How To Be An Ally to Sex Workers

1) Don’t Assume. Don’t assume you know why a person is in the sex industry. We’re not all trafficked or victims of abuse. Some people make a choice to enter this industry because they enjoy it, others may be struggling for money and have less of a choice.

2) Be Discreet and Respect Personal Boundaries. If you know a sex worker, it’s OK to engage in conversation in dialogue with them in private, but respect their privacy surrounding their work in public settings.  Don’t ask personal questions such as “does your family know what you do?” If a sex worker is not “out” to their friends, family, or co-workers, it’s not your place to tell everyone what they do.

3) Don’t Judge. Know your own prejudices and realize that not everyone shares the same opinions as you. Whether you think sex work is a dangerous and exploitative profession or not is irrelevant compared to the actual experiences of the person who works in the industry. It’s not your place to pass judgment on how another person earns the money they need to survive.

4) Watch Your Language. Cracking jokes or using derogatory terms such as “hooker”, “whore”, “slut”, or “ho” is not acceptable. While some sex workers have “taken back” these words and use them among themselves, they are usually used to demean sex workers when spoken by outsiders.

5) Address Your Prejudices. If you have a deep bias or underlying fear that all sex workers are bad people and/or full of diseases, then perhaps these are issues within yourself that you need to address.  In fact, the majority of sex workers practice safer sex than their peers and get tested regularly.

6) Don’t Play Rescuer. Not all sex workers are trying to get out of the industry or in need of help. Ask them what they need, but not everyone is looking for “Captain Save-A-Ho” or the “Pretty Woman” ending.

7) If you are a client or patron of sex workers, be respectful of boundaries. You’re buying a service, not a person. Don’t ask for real names, call at all hours of the day/night, or think that your favorite sex worker is going to enter into a relationship with you off the clock.

8) Do Your Own Research. Most mainstream media is biased against sex workers and the statistics you read in the news about the sex industry are usually inaccurate. Be critical of what you read or hear and educate yourself on who exactly is transmitting diseases or being trafficked.

9) Respect that Sex Work is Real Work. There’s a set of professional skills involved and it’s not necessarily an industry that everyone can enter into. Don’t tell someone to get a “real job” when they already have one that suits them just fine.

10) Just because someone is a sex worker doesn’t mean they will have sex with you. No matter what area of the sex industry that someone works in, don’t assume that they are promiscuous and willing to have sex with anyone at any time.

11) Be Supportive and Share Resources. If you know of someone who is new to the industry or in an abusive situation with an employer, by all means offer advice and support without being condescending. Some people do enter into the sex industry without educating themselves about what they are getting into and may need help. Despite the situation, calling the police is usually never a good option. Try to find other organizations that are sensitive to the needs of sex workers.

12) As you learn the above things, stand up for sex workers when conversations happen.  Share your personal stories if you so choose.  Don’t let the stigma, bigotry and shame around sex work continue.  Remember it’s important that sex workers be allowed to speak for themselves and for allies to not speak for sex workers but to speak with sex workers.

Realize that sex work transcends ‘visible’ notions of race, gender, class, sexuality, education, and identities; sex workers are your sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, lovers, neighbors, and friends. Respect them!

Get Active! Contact your local SWOP Chapter to find out what you can do or form your own in the city you live in.

This list composed by the members and allies of Sex Workers Outreach Project-Chicago. Visit us on the web at

Other Resources-

En Espanol!


Preparado para 19? Conferencia Internacional de la Asociaci?n Internacional
de Reducci?n de Da?os (IHRA, por sus siglas en ingl?s) de 2008

Barcelona, Espa?a, mayo 11 a 15 de 2008

El Comit? internacional de trabajadores sexuales para reducci?n de da?os es
un grupo de trabajo conformado por trabajadores/as sexuales y defensores de
sus derechos, empe?ados en promover su participaci?n y la de sus
organizaciones en las discusiones sobre reducci?n de da?os. Nos complace
presentar a los delegados y participantes en Barcelona los siguientes temas
de discusi?n en relaci?n con los derechos de los trabajadores sexuales:

* *Los derechos humanos de los/las trabajadores/as sexuales:* Para la
promoci?n de la salud y la seguridad es esencial reconocer y garantizar la
protecci?n de los derechos humanos de los/las trabajadores/as sexuales.
Asegurar el pleno disfrute de estos derechos y mejorar el acceso a los
servicios sociales y de salud es la manera m?s efectiva de reducir o
eliminar la discriminaci?n y el abuso a que con frecuencia ?stos/as se ven

**Los/las trabajadores/as sexuales son parte de la soluci?n:* El liderazgo y
empoderamiento de los/las trabajadores/as sexuales son esenciales en la
lucha contra el VIH y la discriminaci?n. Los trabajadores sexuales cuentan
dentro de s? mismos con los mejores recursos y en tal sentido deber?an estar
al frente del desarrollo e implementaci?n de programas y pol?ticas que
afectan sus vidas. S?lo con el poder de ser sus propios voceros y con el
desarrollo de su propio liderazgo se detendr? el estigma y la violaci?n de
sus derechos.

* *Apoyo a la manifestaci?n de experiencias y cultura de los/las
trabajadores/as sexuales:* Las comunidades y organizaciones de
trabajadores/as sexuales cuentan con una tradici?n cultural rica y variada a
nivel mundial que se expresa en literatura, cine, presentaciones online,
festivales, danza, etc. Con el fin de celebrar nuestras propias
manifestaciones sobre el t?pico del trabajo sexual, daremos inicio este a?o
en Barcelona al primer festival de cinematogr?fico sobre trabajo sexual y
reducci?n de da?os. Las expresiones culturales hacen m?s comprensibles las
metas del movimiento por nuestros derechos a aquellas personas que no est?n
muy familiarizadas con la realidad y las experiencias de los/las
trabajadores/as sexuales.

**El trabajo sexual es trabajo no “da?o”:* El trabajo sexual en s? mismo no
es inherentemente da?ino. Las razones que llevan a una persona a elegir este
tipo de trabajo son amplias y variadas, al igual que lo son para cualquier
otra persona cuando se decide por un determinado trabajo. Muchas
organizaciones que trabajan en pro de la salud y los derechos de los/las
trabajadores/as sexuales al referirse a las necesidades de estos/as
trabajadores/as se acogen al marco de reducci?n de da?os. Otras sostienen
una relaci?n m?s distante con este marco dado que en ocasiones “da?o” se
identifica de manera equivocada con el trabajo sexual o con los/las
trabajadores/as sexuales. Nosotros consideramos de manera decidida que
cualquier da?o relacionado con el trabajo sexual es el resultado de
ambientes represivos dentro de los cuales el trabajo sexual no se reconoce
como trabajo, as? como de la carencia de derechos humanos b?sicos y del
acceso a servicios adecuados de salud.

* *Derechos laborales para los trabajadores sexuales: *El trabajo sexual
deber?a reconocerse como trabajo de manera que pudiera garantiz?rsele
seguridad y condiciones apropiadas. La carencia de derechos laborales somete
a los/las trabajadores/as sexuales a condiciones de vulnerabilidad que
propician el abuso y condiciones inadecuadas. El trabajo sexual no deber?a
ser “sobre regulado” o sujeto a restricciones especiales por causa de
temores discriminatorios frente a este tipo de trabajo y sus
trabajadores/as. El trabajo sexual deber?a ser considerado como cualquier
otra forma de trabajo.

Adicionalmente, posterior a las consultas que tendr?n lugar durante la 19?
Conferencia internacional sobre reducci?n de da?os de 2008, quisi?ramos
afirmar que los/las trabajadores/as sexuales constituyen elemento clave en
la promoci?n de los derechos humanos y la reducci?n de da?os, y nos complace
que en esta posici?n nos acompa?en aliados que comparten nuestra filosof?a y
compromiso con la justicia.

“Nada sobre nosotros sin nosotros”



This occasion renews our strength to demand recognition of our human rights as we struggle to combat violence and oppression against sex workers. This day reminds us that we are part of a global community of people who refuse to accept the discrimination against us and the criminalization of our work, our means to survive.

We appreciate the support we have received over the past year from Chicago individuals, organizations and communities and we celebrate YOU AND YOUR SUPPORT as part of this day!


• Decriminalize Prostitution! Endorse local petitions and initiative drives to decriminalize prostitution.

