I began volunteering as a board member with SWOP-USA in the fall of 2015, I had been doing sex work formally for 8 years, and had been doing social justice organizing for 14. I was raised as a liberal feminist and considered sex work to be a violation. I actually protested a Girls Gone Wild recording at a bar in my college town, I’m ashamed of it, but it happened. At a certain point I ran out of money and had to take some time off of school, I worked retail and it was grueling and I was constantly harassed by mall customers and employees. Despite my reservations, I started doing sex work, expecting to hate it, but low and behold is has become my most long-lasting and consistent work.
I came into this new project, as many organizers do – naive, ambitious, and with the firm belief that tremendous change was just around the corner. After three years on the board and eventually transitioning to the role of inaugural Executive Director of SWOP-USA, I can rest assured it’s a much longer journey than I had ever anticipated. The fight for sex workers rights is complicated and nuanced; best practices of the past aren’t sufficient.
We are at a crucial moment in the sex workers rights movement. Our elders fought long and hard for the safety and dignity that we benefit from today, but it is not enough. We come into another December 17th with staggering numbers of sex workers who have lost their lives to violence. 2018 was a year that we saw brutal violence committed against Women of Color domestically, abroad, and at the border. Everyone knows and loves someone who is a sex worker, and those sex workers intersect with and experience every other system of oppression and institution of violence.
Decriminalization as a public health and harm reduction strategy remains an essential pillar of SWOP-USA’s mission. Additionally, we must address the larger systems that would make decriminalization only a benefit to those already in positions of power. Criminalization spans much further than sex workers, and it impacts us differently. Black and Brown and trans individuals would continue to face extreme policing and violence even if we achieved decriminalization tomorrow. Our struggle must be intersectional, or it is lost.
This past October, the SWOP-USA Board of Directors and myself participated in the early stages of our strategic planning. One of the processes we engaged with was to imagine what December 17th events could look like in 15 years. It was a struggle for many of us to look so far into the future and try to imagine something brighter, more just, a world transitioning away from white supremacy and criminalization.
One of the most tangible points that came out of this conversation was that up until now we have only honored sex workers who have lost their lives. We had previously failed to name many other forms of violence, violence that is not always immediately fatal – such as incarceration, violence resulting from white supremacy, trans erasure, stigma, poverty, drug use, and so much more. This year and for all the years to come, we must center the voices and experiences of those impacted by all forms of criminalization.
We believe that the work of building power and developing activists’ skills is essential to moving forward as a movement. We need a movement of leaders if we want to win, and we believe that sex workers will win.
We could not do this work without our direct community or our generous donors and funders. We did not meet our goals for foundation funding for 2019, as unfortunately few foundations directly support our fight, and we are in danger of not being able to move forward with some of our funding. We need you to you to help keep moving our grassroots organizing forward. We currently are running our end of the year fundraising drive in order to continue to support our chapters and projects. Any contribution (tax deductible!) would be tremendously appreciated and goes directly to funding sex worker-led organizing.
Thank you so much for your support.
Christa B. Daring