Project SAFExSWOP-Philly Info Session & Volunteer Training

Saturday, May 30

Info Session & Volunteer Training
Overdose Prevention Training
William Way Community Center
1315 Spruce Street

Learn more here!

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Rights Not Rescue: Oppose HB241/SB904 in MD

We stand in solidarity with Power Inside and other organizations who seek to challenge the criminalizing approaches to human trafficking.

Opposition Statement to Maryland HB241/SB904-2015

(To go directly to endorsement page:


 Across the country, there is a growing concern that laws designed to protect victims of trafficking are needlessly criminalizing people who have no role in forcing, defrauding, or coercing others into sex work or other labor. Even adult victims of trafficking are being arrested and treated in the criminal justice system as if they were perpetrators. We, the undersigned, are individuals and organizations who share this concern and believe we can create policy that holds perpetrators of violence accountable without violating the rights of victims and others.

Supporters of HB241/SB904 say this bill is only about making human trafficking a felony rather than a misdemeanor, but in Maryland, forcing, threatening, coercing, or defrauding children and adults into prostitution is already a felony. HB241/SB904 will go even further and make felons of people who may have nothing to do with an adult’s choice to be a sex worker, as well as applying felony charges to individuals who are involved in trading sex for safety or survival.

Those who will be most harmed by HB241/SB904 are those charged based on non-violent and helping acts, such as providing a ride or securing shelter for a consenting adult involved in prostitution. HB241/SB904 would escalate criminalization of vulnerable young adults involved in the sex trade with peers who often work together to further their mutual survival. Even victims of trafficking and intimate partner violence are not excluded from being arrested for and charged with human trafficking. This creates lifelong consequences to people by impeding their ability to secure employment, housing, and higher education. Read more here.

It is for these reasons we oppose Maryland House Bill 241 and Senate Bill 904. The potential for increased collateral consequences to victims, homeless youth, communities of color, and vulnerable women are too great. STATEMENT AND ENDORSEMENT LIST WILL BE SUBMITTED TO MEMBERS OF THE MARYLAND GENERAL ASSEMBLY, to endorse please complete the SM form

 power inside


U.S. Sex Worker Rights Activists to Advocate Before UN Human Rights Council

Please see the press release below from our colleagues who are currently in Geneva. Project SAFE is proud to have contributed to Human Rights Violations of Sex Workers, People in the Sex Trade, and People Profiled as Such (2014). We will continue to hold the United States accountable for the violence against people in the sex trade.

                          FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

U.S. Sex Worker Rights Activists to Advocate Before UN Human Rights Council

~Advocates Call for Justice as the UN Reviews the U.S. Human Rights Record~

Geneva– Representatives of U.S.-based sex worker rights organizations will travel to Geneva, Switzerland next week, March 15-21st, to meet with members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), and to call for greater human rights protections. As the HRC prepares for a review of the U.S.’ human rights record later this spring, civil society organizations from throughout the U.S. are traveling to Geneva to educate members about violations of civil, political, economic and social human rights in the U.S.

For Monica Jones, a human rights advocate and transgender woman of color from Phoenix, AZ, the issues she will raise while in Geneva have directly impacted her own life. The target of discriminatory police profiling, Monica Jones was wrongfully arrested under an anti-prostitution police sweep program in Phoenix, called Project ROSE. After a long fight and an appeal, a judge dismissed Monica Jones’ charges earlier this month. However, like many transgender and gender non-conforming people of color, she is threatened by regular harassment by police, who use anti-sex work laws to intimidate and harm members of communities already vulnerable to discrimination. “As long as the police can target my community using these anti-sex work laws,” Ms. Jones notes, “we will never be safe from violence, including the violence of incarceration.”

Sex worker rights advocates participated in the prior review of the U.S. via the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, through which countries’ human rights records are submitted to scrutiny every four years. As a result, the U.S. adopted Recommendation 86, obligating it to increase human rights protections for sex workers. In advance of the review this year, advocates with Best Practices Policy Project, Desiree Alliance, and Sex Workers Outreach Project-NY submitted a report to the HRC, demonstrating that the U.S. has failed to live up to the promises of Recommendation 86.

The report, written in consultation with sex workers and their allies throughout the country, shows that criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers, and those profiled as such, exposes them to rape, extortion, assault, harassment, and discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. Criminalization and stigma can also lead to denial of housing, healthcare, parenting and other reproductive rights, education, incomes, and employment. The report demonstrates that the legal system frequently fails to recognize that sex workers can be victims of crime, and thus denies justice or support to sex workers who seek help. At a recent civil society meeting organized in advance of the UPR by the U.S. State Department, New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance member Janet Duran told officialsthat “most of the violence [sex workers] fall victim to is at the hands of the very people who should be protecting them.”

Advocates are concerned that the U.S. exports stigma and discrimination through policies such as the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” attached to development funding. “We will ask the world to hold the U.S. accountable for making sex workers vulnerable to human rights abuses,” said J.M. Kirby of the Best Practices Policy Project. “Our country should be promoting human rights for all, including sex workers, not shaming people because of the work that they do.”



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 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 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 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

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 From

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

Murtha, T. (2013, October 30). Activists Campaign Against Philadelphia Judge Who Ruled Rape as Theft. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from

Red Umbrella Project (2014). Criminal, Victim or Worker. Retrieved from

Strangio, C. (2014, August 5). When Walking Down the Street Is a Crime. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from


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 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…

View original 265 more words



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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