What is SWOP?
The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-USA) is a national social justice network of organizations dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy. SWOP-Seattle is the chapter of SWOP-USA based in Seattle, Washington. SWOP-USA’s full mission statement can be found here.
SWOP-Seattle is a grassroots chapter of SWOP-USA. Our goals include: creating alliances with human-service organizations to provide resources for sex workers, to destigmitize sex workers and the industry while advocating for positive attitudes towards sex workers and their contributions to society, to educate about harm reduction, and to increase awareness of the harm to sex workers and their communities caused by current well-meaning laws and policies.
SWOP-Seattle is composed of people who share the desire to extinguish harmful social stigma held against sex workers, and laws that foster intolerance.
What is SEPIA?
The Society of Erotic Professionals in Action (SEPIA) is a collective of current and retired sex workers engaged in creating community, support and safety for sex workers. Membership is limited to current and retired sex workers. SEPIA members also operate as the core volunteers and council for SWOP-Seattle.
The majority of SEPIA members are consenting adults who have chosen to be professional sex workers. Whether we come to SEPIA seeking advice, support, a network of like-minded activists, or simply a place to feel accepted, we all share the bond of belonging to a marginalized demographic that faces discrimination, alienation, media misrepresentation, and threats to our chosen livelihood on a daily basis…and we’d like for these pervasive forms of social violence to end.
What Do SWOP-Seattle and SEPIA Do?
SWOP-Seattle organizes public education events which have included discussion panels, demonstrations, media campaigns, and outreach efforts designed to raise awareness about sex worker issues. Our sex worker-centric SEPIA events are offered in the form of regular socials and skill shares, activist events, and much more! These events are rare places where we can connect with each other and support one another. We also have a monthly council meeting and an annual retreat for planning our events and organizing SWOP-Seattle activities. To keep abreast of our events, please visit our events page, or sign up to receive our newsletter.
What is Sex Work?
SWOP-Seattle classifies sex work as any labor that involves the trade of erotic services for financial gain. Sex work may or may not involve physical contact. Under this definition, sex workers include (but are not limited to): Escorts, Strippers, Professional Dominants and Submissives, Fetish & Fantasy Performers, Erotic Massage Providers, Sacred Intimates, sex surrogates, WebCam Models, Phone Sex Operators, Sugar Babies, Porn Performers, and more.
Some people believe that the phrase “sex work” is designated only for providers who engage in physical sex. A provider who does not label themselves as being a sex worker may prefer to say that they work in the adult industry, or to use a specific title such as Stripper or Dominatrix. However you prefer to define yourself, if you engage in erotic labor of any kind and wish to have your voice heard, we welcome you.
Sex Worker Issues
Discrimination perpetuates violence against marginalized societies on multiple levels, and SWOP-Seattle identifies the following issues as being central to the human rights concerns facing sex workers.
The Criminalization of Consensual Sex Work:
The stigma created by criminalizing sexual activity amongst consenting adults supports violence against and persecution of sex workers while creating black market conditions around sex work immigration. To create a safe environment for sex workers we need laws and programs enabling free will, education to support informed choice, policies designed for harm reduction, and viable alternatives to those within the sex work industry.
Social Stigma Against Sex Workers:
Even in legal forms of sex work, sex workers are socially marginalized. There are a great many sex workers who are fully empowered and positively contributing members of society. Due to the stigma surrounding our chosen work, many of us choose to operate in secrecy, even to our own family and friends, to protect ourselves from ostracization and legal implications. Sex workers who are open about their work risk being judged as drug addicts, immoral deviants, vectors for disease, victims of sexual abuse, unemployable in other fields, or as unfit to be parents.
SWOP-Seattle has this to say about these common misconceptions: Drug addiction is not caused by sex work, drug addiction is an illness found in all segments of society. STI’s are not caused by the sex industry, STI’s are caused by unsafe sexual practices, exacerbated by lack of accessible education and treatment. The idea of sexual immorality is an outdated puritanical hang-up that has been a disservice to our entire population, as it distances us from and demonizes natural human behaviors. For these reasons, sex work is fact an important, indispensable part of society which helps many individuals to responsibly access their desires, and safely fulfill our needs for human connection and intimacy. Successful sex workers are often empathetic, intuitive, and emotionally intelligent, and are just as fit as anyone to participate in society as valued employees or parental guardians.
Misinformation Surrounding Sex Trafficking:
Misinformed media often harms sex workers by perpetuating the negative stereotype of all sex workers as victims, and by opposing legal reform to liberate individuals in autonomy over their bodies. The sex industry does not cause the use of fraud, coercion and violence in obtaining human labor, it is but one of many industries affected by those who abuse human rights for profit. There are currently a multitude of highly active campaigns that seek to completely abolish sex trafficking, but which fail to make the critical distinction between voluntary and involuntary sex work. Lumping voluntary sex work in with criminal sexual coercion not only discredits and denies the existence of the thousands of consenting adults working in the adult industry on their own free will, but also waters down and distracts from our ability to focus on the true plight of real victims who need their situation to be respected and responsibly responded to, not sensationalized.
For these stated reasons and more, public awareness and education are the heart of our agenda. It is past time that we decriminalize the actions of consenting adults to focus our time, resources and energy to address the important human rights and social issues directly.