Tag Archive: sex workers

  1. SWOP-NYC Announces Partnership with Uganda-based WONETHA

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    SWOP-NYC is pleased to announce a partnership in solidarity with Uganda-based Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA).

    You can learn more about WONETHA here and here.

    Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA) is a Ugandan sex worker led organization established in August 2008 by 3 passionate and determined sexworkers who have faced harassment, insults, stigma, discrimination and arrest without trial by misinformed societies and who have been stirred into responsive action concerning the plight of other sexworkers in the same working conditions.

    Macklean Kyomya, Daisy Nakato, and Zamu Namagembe, the three young women who founded WONETHA in August 2008 have all had experiences working in the commercial sex industry. Macklean, WONETHA’s Director, was struggling to pay her school fees when she followed the advice of her peers and found regular ‘sugar daddies’as a source of income. After witnessing the violent rape of her friend, she began to search for an organization that would guide and protect her. WONETHA’s programme coordinator Daisy contracted HIV from one of her first clients when she started working in a bar. During her years as a sex worker, there were many threatening exchanges between Daisy and her clients. After a particularly violent client, Daisy also went in search of a group that could help her manage her HIV and assist her in diversifying her income.

    At different times, each of these women joined an organization that claimed to protect and empower commercial sexworkers, and assist them to find better sources of income. Social stigma issues were not addressed, each of the women was given different opportunities to continue their education, attend conferences, build advocacy and writing skills, reach out to other commercial sexworkers, and stand in solidarity with women late at night in Kampala’s brothels and streets.

    However, this organization was headed by a man, and over time these women found that they were continuing to be exploited and manipulated by the male-headed administration. The staff would work, but were never paid on time. International donations were given to the organization to pay for the different needs of the target group, but none of the members ever received what they were promised. International funding for projects and programs was sent, but often disappeared. Many innovative ideas and opportunities were presented to the Chairperson but they were repeatedly shut down. Attempts to reform the leadership and management were made, but were never successful.

    Through this time, the three women were connected by their commitment to improving the self-esteem of women sex workers and breaking the stigma around sexworkers.

    Through their experiences, and with the support of many colleagues in the civil society community, these women decided to form an organization that would genuinely represent their dreams and aspirations of providing “a home and hope for marginalized women”.


    “To unite sex workers; to improve our living and working conditions and to fight for equal access to rights so that sex workers’ human rights are defended and protected.”


    “To work with adult sex workers, organize sex workers claim their rights, call fordecriminalization of adult sex work; promote access to health, legal, and social services; and promote safer sex practices and sex workers’ health and well being.”

    Problem Statement: Why focus on rights of sexworkers?

    Rights Not Rescue: Sex workers are facing a health and human rights crisis in Uganda, yet very little is being done to protect their rights. Research done across Africa shows that the criminalization of sex work leaves sex workers particularly vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse from law enforcement officials and the general public. Sex workers experience routine violence from police, including rape, physical assault, and having their genitals sprayed with pepper-spray.

    In recent engagement of government by sex workers who are members of WONETHA to have sex work decriminalized, sex workers sought to claim their fundamental right to social and economic freedom, equality, dignity, and privacy.

    Why decriminalization?

    Firstly, decriminalization enables the sex industry to be regulated thereby reducing violence against sex workers and cases of human trafficking. It is the oppressors and those committing violence against women who want sex work to remain illegal. Secondly, where sex work is illegal HIV prevalence increases due to difficulties in accessing health care prevention initiatives.

    In the New vision of 19th 05 2009 Dr Kihumuro Apuli, Director of Uganda AIDS Commission stated that HIV prevalence among sex workers is 50% and 10% are male clients between the age of (15-49). As a sex worker Organization we are deeply concerned that this situation is alarming despite Uganda’s role model image in previous years in the fight of HIV & AIDS.

