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Sex Workers Outreach Project USA

Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP-USA) is left-of-center activist organization which supports the decriminalization of prostitution and other forms of “sex work.” The organization runs multimedia campaigns in support of its goals, including podcasts, speeches at universities, and public demonstrations. SWOP-USA was founded in 2003 by former prostitute Robyn Few as the United States-based chapter of SWOP, the Australian organization that successfully advocated for the decriminalization of prostitution in New South Wales, Australia. The organization is based in Berkeley, California. In the 2020s the organization has expanded, adding chapters nationwide. [1]

SWOP-USA’s first major campaign involved the organization’s attempt in 2004 to pass Ballot Measure Q in Berkeley, California. The ballot measure would have decriminalized multiple forms of prostitution, including street prostitution, in Berkeley. The measure was opposed by the government of the City of Berkeley and failed to pass. The measure was criticized from both the political left and the political right on the grounds that it failed to address the dangers of street prostitution and failed to consider the harms caused to residents by prostitution activity. [2]

Between 2012 and 2016, SWOP-USA accepted over $100,000 from the Craigslist Charitable Fund, an organization affiliated with Craigslist. During this period, Craigslist was a center for advertisements related to prostitution; critics alleged that it hosted ads related to sex trafficking. [3] Craigslist administrators frequently denied the website played a role in the sex trade and did not shut down the site’s personal ads section until 2018 when it faced increased scrutiny from the Trump administration. [4]

History

Sex Workers Outreach Project was founded in Australia in 1990. [5] SWOP spread to the United States in 2003, when former prostitute Robyn Few founded SWOP-USA to advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution in Berkeley, California through the passage of Measure Q in 2004. The measure aimed to make the enforcement of prostitution laws the lowest priority for police in Berkeley, effectively decriminalizing the activity. [6]

The measure failed to pass after receiving criticism from the city’s government and negative publicity in San Francisco media, including in the left-wing Berkeley Dailey Planet, for its failures to address the dangers of prostitution, particularly to underage and trafficked individuals. [7] [8] During the course of the campaign, Few gained publicity for herself and SWOP by holding an international vigil for the prostitutes killed by American serial killer Gary Ridgeway. [9] In 2001, prior to founding SWOP-USA, Few was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and convicted on federal charges of “conspiracy to promote prostitution.” [10] The charge, which is often related to pimping, led some commentators to argue that her conviction lowered her political credibility in advocating for sex workers. [11]

SWOP-USA has continued to grow, setting 25 regional and specific issue chapters in several American cities and states, including one in Washington, D.C. and two in New York City. [12] Following Few’s death in 2012, the organization has relied on its board and employees to promote its mission.

Organizational Leadership

SWOP-USA is led by a board of up to 11 members. [13] The organization currently has three full-time staff members who sit in leadership positions as co-executive directors, all of whom identify themselves as former “sex workers.”

Alexandria LaRue works as the organization’s chapter director. In their role, they have stated that they hope to address the lack of “intersectionality” at SWOP. In an interview published in July 2020 prior to their appointment, LaRue noted that “SWOP has a reputation for being very white, not being intersectional,” and heralded their own appointment as a “beautiful first step.” Prior to their appointment, LaRue spent 10 years working with sex workers. [14]

Phoenix Calida is a former sex worker and current podcaster through the SWOPcast. [15] Outside of her role at SWOP-USA, she participates in public speaking events. [16] A person known only as “Velvet” works as managing director for SWOP-USA and identifies as queer and non-binary. [17] The person worked as a sex worker for over ten years before being appointed to SWOP-USA. [18] In December of 2020, the person helped present a “meet and learn” event at the Illinois University of Chicago School of Nursing on prostitution. [19]

Financial Information

In 2018, SWOP-USA reported receiving $186,227 in revenue and generating $238,710 in expenses. [20] In 2017, SWOP-USA reported receiving $209,858 in revenue from donations and other sources; the same year they estimated their expenses to be only $122,190. [21] In 2016, SWOP reported income of $262,931 and expenses of $112,070. [22]

Craigslist Funding

Between 2012 and 2016, the organization received $120,000 in donations from the Craigslist Charitable Fund. [23] Critics alleged that the classified advertisement website Craigslist made a portion of its revenue from ads pertaining to the sale of sex during this period. [24] One government-funded study performed by the Urban Institute and published in 2014 found that one fourth of all prostitution incidents began through ads hosted by either Craigslist or Backpage. [25] A report published by the American Bar Association in 2013 alleged that Craigslist was a major facilitator of sex trafficking. [26]

In 2018, when facing increasing pressure from the Trump administration’s anti-trafficking efforts, Craigslist shut down all personal ads on its site. [27]

