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Meaningful Engagement of Sex Workers

SWOP Behind Bars is a national grassroots social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers, victims and survivors of trafficking, and their communities, with a focus on those currently incarcerated or seeking re-entry. SWOP Behind Bars centers the voices of sex workers and trafficking victims as we work to end violence and stigma by providing resources, community-building projects, educational programs, and advocacy.

For the past 5 years, we have dedicated our time, talent and treasure to serving the needs of incarcerated sex workers nationwide, meaningfully engage the voices of BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals, and work towards full decriminalization of sex work. We are sex worker led and we beleive that there will Nothing About Us Without Us.

SWOP Behind Bars is a founding member of the Florida Harm Reduction Collective, a group made up of other grassroots organizations who are committed to increasing access to harm reduction resources and healthcare services for marginalized, working class populations of individuals who use drugs. We work closely with them to prioritize the voices of sex workers and amplify their message.

We are a direct services provider with limited tangible resources but unlimited passion for achieving the mission and vision of a society where people who are currently or have traded sex in the past are able to access what they need without fear, without stigma and without discrimination or marginalization.

Our entire team's vision for the future includes organizing and capacity building with our sex worker communities, grassroots organizations that traditionally lie outside of the nonprofit industrial complex, expanding our on-the-ground efforts in harm reduction and providing critical resources to individuals working in all parts of the sex industry, offering local and national leadership development opportunities, safer community spaces for sex workers with intersecting experiences with marginalization and criminalization, and encouraging current sex workers to become more engaged in community-based activism.

Allies who seek to enter our movement spaces have a responsibility to defer to sex workers regarding sex workers' needs. Allies should not undermine, invisibilise, and exclude sex workers. By recognising sex workers as experts in their own lives, and meaningfully involving them in all policies, programmes, discussions, and decisions which affect their lives, allies can play a crucial role advancing sex workers’ human rights and supporting sex worker-led organisations.

Sex workers possess substantial expertise, experience, and knowledge, not only surrounding the challenges faced by their communities, but also of their communities’ strengths. Sex workers are therefore ideally positioned to raise awareness of the structural, economic, and social barriers impeding the realisation of their human rights, as well as identify and advocate for strategies which address their communities’ needs.

Meaningful engagement means that sex worker and survivor voices are the first to be sought out and prioritized during the planning, implementation and evaluation of studies, articles, policies, legislation, organizing, programs and everything else that affect our daily lives. In order to uphold these values, allies must commit to continually reflecting upon their partnerships with sex workers and sex worker-led organisations and improving their processes for, and approaches to, meaningful engagement.

Meaningful engagement is not performative. Meaningful engagement is not an afterthought. Meaningful engagement means to treat us fairly, with dignity and respect, and compensate us for our time and knowledge if you are trying to use our lives for any purpose.

SWOP Behind Bars will always fight for sex workers and we will always be willing to help provide sex worker centered guidance to allies in this movement space but we need allies to meet us halfway and understand that our community always comes first.

We reaffirm our commitment to our core beliefs.

  • We believe adult consensual sex work should be decriminalized worldwide, per the Anmnesty International Policy written in 2016 and endorsed by many other International organizations for the purposes of safety and health, human rights and equitable access.

  • We believe that people who have experienced exploitation and/or violence should have access and opportunity to receive services and support no matter how they got where they are.

  • We believe that everyone has a voice and they should have the freedom to express their lived experience as their truth, and that they should also have the opportunity, space and grace to change their mind as they create new lived experiences.

  • We believe that our community members are disproportionately impacted by stigma and violence and we believe that we must play an active role in dismantling these systems of oppression.

  • We believe that full decriminalization of adult consensual sex work is only the first step to a path of reducing violence and exploitation and we are committed to decarceration and criminal justice reform to decrease our communities vulnerability to exploitation and violence.

  • We believe that only when there is meaningful involvement of sex workers, trafficking survivors and trafficking victims, working together in legislative advocacy and speaking out against oppressive policies in our own voices, will we be able to take sure footed steps to secure widespread change on behalf of people who trade sex worldwide.

We are committed to empowering marginalized populations to lead and organize for change in our communities from within and we not only prioritize their voices, but we will take every opportunity to platform their work, their lived experiences and put their recommendations into action.

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