    WONETHA therefore upholds that for sex workers to fully enjoy all their labour-related rights and fundamental freedoms, sex work in Uganda must be decriminalized. Decriminalization will involve the removal of outdated laws which specifically criminalize sex work, enable sexworkers to operate under the same conditions as other workers, and access the same human rights. The sex work industry will be subject to the same laws which apply to all other sectors in Uganda, including existing labour legislation. Other benefits will include;

    • Allowing sex workers to practice their profession openly without fear.
    • Easier access to health care facilities without stigma
    • Reducing the health and life dangers involved in the profession of sex work
    • Allowing sex workers the protection and benefits of the law.
    • More comprehensive health care services for sex workers, including those that address rape, sexual violence, mental health, substance abuse, care of sexworkers who are HIV positive, adolescent health, nutrition and antenatal care/maternal mortality.
    • Freedom to contribute to national tax payment system therefore raising the sex workers self esteem.

    WONETHA emphasizes that the current sex worker situation in Uganda calls for immediate action and if the government does not come out to act then Uganda will lose the battle on HIV/AIDS. As WONETHA we always say that if sexworkers are not safe then no woman is safe.

    For more information contact:

    Kyomya Macklean
    P.O.Box 31762, Namirembe Rd, K’la
    Tel: +256-414-667-730 / +256 -774-603-754.
    Alt Email: wonetha@gmail.com/ kmacklean@yahoo.com
    URL. www.wonetha.4t.com

  2. SMS Resources for Sex Workers in New York City

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    Mobile Media Midterm Synopsis

    For the midterm project, Matt Swenson and Sarah Jenny created an SMS-based resource for those in the sex trade (including those who engage in sex work by choice or circumstance as well as those who are in the sex trade under coercive circumstances such as trafficking). Users the phrase “nyhelp” and their New York City zipcode to 41411 and receive the contact information for the closest social service provider. (Example: 41411 nyhelp 10003) The resource list was carefully crafted after consulting the PROS Network, a coalition of social service providers offering services to sex workers and other marginalized populations from a harm reduction and human rights perspective.

    Matt and Sarah researched existing mobile services for sex workers, including the SOROS Foundation’s Open Society Institute collaboration with Tactical Technology Collective. This research informed their work in terms of functionality, usability and the content provided.

  3. Midpoint Assignment

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    Midpoint assignment: Present your idea(s) for a final project in 5 minutes. You should have a draft problem statement, goal statement and should describe the type of project you want to pursue. As your problem statement should be a social or political problem, you will take this issue on as your case study for the rest of the semester, tracking developments, news and related projects. You will hereafter be required to update the class twice before the end of the semester on your issue and your project.

    Problem Statement Sex workers face a number of barriers when accessing services such as mental health care, social services, STI and HIV screenings. The barriers to access of services are exacerbated by pervasive cultural stigma, legal obstacles, poverty, education, and other factors. In Recent years, mobile technology adoption rates have soared in much of the global south. Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS prevalence is highest in these countries. As such, it seems quite a natural progression for those combating the stigma and the virus (through prevention and care) to utilize mobile technology to increase information access and education.

    The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has created an extremely difficult climate for NGOs and NPOs who work with sex worker populations to maintain adequate access to funding in their programs due to the require of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge, essentially silencing them by putting restraints on organizations by requiring them to sign an anti-prostitution pledge regardless of whether prostitution is legal, decriminalized, or illegal by their own local laws. These grassroots agencies and organizations are most equipped to identify victims of trafficking as well as to penetrate this difficult to reach population and provide services. PEPFAR’s policy further discriminates against sex workers. For example, Andrew Hunter of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers noted that doctors are not allowed to answer questions regarding what sex health concerns are medically valid around MSM (men having sex with men) sex work. Denial of services and education are not effective HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment policy, plain and simple.

    Goal Statement
    I intend to continue learning about efforts to use SMS and mobile technology as a means for disseminating information around HIV/AIDS in the global south. I will continue to look at existing programs and policies that are working to make change, it seems, outside of PEPFAR funding. I would like to continue this work, examing what has been effective and through my research and prototyping, make recommendations and continue developing technology on this subject to increase HIV/AIDS prevention and services access to marginalized populations, including by not limited to sex workers, primarily in the global south. I would like to test a pilot program in New York City in conjunction with the Bureau of AIDS and the PROS Network (a coalition of service providers and others providing harm reduction services here in New York City.)

