Our Letter to Councilman Neilson and the Committee on Licenses & Inspections: Have you sent Yours?

Councilman Neilson has proposed Bill Nos.150076 & 150075. In efforts to stop human trafficking, these bills would ban Philadelphia hotels from renting by the hour and also require employees at all Philadelphia hotels to be trained to recognize signs of human trafficking by the Philadelphia Police Department. Information can be found here fromPhilly.com and Councilman Neilson’s Website. 

Preventing human sex trafficking can only be done in collaboration with individuals who labor in the sex trade. We need more safe, affirming services, not more surveillance.

Please contact Councilman Neilson and urge him to reconsider this bill by leaving a comment on his website or calling his office at 215-686-3420 or Ed.Neilson@phila.gov as well as other members of the Committee on Licenses & Inspection who are now reviewing the bill.


Councilman Neilson and Members of the Committee on Licenses & Inspections:

Thank for your interest and commitment to combatting human trafficking in Philadelphia. I am writing you and other members of the Committee on Licenses and Inspections as the Executive Director of Project SAFE and Board Member at the Sex Workers Outreach Project. Trafficking and labor exploitation are compelling issues for individuals in the sex trade, however it is important to remember that the majority of human trafficking does not happen among those in the sex trade (Clawson et al., 2009; Free the Slaves, 2004).

Project SAFE has served women in the sex trade since 2004. We are a grassroots organization and 100% volunteer. Most of our volunteers work with us because they also have experience in the sex trade and recognize that there is a dearth in direct services for sex workers and victims of trafficking in Philadelphia.

The majority of the women we work with trade sex for money, housing or other goods because of their circumstances – because they are poor, because they need flexible employment to care for their children; some have arrest records preventing them working, or they find that the minimum wage is not enough to support a family. Many of these women are survivors of various forms of violence.

Initially, we served women in Kensington. Since the increase of policing on Kensington Avenue, we – at first – thought our services would be less necessary in the community. Now we know instead this community of sex workers have migrated all over the city, generating more of a need for advocacy and allied intervention.

Sex workers move indoors to work with managers or “pimps,” or online to work out of hotels or rented rooms. Women still needed to make a living, so sex work ensued, undeterred by law enforcement’s best efforts. We now serve women all over the greater Philadelphia area.

We provide health and harm reduction services for women – anything from clean socks to condoms to tampon (our most requested item) – all for free and 100% anonymous. We use a harm reduction approach as opposed to an abstinence-based or zero-tolerance approach. We find for many women sex work is not their first choice, but leaving the sex trade is a process. It takes time, options, and above all compassionate support for the individual.

We support those ready to leave the industry through referrals to shelters, recovery communities and other therapeutic services. For those actively working we help ensure they have access to essential health and safety provisions. We let sex workers know their lives matter because so many people treat sex workers with shame, indignity, and sadly even violence.

Councilman Neilson and Committee members, herein lies our concerns with both of these bills:

  • For those women who are trading sex because they have nowhere else to go, by regulating hotels, you are again taking away another low-cost option. These are not women who can jump on smart phones to look up low prices on priceline.com. Often, a $40 for a few hours of solace is all they can afford, and is the best deal in town when shelters are full, or for many people shelters are more violence, stigma, shame and abuse (Koyama, 2006).
  • While your focus is on regulating sex trafficking, sex workers face extreme amounts violence (see below for several US-based research studies). Hourly hotels, because of affordability and ease of access, are one of the few safe places individuals who are trading sex by choice, circumstance or coercion can go to earn money without going to a client’s private place of residence, where we find a number of violent transactions occur. This bill could potentially may force at-risk women to engage in dangerous and exploitative labor situations in areas where we can’t reach out to help them.
  • I am aware that sex work is illegal in PA. While our organization is supportive of sex workers we ultimately believe that most people would live happier, healthier lives outside of the sex trade. As it stands, however, there is no formal program to help sex workers exit the industry. For these women, their only choices are organizations like ours, or law enforcement. However, utilizing police officers as first-responders to rescue victims of trafficking has been unsuccessful, and tends to replicate the systemic racism of the criminal justice system (Red Umbrella Project, 2014; Strangio, 2014).

I look forward to collaborating about the many stakeholders that could and should be trained to identify human trafficking activities and human trafficking victims both within the sex trade as well as other vulnerable industries: domestic labor, agriculture, hospitality, food service and, sadly, much more.

I hope City Council will consider including the voices of survivors and sex workers. We have intimate knowledge of human trafficking, and how to best be supportive to those victimized by it. We – if possible – want to work in interdisciplinary teams with law enforcement to better the lives of those we all serve in our shared communities.

