International Sex Worker Rights Day began in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a festival organized by a Calcutta-based group called Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (Unstoppable Women’s Synthesis Committee). In 2002, Durbar invited organizations from around the world to join them in commemorating Sex Worker Rights Day on March 3rd.
Since 2002, sex workers and advocates around the world have organized protests, gatherings, film screenings, art shows, and lectures on and around March 3 to raise awareness about human rights abuses sex workers face. Sex worker organizing extends across the globe, with efforts aimed at demanding recognition of sex worker autonomy, freedom from criminalization and legal protection from violence and abuse. Ultimately, March 3rd provides an opportunity to shine a spotlight on sex worker activism, resilience, community and strength, and away from salaciousness, violations and paternalism.
In that tradition we have seen great struggle, heartache, and loss in since the last March 3rd. The passing of SESTA/FOSTA has been devastating for many sex workers, the increased xenophobic violence around the Southern Border, and a further undermining of LGBTQIA and women’s rights have shaken our movements.
Despite all of that we have seen growing traction around the decriminalization of sex work, and other legislative changes that improve outcomes for sex workers and other criminalized people. There are many efforts that inspire hope some of which are within our own network:
- Last week Utah passed legislation that allows for sex workers to report a variety of violent offenses without fear of legal reprisal due to the tireless work of SWOP Salt Lake City and Utah Harm Reduction Coalition
- SWOP Sacramento is working on a very similar campaign for the entire state of California right now Read More Here
- SWOP Hawaii has been making amazing progress in fighting laws conflate trafficking with sex work.
- SWOP Behind Bars, SWOP Orlando, and SWOP Tampa launched a successful campaign to counter dangerous Florida legislation HB259 and SB 982
- SWOP Minneapolis was instrumental in formulating recommendations in The Safe Harbor for All Strategic Planning Process Report
- SWOP Baltimore is collaborating with BALTLegal on decriminalization models and formulating proposals to present at the state level
Campaigns such as DecrimDCNow and DecrimNY are making tremendous strides towards achieving decriminalization and specifically doing so intersectionally and with an overall anti-carceral strategy. Centering Black and Brown sex workers and trans individuals is crucial in this fight, and the work of these organizations and so many others is truly awe-inspiring. A movement for decriminalization must also be a fight for decarceration and challenging all systems and institutions that promote criminalization of those most vulnerable among us.
Our fight is not an easy one, but sex workers are creative, tenacious, and unyielding in our demand for dignity, safety, and freedom from criminalization. We believe that we will win.
-The SWOP-USA Board and Staff