    Related Projects

    • Text to Change: Text to Change (TTC), a non-profit organization in Africa, has been using mobile technology for health education since 2008. TTC has been running a fun, innovative and practical HIV/AIDS education program in three countries — Uganda, Kenya and Namibia. This program not only educates participants about AIDS but also encourages infected patients to seek medical help and adhere to medication.
    • How SMS Could Save Your Life (Wired Magazine): GUGULETHU, South Africa — How do you make the expertise of two doctors and two nurses spread far and wide enough to take care of more than 500 HIV/AIDS patients? In this gritty township, the answer is text messaging.
    • Tactical Technology Collective (TTC) – I put out a call for information to harm reduction and sex worker contacts. I received a report back from the Open Society Institute’s Sexual Health and Rights Project (SHARP) which was commissioned in preparation for a 2007 meeting of sex worker activists. It was written by Melissa Gira and Tactical Technology Collective (TTC) and looks at how sex workers groups are using technology in their work.
      Synopsis: I intend to study how SMS and mobile technology is working in the field of HIV prevention in sex worker populations.
    • The Aphrodite Project – Sexy GPS Shoes – a project that involved ITP students a few years ago.
    • Successful Launch TTC/AIC HIV SMS Quiz Program In Mbarara, Uganda
    • UGANDA: Using mobile phones to fight HIV
      Text to Change (TTC) , an NGO that uses a bulk short message service (SMS) platform for HIV/AIDS education, recently partnered with the AIDS Information Centre in Uganda (AIC) and Celtel, a local mobile phone network, to pilot a project in western Uganda aimed at communicating knowledge about the disease and encouraging subscribers to volunteer for HIV testing.
    • WHO’s HIV/AIDS sex work toolkit
      In many parts of the world, sex workers have been among the groups most vulnerable to and most affected by HIV since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic.
    • Sex Workers and HIV Prevention – Prevention campaigns aimed at sex workers not only reduce the number of HIV infections that result from paid sex; they can also play a vital role in restricting the overall spread of HIV in a country. Proof of this can be seen in countries such as Bangladesh, Benin, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic and Thailand, where general reductions in the national HIV prevalence have been largely attributed to HIV prevention initiatives aimed at sex workers and their clients.

    • Ecuador Sex Workers Target HIV-AIDS Prevention
      – Sex workers in Ecuador are building a national labor network and trying to curb HIV-AIDS, while dealing with the growing presence of minors and undocumented workers in brothels. The first of six stories on Ecuador’s sex industry.
  4. Sex Work Issues and the State Legislative Process

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    Sex Work Issues and the State Legislative Process

    Tuesday , February 23rd, 6:00pm-8:30pm
    Large Conference Room, Urban Justice Center

    123 William St., 16th Fl

    New York, NY 10038

    Ask most people about government and they tend to talk about their federal representatives, the White House, or maybe the Mayor. But the state government may have the most significant impacts on our daily lives, particularly in the realm of criminal justice. This two hour seminar is presented via a partnership of Sex Work Awareness and the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project. In it, sex workers, former sex workers, and allies will learn from a veteran staffer of the state legislature how the legislative process works, how to talk to elected officials about sex work issues, and what opportunities exist to engage with elected officials and affect change in Albany.

    This is a FREE event, but you must RSVP to info@sexworkawareness.org.

    For more information, please contact info@sexworkawareness.org.

    Snacks and coffee will be provided.

  5. Prototype for an SMS-based Bad Date List

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    Bad Date Lists have been around for a long time. These lists, which typically manifest as handwritten or printouts of information about bad dates (explained in a moment) gathered by outreach workers as well as sex workers, have been the primary form of distributing the data. In recent years, password-protected website forums and email listservs have also served to disseminate information. In terms of sex work, a bad date refers to a client or law officer (who may also be a client) who has wronged the sex worker in some way. The most common reasons for ending up on a bad date list include refusal to pay, haggling, aggression, stalking, physical or verbal assault, threats, and/or sexual assault or rape.

