The Sex Workers Outreach Project (USA): A Primer

The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) is an American social justice network dedicated to advocating for the fundamental human rights of people involved in sex work, and ending marginalization in our communities through advocacy, education, and visibility. Founded in San Fransisco in 2003, the organizations’ local chapters address systemic oppression of people involved with sex work, and create and sustain community-led support systems.

This post will review the history of the SWOP and their place in sex worker advocacy in America today. In addition, we’ll discuss what this organization does in their communities to help you understand their mission of education, advocacy, visibility, and empowerment for sex workers; toward their end goal of decriminalization and equal human rights. 

Robyn Few and the Background of the SWOP

An example of the social system’s failure to protect and support youth-at-risk, Robin Few was only 13 when she was introduced into the sex industry.  She saw first hand not only the violence faced by young women working in the sex industry, but also the resistence of social services to respond in meaningful ways. 

She knew that an organization advocating for the decriminalization of sex work in its entirety was fundamental to changing public perception and treatment of sex workers. At age 45, this determined woman founded the The Sex Workers Outreach Project, and spent her life building the SWOP before her untimely death. In addition, she also organized and advocated for the removal of prostitution and sex work from the criminal code of the United States. 

The Sex Workers Outreach Project History

The Sex Workers Outreach Project was founded in 2003 in San Francisco, CA. One of their first initiatives was to establish the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, in memory of the victims of the Green River Killer, who was apprehended in Washington in 2001. His 49 victims were all at-risk young women, a large number of them involved in sex work. 

Since the SWOP was founded, individual activists have been supported by the organization to work at local and national levels to educate not only the public, but also elected officials, on the institutional harms regularly committed against our communities. 

#sexworkiswork: The SWOP Mission and Vision

The Sex Workers Outreach Project upholds that sex work is a legitimate means by which people of all backgrounds support themselves and the people who depend on them. 

As we all know. key differences between sex work and exploitation are the notion and practice of consent, and sex work is not inherently linked to violence. 

By addressing underlying causes of marginalization (immigration issues, racial and gender discrimination, and poverty) they hope to reduce sex workers’ societal vulnerability and systemic oppression. 

In 2022, The SWOP(USA) is now the largest sex workers rights organization in America. 

With chapters in 11 states and counting, the SWOP has worked to decriminalize prostitution in California, and to amend “protective” legislation, differentiating between necessary protections for trafficked populations, and decreasing arrests of independent individuals working in the sex trade; who do so by choice, and not because they have been trafficked.

What does the SWOP do?

SWOP local chapters have responded to protests of Governmental and NGO discussions on decriminalizing sex work in America. 

They engage with local legal aid and social service providers to ensure unbiased and informed engagement, as well as facilitate local art shows and awareness campaigns. 

They also advocate for the health and welfare of trafficked or survival sex workers, and work to raise funds and provide basic needs items to at-risk and impoverished community members. 

The Sex Workers Outreach Project: 

  • Responds to and connects media outlets to members of their network to represent their communities, and maintain active social media networks
  • Amplifies the voices of anyone working to end systemic descrimination and violence towards those engaged in sex work 
  • Maintains a community support phone line for sex workers and advocates who need peer support
  • Provides resources, funding, and connections to facilitate the amplification of local advocacy efforts
  • Expedites research, projects, and campaigns throughout the organization and between the SWOP and external efforts
  • Prioritizes mentorship and leadership development for new organizations, and advocates through peer support and online resources

Wrapping it up: The SWOP and Why Their Work Matters

Since their beginnings in 2003, the SWOP has been at the forefront of reforming legislation and social efforts, to support our underserved populations in the USA. 

Their work to fund, support, and unite leaders and advocates nationwide has strengthened initiatives toward better support, and care for our communities. 

It all starts with sex worker visibility. 

If we’re visible in communities and social movements, and our basic human rights are recognized and honored, then our risk of doing business will be greatly reduced. 

If sex work is decriminalized and destigmatized, instances of violence can be better reported and eradicated.