• Stop The Raids! No More Deportations! In the guise of rescuing women from traffickers, San Francisco Police Department collaborates with the U.S. Department of Justice, resulting in the deportation of women. The Bush administration, their globalization and trade policies are the are some of the root causes of trafficking. Sex workers should be empowered to address abuses in our communities rather than excluded through this administration’s “anti-prostitution loyalty oath.” Sex workers are part of the solution!

• No More Stings! Stop the Corruption! Stop the entrapment of prostitutes and their customers! Clients and prostitutes are entrapped in stings, then ‘blackmailed’ by the District Attorney into attending stigmatizing, anti-prostitution ‘reeducation seminars’ (FOPP, First Offender Prostitution Program). The fees are exorbitant ($1000), but those arrested or cited attend, fearing exposure to their families, etc. But where has the money gone? Why is there no compliance with  financial audits? Although the Public Defender also sponsors a diversion program, why does the District Attorney enforce this monopoly on an expensive diversion option for prostitution-related cases? Stop the corruption!

• Stop The Repression! Sex Workers and Migrants: Victims of Anti-trafficking Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women recently published a report, Collateral Damage (, which explains how sex workers and migrants around the world are being targeted by repressive forces under the banner of anti-trafficking. Fundamentalist feminists in the U.S. are lobbying congress to pass increasingly restrictive and punitive legislation targeting voluntary commercial sex. They propose a change in the definition of trafficking to blur the distinctions between forced prostitution and voluntary commercial sex. They propose expansion of the powers of the Department of Justice to monitor the voluntary sex industries federalizing all prostitution-related ‘crimes,’ which has even been rejected by the Department of Justice. Stop the repression!

History of March 3rd: The 3rd of March is International Sex Worker Rights Day. The day originated in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a sex worker festival. The organizers, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group whose membership consists of somewhere upwards of 50,000 sex workers and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3 March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

Our political objectives are decriminalization of adult prostitution, securing social recognition of sex work as a valid profession and establishing sex workers right to self-determination. We believe ONLY RIGHTS CAN STOP THE WRONGS! SWOP-CHICAGO invites you to join us and sex worker organizations around the world to celebrate the lives of sex workers as well as highlight sex workers’ determination and strength.

(this material was composed by SWOP-NORCAL and modified for SWOP-CHICAGO)

Who is a Sex Worker?

Who is a sex worker?

If you are…

A Prostitute
An Escort
A Whore
A Hooker
A Streetworker
A Madam
A Courtesan
A Dominatrix
A Master
An Erotic Masseuse
A Full Body Sensual Masseuse
A Stripper
An Exotic Dancer
An Adult Film/Porn Performer
Someone Who Shoots, Directs, or Produces Porn
A Fluffer
An Erotic Writer
A Phone Sex Operator
A Tantra Provider
An Agency owner
A Pimp
Someone supported by A Sugar Daddy/Mama
Someone who has had sex for food, drugs, or to get the money you needed to survive
A Clerk at a Sex  shop
An Owner of a Sexually Oriented Business
A Peep Show Dancer
A Webcam Performer
A Fetish or Nude Model
A Fetish/Erotic Photographer
An Online Domme
An Adult Webmaster/mistress
A Burlesque Dancer
A Sex Advice Columnist
A Sex Toy Reviewer
A Sex Worker Advocate/Activist
A Publisher/Editor of A Sexually Oriented Publication
A Hustler/Ho
A Waitress at A Strip Club
A Phone Operator at an Escort Service
A Fantasy Sex Provider
A Curator at A Sex Museum
A Sex Educator
A Sex Surrogate
A Sex Therapist
Rent Boy/Girl

…you can consider yourself a sex worker. A sex worker isn’t necessarily someone who has sex with her/his clients. While all these professions may be vastly different from one another, we are linked by one thing-our knowledge and expertise in a specific profession related to sex. We are asking you to come share your skills and knowledge with us this summer at the 2008 Desiree Alliance Conference in Chicago. From July 16-21 sex workers from all over the country will gather in Chicago for the national convergence, “Pulling Back the Sheets: Sex, Work, and Social Justice.”

Please join us as either a presenter or attendee. Your voice is important to us.

For more information on registration and call for submissions, go to