Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA is a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy.
SWOP, at its most basic, is an anti-violence campaign. As a multi-state network of sex workers and advocates, we address locally and nationally the violence that sex workers experience because of their criminal status.
Operating in one of the most prominently violent societies today, sex workers in America experience this phenomenon pointedly in the context of their criminal status. Yet, sex workers are seldom afforded protection or recourse from violent acts committed against them because of the precarious, often graft-ridden relationship between sex work and law enforcement. Society tolerates violence against sex workers because of the stigma and myths that surround prostitution. Only until these falsehoods are corrected and sex workers are legitimized will we be able to effectively prevent and minimize the structural and occupational challenges of sex work.
Serial killers like Gary Leon Ridgeway, the Green River Killer who preyed on prostitutes, managed to evade law enforcement for over 2 decades. Meanwhile women, like Robyn Few and Shannon Williams, who as adults had consensual sex for money, are routinely targeted for elaborate high budget police stings. This gross misappropriation of public resources systematically entraps sex work to be a profession that is unsafe and stigmatized. The system, effectively, is institutional violence against the people who exchange money for sex.
SWOP works to educate policy-makers and the public on the institutional harms committed against sex workers, and advocates for alternatives. Started on Aug. 13th, 2003 our first major action was to organize the first annual International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers in 2003 with the Green River Memorial to the victims of Gary Leon Ridgeway. In 2004, SWOP spearheaded a voter ballot initiative to decriminalize prostitution in Berkeley, CA. Some of our more recent work focuses on amending so called “protective” legislation like the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 (and now its reauthorization in 2005 with the new End Demand provisions) which has increased criminal penalties and the stigma associated with sex work.
SWOP promotes proven and effective social policy approaches to the sex industry. In order to reach its goals, SWOP adopts the principles and practices of nonviolent action in order to reduce violence and achieve dignity and rights for sex workers.