Other Group

Sex Workers Project

Project of:

Urban Justice Center

:
Managing Director:

R.J. Thompson

The Sex Workers Project (SWP) is a program of the Urban Justice Center that provides legal representation and other services to prostitutes. The program also advocates for the nationwide decriminalization of prostitution. [1]

Support for Legalizing Prostitution

The Sex Workers Project and those associated with the group are among the leaders of Decriminalize Sex Work, an advocacy coalition seeking to change state laws that prohibit prostitution. Lawyers for SWP testified before the New Hampshire state legislature, advocating for a bill that would study potential changes to state prostitution laws. The bill failed, but advocates vowed to continue their efforts to decriminalize prostitution on a state-by-state basis. [2] In 2017, the New Hampshire Human Trafficking Collaborative Task Force fired the former SWP national policy director from the task force after newspapers reported her advocacy in support of decriminalizing prostitution. [3]

New York State Senator Julia Salazar (D—Brooklyn), an advocate for the decriminalization of prostitution, credited advocates from SWP for “alert[ing] [her] to really emphasize” decriminalizing prostitution in her campaign and during her time in office. [4]

SWP has also called upon local and state prosecutors to decline to prosecute cases involving prostitution on the grounds that “Black folks … and also trans and cisgender women all bear the disproportionate burden of criminalization.” In 2021, SWP managing director R.J. Thompson applauded Washtenaw County, Michigan District Attorney Eli Savit (D), who announced that his office would no longer prosecute crimes involving consensual prostitution. Savit cited research from SWP in announcing his policy decision, arguing that criminalizing prostitution exposes prostitutes to an increased risk of “physical assault, sexual assault and trafficking.” [5]

Other Policy Advocacy

Sex Workers Project advocated against the passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA-FOSTA). The legislation aimed to amend the federal Communications Decency Act to make websites and other publishers criminally and civilly liable for “facilitating” prostitution and sexual trafficking when such activities appeared on their sites. SWP managing director R.J. Thompson argued that prostitutes used digital sites to “share information with other workers about potentially problematic or harassing or violent clients,” and that cracking down on sites used to solicit prostitution would push people into the streets, “increasing the potential for violence and other risks.” [6] The organization also criticized credit card companies for refusing to allow transactions on such sites on the grounds that the sites in question facilitated sex trafficking. Advocates from SWP argued that credit card processing assisted prostitutes in monitoring customers and provided evidence for law enforcement in trafficking prosecutions. [7]

SWP also argued for inclusion of adult dancers, prostitutes, and “sex educators” in the benefits provided by the 2020 small business relief bill passed by the U.S. Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic, which prohibited federal assistance to businesses providing services or live performances of a “prurient sexual nature.” Lynn Liu, spokesperson for the SWP, argued that the exclusion was unfair because “sex workers are heavily affected by measures such as social distancing and business shutdowns” and are also not eligible for government unemployment benefits. [8]

In 2013 and 2014, SWP supported a bill in the New York State Assembly that would have prohibited the use of condoms as evidence in prostitution prosecutions. The bill failed to reach a floor vote. [9]

People and Funders

R.J. Thompson is the managing director of SWP and a self-described “queer identified mixed blood Cherokee with deep Southern roots.” Thompson is an attorney, a former adult dancer, and a pornographic film actor. [10]

In 2007, SWP developed a “Media Toolkit on Sex Work and Human Rights” for journalists, with funding from the Open Society Foundations’ program in public health. [11]

References

  1. Mark Hayward. “Advocates emerge in New Hampshire to promote prostitution legalization.” Manchester Union-Leader. January 24, 2019. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://www.unionleader.com/news/crime/advocates-emerge-in-new-hampshire-to-promote-prostitution-legalization/article_a0e3f02d-9d50-5100-bc27-30a173f5b9eb.html. ^
  2. Mark Hayward. “Advocates emerge in New Hampshire to promote prostitution legalization.” Manchester Union-Leader. January 24, 2019. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://www.unionleader.com/news/crime/advocates-emerge-in-new-hampshire-to-promote-prostitution-legalization/article_a0e3f02d-9d50-5100-bc27-30a173f5b9eb.html. ^
  3. Kevin Landrigan. “Anti-trafficking task force cuts ties with group, fires director.” Manchester Union Leader. May 6, 2017. Accessed on Westlaw (2017 WLNR 14827082) January 28, 2021. ^
  4. Amy Zimmerman. “Inside Sex Workers’ Fight for the Next Ocasio-Cortez: ‘There’s an Awakening Happening.’” Daily Beast. August 20, 2018. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-sex-workers-fight-for-the-next-ocasio-cortez-theres-an-awakening-happening. ^
  5. Angie Jackson. “Washtenaw County will no longer prosecute consensual sex work.” Detroit Free Press. January 15, 2021. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2021/01/15/sex-workers-washtenaw-county-prosecutor-decriminalization/4158397001/. ^
  6. Michelle Chen. “New Legislation Aimed at Fighting Trafficking on Digital Platforms Could Put Sex Workers in Danger.” The Nation. March 30, 2018. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/new-legislation-aimed-at-fighting-trafficking-on-digital-platforms-could-put-sex-workers-in-danger/. ^
  7. Hilary Hanson. “Sex Workers Say Credit Card Bans On Online Ads Do More Harm Than Good.” The Huffington Post. July 30, 2015. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/backpage-credit-cards-sex_n_55b96ed3e4b0af35367a4530. ^
  8. Jacob Serebrin. “‘I have a mortgage to pay’: Sex workers banned from small-business loans under CARES Act due to ‘prurient sexual nature.’” MarketWatch. May 24, 2020. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/i-have-a-mortgage-to-pay-sex-workers-banned-from-small-business-loans-under-cares-act-due-to-prurient-sexual-nature-2020-05-01.    ^
  9. “New York State Assembly Bill S1379/A2305.” Sex Workers Project. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://sexworkersproject.org/campaigns/2011/new-york-condom-bill/. ^
  10. “R.J. Thompson.” Sex Workers Project. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://sexworkersproject.org/info/staff/rj-thompson/. ^
  11. “Media Toolkit on Sex Work and Human Rights.” Open Society Foundations. June 2007. Accessed January 28, 2021. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/publications/media-toolkit-sex-work-and-human-rights. ^
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