    This information can become out of date quite fast and is limited to geographic areas for print outs and to workers with access to the internet. The reality is, clients travel and so do workers. The idea has been around for a while to create an SMS based-bad date list. There are a number of factors that go along with this new technology:

    • How should subscribers be screened?
    • How can the data be kept out of the wrong hands?
    • How can the data be kept private and safe?
    • How can users and developers avoid legal complications form using the service?
    • How can the BDL (bad date list) in an SMS-format be developed on a technical level?

    As a harm reductionist, community organizer, and technologist, I decided to take on this challenge. Initially I was planning on developing a system for students who receive packages at my graduate program to be pinged by SMS to notify them when a package arrives. However, I decided to give the SMS BDL a try instead for my Mobile Me(dia) class.

    Thus far, I’ve been able to receive SMSes and have them written into a PHP MySQL database and furthermore, displayed on a website. The phone number of the person who texts in the information will be omitted but the information they provide will be displayed. I am still figuring out how to add a time/date stamp and how to send data back to subscribers based on keywords such as zipcodes for geographic location.

    My prototyping page can be found here.

  6. Memorial for Catherine Lique

    Memorial for Catherine Lique, 2009
    12″ x 12″ x 2″

    Plexiglass, LEDs, electronics, audio recording

    This interactive installation appears as a mirror to the viewer. When they step on the pressure sensor, a microcontroller triggers LED lights to backlight the lightbox, revealing the image of Catherine Lique, a sex worker who was killed in 2003. The accompanying audio piece, a first person narrative, tells the story of the life and death of Ms. Lique. The audio, also triggered by the sensor, is programmed to play through Processing. The narrative was written by Catherine’s daughter, Stephanie.

    Memorial for Catherine Lique is the first of a series to honor and remember sex workers who have been victims of violence. The first installation was completed on December 17th, 2009, coinciding with the International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers.

    About the Artist: Sarah Jenny is a New York-based multimedia and mixed media artist and masters candidate at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Interactive Telecommunications Program. For more information about the artist and project, please visit www.sarahjenny.org

    Project Construction


  7. Sex Workers Rights are Human Rights!

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    Join us for a Speak-Out & Arts Evening!
    Celebrating International Human Rights Day
    December 10th

    Performance Artist, Ignacio Rivera
    Performance Artist, Damien Luxe
    Guitarist, K. Stone
    Political Artwork by Empower Thailand

    Andrea Ritchie, M.C. for the night
    And more!

    Where: NYU, 19 University Place, in the Great Room

    What time: 7:00pm – 9:00pm

    What day: Thurs., Dec. 10th

    Sponsored by:

    Sex Workers Action Network (SWANK)

    Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-NYC)


    $pread Magazine

    Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP)

    Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL)


  8. International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers 2009

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    December 17 th is Internation al Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

    Join us in honoring the lives of sex workers and celebrating our communities with a candlelit vigil. Come add your voice to the call to end violence against sex workers at our community speak-out.

    Speakers will include community organizers, peer educators, advocates, artists. . . and YOU?

    Where: Metropolitan Community Church
    446 West 36th Street, Manhattan

    When: Thursday December 17th, 8:00pm – 10:00pm

    Metrocards available. Please wear red!

    For more information, please contact swank@riseup.net or 212.714.1184 x50

    Sponsored by:

    Sex Workers Action Network (SWANK) * Sex Workers Organizing Project (SWOP-NYC) * $pread Magazine * Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP)

  9. PComp and ICM Final Project Idea


    I am interested in combining my new found knowledge base in computational media (Processing) and physical computing (Arduino) to create an interactive art installation for December 17th, The International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers.

    My initial plan has been to gather the stories and photographs (high res) of the murder victims of Gary Ridgway (aka the Green River Killer).

    I am also interested collecting images and stories of other sex worker victims of violent crime for this project.

    I am also looking for footage from December 17th events, statistics, and red umbrella imagery and footage to work from. I put a call out to advocacy organizations, harm reduction social service providers in New York and beyond, and sex worker communities online to gather stories. So far the contributions have been intense and overwhelming. Each year we hold a memorial service for sex workers who were murdered because of their job: by clients, cops, partners, or the system (prison industrial complex).