I encourage you to contact me regarding this issue. I am so grateful that your office and the Committee on Licenses & Inspections are tackling Human Trafficking in Philadelphia. I hope we can respond with evidence-based approaches grounded in data that support survivors and resist further stigmatization and criminalization of victims.



Executive Director, Project SAFE

Consulted Sources

Clawson, Heather J., et al. “Human trafficking into and within the United States: A review of the literature.” US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (2009).

Decker, M.R., Pearson, E., Illangasekare, S.L., Clark, E., and Sherman, S.G. (2013). Violence against women in sex work and HIV risk implications differ qualitatively by perpetrator.

Free the Slaves (2004). Hidden Slaves, Forced Labor in the United States. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20070830033751/http://freetheslaves.net/files/Hidden_Slaves.pdf

Koyama, E. (2006). Disloyal to feminism: Abuse of survivors within the domestic violence shelter system. Color of Violence: The INCITE Anthology, 208-22.

Hail-Jares, K. (Forthcoming) Bad Dates: How prostitution strolls impact client-initiated violence. Studies in Law, Politics & Society

Human Rights Watch (2012). Sex Workers At Risk. Retrieved Fromhttp://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/07/19/sex-workers-risk-0

Human Rights Violations of Sex Workers, People in the Sex Trade, and People Profiled as Such (2014). Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of the United States of America.

Hospitality. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://www.traffickingresourcecenter.org/labor-trafficking-venuesindustries/hospitality-0

Murtha, T. (2013, October 30). Activists Campaign Against Philadelphia Judge Who Ruled Rape as Theft. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/10/30/activists-campaign-against-philadelphia-judge-who-ruled-rape-as-theft/

Red Umbrella Project (2014). Criminal, Victim or Worker. Retrieved from http://redumbrellaproject.org/advocate/nyhtic/

Strangio, C. (2014, August 5). When Walking Down the Street Is a Crime. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from https://www.aclu.org/blog/lgbt-rights/when-walking-down-street-crime


Let’s End AIDS in Pennsylvania by 2020 – Call Gov. Wolf today!

From our friends at ACT-UP Philadelphia 

Governor Wolf could become the 3rd governor to announce that his state will see an end to the epidemic by 2020. Can you call on him today at 717 787 2500 to make a public statement that Pennsylvania can end the AIDS epidemic, and keep his promises on HIV?

Call the Governor’s Office at 717 787 2500 and tell them,

“Hi, my name is [insert your name] and I live in [insert your city/county], and I’m calling on Governor Wolf to End AIDS in Pennsylvania by 2020, like Gov. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Inslee of Washington have pledged. Pennsylvania has the resources to drastically reduce HIV transmissions and start bringing the AIDS epidemic to an end. I have admired the Governor’s public commitments to fight HIV in a number of ways, and urge him to make a public statement that he will pledge to end the epidemic by 2020, and convene a task force of people living with HIV/AIDS and public health professionals to make a concrete plan to End AIDS in Pennsylvania by 2020.”

When Governor Wolf was still on the campaign trail, his campaign met with members of AIDS service and activist groups across the state and discussed a platform of steps that we believe will pave the way to ending the AIDS crisis* in Pennsylvania by 2020.

Governor Wolf has already agreed to many of our points. Now that he has been sworn into office and is preparing his first budget, make his first legislative proposals, and crafting his first executive statements, it’s time for him to take the first steps towards meeting his campaign promises!

Thank you so much for all that you do to ACT UP, FIGHT BACK, FIGHT AIDS!

*We believe that the science and know-how are there to drastically reduce new infection rates and reduce the viral loads of those already infected to undetectable — if we can make HIV undetectable in the state by 2020, the end of AIDS will be right around the corner.”


Please Contact Councilman Neilson: Victims of Sex Trafficking need Services, not Surveillance

Originally posted on SWOP-PHILLY:

Legislation introduced by Councilman Ed Neilson on Thursday would ban Philadelphia hotels from renting by the hour and also require employees at all Philadelphia hotels to be trained to recognize signs of human trafficking. Information can be fond here from Philly.com and Councilman Neilson’s Website.

Councilman Neilson is committed to making human trafficking “as difficult as possible to go on.”  While we commend this policy-maker for bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking, an issue that the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), is committed to eradicating, we fear there are many reasons this bill is dangerous to individuals who access hotels that rent by the hour – especially survivors of human sex trafficking.

