rights advocates are strongly on the side of the former.
Full decriminalization of consensual sex work means that buyers and sellers of sexual services cannot be discriminated against for the purposes of arrest, housing, healthcare, transportation and/or public benefits. It also means that if they are the victims of a crime (such as rape, domestic violence, and even trafficking) they could report these crimes directly to the police without fear. Countries like Canada, France, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand have decriminalized sex work to varying degrees.
Some countries, like Norway have a semi decriminalized model in which sex workers are not prosecuted, but clients are. This is called the “end demand” model and it hinges on the idea that somehow the desire to purchase intimacy can be eradicated from society. But, it is absurd to imagine that the world’s oldest profession could ever be eliminated. Tte value of the sex trade in America has, in the past, been marked at $14 billion annually and it is now likely to be far higher.
In the U.S. Nevada is the only state in which sex work is legal, with heavy regulations. It is far from an ideal system. Nevada brothels have all sorts of oppressive rules; workers must be under lockdown and there is much discrimination against who can and cannot work in these brothels. The legalized model of sex work policy still criminalizes those sex workers who cannot fulfill various bureaucratic responsibilities and therefore retains some of the worst harms of criminalization. It also reinforces the power of unscrupulous managers and can easily circle back to an old oppressive system of pimping.
To learn more about these and other issues, search our blog by respective tags.