    I envision images transferred onto plexiglass using xylene. The plexiglass surface would be part of larger light boxes. When a user approaches an image on the light box, an infrared proximity sensor or photo resistor would recognize the environmental change, causing the image to light up. I would also like to using Processing to then display video or audio to accompany each image. The impact should be immediate, visceral, and haunting.

    I will probably start with a small number of people to represent, maybe five, until I work out the technological end and then continue on. This idea is a work in progress and feedback is welcome.


  10. Sex Workers Blow Spitzer a Farewell Kiss – March 2008

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    New York, NY – In the wake of former Governor Spitzer’s resignation, sex workers and human rights advocates remain concerned about the representation and future of “Kristen” and other sex workers, who do not have the legal and social privileges that will be afforded to Mr. Spitzer. The identity of the sex worker implicated in this case has already been made public, a situation mirroring many a sex worker’s worst nightmare. “Kristen’s” exposure may entail not only bring her legal repercussions, but invasion of privacy, financial hardship and social opprobrium.

    Rather than continuing to sensationalize Spitzer’s actions and those directly involved, we urge the press and the public to shift their focus to the legal climate under which sex workers operate, while respecting “Kristen’s” agency to have chosen sex work as a viable source of income. “Everyone wants to know how high her rates were, all the salacious details, but the real issue at stake here is that the hypocrisy of criminalizing sex work has been exposed! It’s a part of our society, of every society, and we need to take this opportunity to stop with the value judgments and start coming up with policies that respect the human dignity of all people, sex workers and all workers. ” says Dylan Wolfe of SWANK (Sex Workers Action New York).

    Former Governor Spitzer took a lead role in developing the NY State Anti-Trafficking Law as well as other initiatives that stigmatize sex workers and their clients. It is the stigma of sex work that leads many individuals like “Kristen” to keep their occupations a secret, creating further isolation and opportunities for exploitation. This same stigma compromises the safety and well-being of people like “Kristen” when their private lives become public knowledge. Sex workers are then forced to work further underground, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse, while denying them access to the basic civic participation, health and social
    services available to other people. “Hopefully Mr. Spitzer’s unfortunate public decline will send a message to all like him who pass laws that endanger the safety of sex workers while indulging in the service themselves,” Sarah Bleviss of SWOP said, “Sex workers clearly provide them a very valuable service; it’s time for lawmakers to return the favor.”

    Too little attention has been paid to what the repercussions of this case will be for those most directly concerned, sex workers, and more generally to the impact of laws and attitudes that marginalize them. It is time for a change.

    Spitzer pushed through penalty enhancements against clients of all sex workers. Sex worker advocates fought against such provisions because these policies drive people who need help further underground. Often prostitution is wrongly conflated with trafficking and vice-versa. People are trafficked for many kinds of work, be it domestic labor, farm work or other jobs, and this kind of exploitation undoubtedly needs to be addressed. The majority of men, women and transgendered people working in sex work, however, are ‘normal’ members of society who have used their own intellectual agency to decide to make a living in a sexually-oriented way. Laws, like the Mann Act (against inter-state transportation for the purposes of commercial sex), are too often used for punishing sex workers and their clients rather than those who profit from their exploitation.

    Sex workers make a living in an industry with the potential for high risks and little by way of protection from abuse. The stigma surrounding our work can be lethal at its most extreme: we are often the targets of notorious serial killers, like the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway who targeted prostitutes because he thought he “could kill as many of them as [he] wanted without getting caught.” If sex work were decriminalized and legitimized as a form of paid labor like any other, or seen simply as an intimate exchange between consenting adults, the associated harms would be greatly diminished. Furthermore, sex workers could access their basic human rights and social services without fear of legal reprisal or personal upheaval. “Eliot Spitzer has represented himself to the public as a law and order man, and ironically, has been in the vanguard of further criminalizing sex workers and clients. . . However, it’s a shame that so much time, energy, and tax payer resources are being spent to criminalize consensual sex between adults. It’s time to decriminalize prostitution.” says Sarah Blake of Prostitutes of New York (PONY).

    Incoming Governor Paterson and other law-makers need to create policies that actually reflect the realities of their own lives and those of their constituents, including sex workers, rather than the harmful legislation of morality, whereby private matters become public scandals.

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