  • As Councilman Neilson says, “They’ll always look for another route to go.” Referring, presumably to sex traffickers. Displacement from this low-cost indoor venue for sex work overburdens trafficking victims.
  • Trafficking victimswillbe forced…

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REPOST From http://www.bestpracticespolicy.org/2015/01/23/shannon-williams-by-the-red-umbrella-babies-collective/

A guest posting by our friends at the Red Umbrella Babies Collective to honor the amazing Shannon Williams, who was an activist with SWOP in the Bay Area, a founder of the sex worker rights movement, and is very much missed by all…

Shannon Williams: the hottest mama (photo from Naomi Akers)

Shannon Williams died this week, catching us all off guard. During the MLK long weekend, she had a bad headache. She went to the emergency room, a tumor was found in her brain stem. It was inoperable. Almost immediately she lapsed into a coma. On Tuesday January 20, 2015, her family removed her from life support. This had been her wish.

We are her friends at Red Umbrella Babies, a forthcoming anthology developed by sex workers who are parents and our children. When we learned of what had happened, we called each other, torturing ourselves with questions: did she know that she wouldn’t wake up? And, did she have time to say goodbye to her sons who are twenty-one, nine and seven years old? One of our children, Blaze who is seven and knows Shannon’s younger kids asked through her tears, “who will take care of the boys?”

Although our hearts ache we know the answer, because we knew Shannon. She was dedicated to the beautiful art of raising children in the most thorough and thoughtful way.  We know that those boys will be okay because Shannon has laid the groundwork for them and because their dad is there too.

Shannon did everything in her life with such grace and apparent ease. She was a gorgeous, sensual babe. She dressed in cool, funky outfits, radiating raw energy. But her casual demeanor was underpinned by thoughtfulness and steely determination. She was completely grounded, practical and not given to pointless abstraction. She was a successful sex worker, proudly taking courses in techniques—such as Bondassage and Tantra—to hone her skills. She created a schedule that allowed her to live her life on her terms and bring up her children well.

“I’ve been asked if the fact that I was a parent made me more hesitant to do sex work,” she wrote in her contribution to the Red Umbrella Babies anthology, “ It didn’t. I never felt like being a parent and being a prostitute were at odds with each other. In fact, I thought it was absolutely the most perfect job for me BECAUSE I was a parent.”

But a nosy parker neighbor and the law did not see it that way. In 2003 Shannon’s house was raided. “Seventeen of Oakland’s Finest came crashing into my bedroom with their guns drawn,” she recalled. When the press found out that a Berkeley High School teacher had been arrested for prostitution, “it instantly became a national news story and blew my life to pieces,” Shannon added. Her case was a catalyst for organizing in the Bay Area. Other sex workers like Robyn Few and her compatriots took to the streets in protest, wearing leopard skin-patterned lingerie in solidarity. The cops had dragged Shannon into a police car in her underwear in order to humiliate her.

The powers that be still have yet to figure out that sex workers are a force to be reckoned with, and that shabby attempts to sexualize a woman like Shannon will always be subverted by the sex worker rights cause. The leopard skin lingerie turned into an emblem of freedom.

Shannon—with her certification as a teacher and her mentoring heart—turned the public nature of her arrest into a “teachable moment” when communicating with her then nine year old son. “The story was running in every local paper, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh featured segments about me on their shows, and everyone around us was talking about it. I took my son up to one of our favorite parks up in the Oakland hills to have the conversation,” Shannon recounted. She had only six months before explained her job to her son when other kids had taunted him saying that his mother was a whore. ‘You know about my job, spending time with people who are lonely,’ I began. He said, ‘Yes.’ I went on. ‘You know how I told you that I might have sex with them sometimes, if we both wanted to.’ He said, ‘yes’ again.  ‘Well, I’ve been arrested because of my job.’ ‘Why?’ he asked and I said, ‘Because it’s illegal to have sex with someone for money.’ And my brilliant, wonderful, nine year old son said to me, ‘Well that’s dumb. You should be able to have sex with whoever you want.’ And that was the end of that.”

So very few of us are as brave and as open as Shannon Williams when faced with arrest and public humiliation. So very few of us could have laid the groundwork for this conversation with our children. How many of us can speak to our children frankly about sex at all? How many of us would be proud of our child’s candid answer? We are so lucky to have had Shannon Williams in our lives, we are so lucky to have her example. All parents must find their own path, but knowing how others have handled devastating situations with poise and affirmation, strengthens us. Enlightens us.

Rest in Power, Shannon Williams. We imagine that you are with Robyn Few, Gabriela Leite and all the rest from our movement who have passed after giving us so much of themselves. Our other mothers, that we hold so close in our hearts. Your children will proudly carry their memories of you for the rest of their lives, we are sure.

