Why is the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars? To go BEYOND BARS with community allied empowerment efforts!
SWOP Behind Bars (SBB) provides community support for incarcerated sex workers.
We work to support and build relationships with individuals most affected by prostitution and trafficking laws, providing incarcerated sex workers with essential empowerment information, linkages to individualized and comprehensive case management, plus skills they need to become involved community, leaders and – if they desire – partners in the sex worker rights movement.
We call attention to – and are working hard to deescalate – the violence, stigma, and discrimination that occur against sex workers that are perpetuated by the criminalization of prostitution.
How? We provide a monthly newsletter, books, study materials, and sex worker pen pals for incarcerated sex workers. Upon release from jail or prison, we help sex workers meet their basic needs, and we provide resources, networking, and linkages for successful reentry into their communities.
Did you know? There are more than one million women currently behind bars in the U.S. That number is on the rise. In fact, women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the country, and the rate of incarceration for women has been growing nearly twice as fast as that of men since 1985. According to the ACLU, women account for about 7% of the total prison population in the U.S. The fastest growing population behind bars is Black women.
Prostitution is one of the few crimes where women are arrested more frequently than men, but prostitution alone does not explain the growing numbers of Black, Latino, and trans-women behind bars.
If we are going to make reforms to crimes that are defined based on morality, we need to consider laws that disproportionately affect women, trans people, and people of color, such as the prohibition of sex work. Sex workers are often subject to the same “revolving door” punitive approach that people convicted of drug offenses receive; sex workers do time, but never receive the resources, social, economic, and psychological support that would enable them to leave the industry if they choose. We don’t often consider that sex work can be an intentional choice. Whether or not it is a symptom of poor economic conditions or volition, too many people always consider it inherently immoral. Diversion programs such as LEAD and rescue-based intervention often enable dependency as opposed to empowering people in the sex industry by defining them as victims of their own lives and circumstance.
The illegal purchasing of sex is ultimately what sustains the market and forces sex work underground. The stigma has to be removed around the discussion of sex work in order to protect the human rights and the dignity of the people in it. These people often need access to housing and health care. By decriminalizing both the buying and selling of sex, we can focus our efforts on those who truly need assistance and make other avenues of employment available, especially for trans women.
Laws prohibiting sex work are based on a moral code that doesn’t fully consider the implications. If we are going to reform non-violent crimes like drug use and selling that are founded on societal beliefs, we also need to consider other non-violent crimes, regardless of stigma and moral objections. The question of decriminalization or legalization cannot be limited to marijuana, but needs to be expanded to encompass sex work. We need to rethink the way we currently differentiate and treat between violent and non-violent persons convicted of offenses and push for decriminalization of sex work and the correlation to decreasing crimes against women. These progressive reforms normalize sex work rather than further stigmatizing and conflating an underground industry with human trafficking. With these efforts we can reduce sexual violence in the U.S., ameliorate conditions for a marginalized portion of the population, and destigmatize what is a reality for many people.