References

  1. Weitzer, Ronald. “Why Prostitution Initiative Misses / Measure Q in Berkeley Fails on 3 Counts.” SFGATE. San Francisco Chronicle, September 26, 2004. https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Why-prostitution-initiative-misses-Measure-Q-in-2691330.php. ^
  2. Weitzer, Ronald. “Why Prostitution Initiative Misses / Measure Q in Berkeley Fails on 3 Counts.” SFGATE. San Francisco Chronicle, September 26, 2004. https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Why-prostitution-initiative-misses-Measure-Q-in-2691330.php. ^
  3. Dixon, Herbert B. Human Trafficking and the Internet* (*and Other Technologies, too), January 1, 2013. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/judicial/publications/judges_journal/2013/winter/human_trafficking_and_internet_and_other_technologies_too/. ^
  4. Kennedy, Merrit. “Craigslist Shuts Down Personals Section After Congress Passes Bill On Trafficking.” NPR. NPR, March 23, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/23/596460672/craigslist-shuts-down-personals-section-after-congress-passes-bill-on-traffickin. ^
  5. Gregoire, Paul. “Post-COVID Restart Tough for SEX Workers: An Interview With SWOP’s Cameron Cox,” May 29, 2020. https://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/blog/post-covid-restart-tough-for-sex-workers-an-interview-with-swops-cameron-cox/. ^
  6. Weitzer, Ronald. “Why Prostitution Initiative Misses / Measure Q in Berkeley Fails on 3 Counts.” SFGATE. San Francisco Chronicle, September 26, 2004. https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Why-prostitution-initiative-misses-Measure-Q-in-2691330.php. ^
  7. Bronstein, Zelda. “Press Releases.” Measure Q Hurts Women, Neighborhoods: By ZELDA BRONSTEIN. Category: Press Releases from The Berkeley Daily Planet, October 22, 2004. https://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2004-10-22/article/19935?headline=Measure-Q-Hurts-Women-Neighborhoods-By-ZELDA-BRONSTEIN–COMMENTARY. ^
  8. “Taking Sides on Prostitution.” In The Fray, February 6, 2005. https://inthefray.org/category/features/news/page/10/. ^
  9. AFP. “San Francisco Sex Workers Demand Legal Protection.” The Age. The Age, December 22, 2003. https://www.theage.com.au/world/san-francisco-sex-workers-demand-legal-protection-20031222-gdwzdm.html. ^
  10. Marshall, Carolyn. “Bid to Decriminalize Prostitution in Berkeley.” The New York Times. The New York Times, September 14, 2004. www.nytimes.com/2004/09/14/national/14porn.html?scp=1&sq=%22Robyn%2BFew%22&st=nyt. ^
  11. Hughes, Donna M. “Women’s Wrongs.” National Review. National Review, October 20, 2004. https://www.nationalreview.com/2004/10/womens-wrongs-donna-m-hughes/. ^
  12. “Chapters.” Sex Workers Outreach Project. Accessed March 17, 2021. https://swopusa.org/chapters/. ^
  13. “Staff & Board of Directors.” Sex Workers Outreach Project. Accessed March 17, 2021. https://swopusa.org/about-us/about/. ^
  14. Daring, Christa. “Staff Profile: Alexandria LaRue (Chapter Director).” Sex Workers Outreach Project | Sex Workers Outreach Project, June 15, 2020. https://swopusa.org/blog/2020/06/15/staff-profile-alexandria-larue-chapter-director/. ^
  15. “SWOPcast.” iHeartRadio. Accessed March 17, 2021. https://www.iheart.com/podcast/256-phoenix-calida-43041452/. ^
  16. “Staff & Board of Directors.” Sex Workers Outreach Project. Accessed March 17, 2021. https://swopusa.org/about-us/about/. ^
  17. “Staff & Board of Directors.” Sex Workers Outreach Project. Accessed March 17, 2021. https://swopusa.org/about-us/about/. ^
  18. Daring, Christa. “Staff Profile: Velvet (Managing Director).” Sex Workers Outreach Project, June 15, 2020. https://swopusa.org/blog/2020/06/15/staff-profile-velvet-managing-director/. ^
  19. “College of Nursing.” Meet & Learn: Sex Work and COVID-19 | College of Nursing | University of Illinois at Chicago, December 1, 2020. https://nursing.uic.edu/events/meet-learn-sex-work-and-covid-19/. ^
  20. Sex Workers Outreach Project, IRS 990EZ, 2018, Part I ^
  21. Sex Workers Outreach Project, IRS 990, 2017, Part I ^
  22. Sex Workers Outreach Project, IRS 990, 2016, Part I ^
  23. Craigslist Charitable Fund, IRS 990, 2016, Part I ^
  24. Dolak, Kevin. “Not ‘Adult Services,’ But Apparent Prostitution Ads Still on Craigslist.” ABC News. ABC News Network, September 5, 2010. https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/craigslist-hosting-adult-services-ads/story?id=11565631. ^
  25. Lowrey, Annie. “In-Depth Report Details Economics of Sex Trade.” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 12, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/12/us/in-depth-report-details-economics-of-sex-trade.html. ^
  26. Dixon, Herbert B. Human Trafficking and the Internet* (*and Other Technologies, too), January 1, 2013. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/judicial/publications/judges_journal/2013/winter/human_trafficking_and_internet_and_other_technologies_too/. ^
  27. Kennedy, Merrit. “Craigslist Shuts Down Personals Section After Congress Passes Bill On Trafficking.” NPR. NPR, March 23, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/23/596460672/craigslist-shuts-down-personals-section-after-congress-passes-bill-on-traffickin. ^
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