The Red Umbrella Babies Collective

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Trafficking/ Prostitution: A survivor shares her story on how Anti-Human Trafficking Laws Hurt more than Help


M. Dante shares her story about sex work and anti-trafficking laws with SWOP-Philly.

Originally posted on SWOP-PHILLY:


If you missed ELS: AK Trafficking / Prostitution discussion, M. Date, advocate and sex worker, explains how Anti-Human Trafficking laws harm more than help. Similar laws now exist in PA. Please read her story and join us as we continue to campaign for decriminalization of sex work in all forms. 


From M. Dante

 Under federal criminal law, sex trafficking must involve force, fraud, coercion, or minors.

Alaska’s 2012 sex trafficking law redefines many things related to prostitution as sex trafficking.  Things that sex workers do to increase their safety, like working together (a prostitution enterprise), working indoors (maintaining a place of prostitution), facilitating prostitution (buying condoms, advertising, everything sex workers and sex trafficking victims do) and associating with each other are confused with media images of kidnapped children being held in sexual bondage.  These laws make all people in the sex trade (including those who are…

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Strategies for Survivors

The Philly Survivor Support Collective (PSSC) has been working in West Philadelphia since 2010. They strive to create and maintain systems of support for survivors of sexual assault and abuse in directing their own healing.  PSSC assists survivors seeking justice and safety outside of the criminal “justice” system.  They also work to transform our communities to end sexual violence. Lucky for us, they have just released a new zine. Check it out here and please share!
strategiesforsurvivors <—Click here to download!

Got Condoms?

Hi Friends!

For many years we have received free condoms from the health department. Condoms are crucial to our mission of providing harm reduction to services to women working in the sex trade.

The health department is only able to provide us with the condoms pictured. While these condoms are totally awesome for many people, they are not ideal for folks in the sex trade.
Sex workers, even survival sex workers, have a right to take pride in the work they do. Providing a “FREE” condom to a client isn’t a cute look for us.

We are reaching out, especially to those of you connected with AIDS Service Org’s, who might have access to regular size “male” condoms to share with us.

Please let us know if you can hook us up! We prefer Lifestyle brand, but are open to others. Please contact safephila@gmail.com or message us.

Project SAFE

Tomorrow is #Dec17

Tomorrow is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. We come together with sex workers, allies and advocates from around the world to recognize that the stigma surrounding sex work contributes to violence committed against us. We cannot achieve the justice we deserve, such as safe working conditions and fair treatment by police, without your donations!

This day of recognition was originally founded in 2003 by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) and Annie Sprinkle. “Every year when I create or attend a gathering on December 17, it is a deeply moving experience. I take some moments to feel grateful that I worked as a prostitute for so many years and came out alive. I remember those who didn’t survive and I fear for those who won’t unless real changes are made — namely safer working conditions and the same police protection other citizens get without recrimination,” Sprinkle said in a 2008 Op-Ed. Over the past 11 years it has grown into a day of vigils, actions, and events in cities around the world. We seek call attention to the all-too-frequent violence committed against sex workers. These events address a plethora of issues relating to the discrimination and stigma surrounding sex work, all of which allows violence committed against sex workers to remain unchecked by our collective communities and justice system.

Flyer 12.17 Philly

On a daily basis, sex workers in the United States and across the globe face severe repression, stigmatization, marginalization, violence, and human rights abuses. They are often left vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by the police. This impacts extend beyond their daily safety and also contributes to a reluctance to seek medical care and other social services, for fear of stigma, mistreatment, risk of arrest, or refusal of services.

This year we ask you to join us in our efforts to fight for sex workers’ rights, protection against violence, and the elimination of stigma. Make a contribution today so we can continue to honor this day and remember the strength of those we have known, loved, and worked alongside of. Help us raise funds so we can raise the voices of sex workers around the globe!

Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights!

Free Eye Glasses & Eye Exams

Four Eyes Optical @ 1631 Walnut Street is offering

Free eye exam and eyeglass vouchers: Dec 11-23

Contact 1-866-509 -7233 ext 3 for more information or support.

NO ID, NO Address needed!


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International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers


Please find this Dec 17 in Maryland – and spread the word!

Originally posted on SWOP MD:


Free massages, pedis, ambience, music, conversation. short films, art, moment of Silence for people lost due to violence. Sex Workers & Sex Workers Allies are invited.

RSVP for directions

In the spirit of remembrance and healing, the Sex Workers Outreach Project invites sex workers,
allies and advocates from around the world to join us in recognizing December 17, the International Day
to End Violence against Sex Workers.
Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was first recognized in 2003 as a memorial and vigil
for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle Washington. Since 2003, Day to End Violence
Against Sex Workers has empowered people from cities around the world to come together and organize
against discrimination and remember victims of violence.
As we approach this day, we seek to come together to remember those who we have lost this
year, and renew our commitment in the…

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