Our Bodies, Our Labors, Our Streets: International Women’s Day in NYC

March 8, 2020

The International Women’s Strike, also known as Paró Internacional de Mujeres, is a global movement of coalitions in more than 50 countries, organizing around International Women’s Day each year. The movement began in 2017 to honor the work of women across the world, organizing against the criminalization of abortion, femicide, and gender-based violence. This year’s New York festival was co-hosted by the Street Vendor Project and many others, underscoring the importance of feminist labor empowerment and the anti-colonialist values of the movement.

DSW participated in the New York City Women’s Strike Street Fest in honor of International Women’s Day. Entitled “Our Bodies, Our Labors, Our Streets,” the event highlighted the intersection of labor and gender justice. Music, performance, exhibitions, and workshops centered on four main workstations: reproductive justice, the battle over labor, systematic violence over women and feminized bodies, and reclaiming the commons.

At the festival, DSW hosted a table to educate attendees on sex work as a labor issue, and how criminalization creates systemic violence within the sex industry. Dominatrix Ashley Paige and DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly ran a workshop on consent, negotiation, and power in relation to work, sexuality, familial relationships, and gender. Kaytlin Bailey also gave a short speech on DSW’s work, her podcast “The Oldest Profession,” and her new one-woman show, “Whore’s Eye View.” The show is running a reading series at Zinc Bar in the West Village every third Wednesday of the month this summer. Bailey was joined onstage by TS Candii from Decrim NY, who educated the crowd on the importance of passing S2253/A654, to repeal Walking While Trans, this legislative session.

This powerful alliance is an illustration of the interconnected nature of our movements. Reproductive justice, labor, migration, citizenship, race, and state surveillance, to name a few, all function to monitor and criminalize particular identities. Thank you to the Women’s Strike and the Street Vendor Project for such an inspiring event and the chance to highlight our message!

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey appears onstage with TS Candii from Decrim NY shortly after she spoke.

The festival spectators hear from a representative of Women First.

L to R: J. Samantha Johnson, Zoe West, Ximena Garcia Bustamante, and DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly, organizers of the NY Women’s Strike Coalition, are pictured with Dominatrix Ashley Paige after a public workshop on negotiating power and consent taught by Paige and Brantly.

Kaytlin Bailey and Frances Steele are pictured at DSW’s booth.

DSW Rallies With Activists To Pass the #WalkingWhileTrans Repeal

March 3, 2020

On International Sex Worker Rights Day, the Walking While Trans Coalition gathered at the Million Dollar Staircase in the Albany Statehouse to speak out about trans rights in New York State. DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly joined activists representing the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) and the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute.

The coalition has been advocating tirelessly for the repeal of section 240.37 of New York’s state law. The statute criminalizes loitering for the purpose of prostitution, and its overbroad and vague language has led to discriminatory enforcement. Since §240.37 was enacted in 1976, its implementation has overwhelmingly relied upon profiling and false arrests of cisgender and transgender women of color, as well as feminine gender non-conforming people of color.

The Walking While Trans Ban Coalition — which is composed of sex workers, human rights organizations, and advocates in New York state and beyond — is fighting this unconstitutional law. Senate Bill 2253 and Assembly Bill 654, to repeal § 240.37, are being sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), respectively.

In a legislative memo endorsing the repeal, the New York Civil Liberties Union describes how the statutes make it a violation for anyone to publicly and repeatedly “ ‘beckon’ to, stop, or attempt to stop passers-by; to try to engage them in conversation; or to signal to motor vehicles ‘for the purpose of’ ” engaging in, patronizing, or promoting prostitution. The discriminatory application of this law is based on perceptions of what a prostitute ‘looks like,’ according to stereotypes of dress, perceived gender identity, sexuality, race, and place of activity. This classification unconstitutionally codifies into law racist, sexist, and socio-economically coded ideas of criminality.

DSW was honored to participate in this historic event. There is no better way to honor International Sex Worker Rights Day than to fight for the human rights of our most vulnerable community members. When merely “looking like a sex worker” means you can be arrested arbitrarily, no one is free.

State Senator Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) speaks at the March 3 press conference, endorsing the repeal of Walking While Trans. (Photo: Vince Marrone, 2020)

Attorney and activist Jared Trujillo of the Walking While Trans Coalition delivers a statement. (Photo: Vince Marrone, 2020)

TS Candii and fellow #WalkingWhileTrans activists read aloud personal stories of people who have been harmed by §240.37. (Photo: Vince Marrone, 2020)

Honoring Our Movement: International Sex Worker Rights Day

March 3, 2020

Sex workers and allied communities celebrated International Sex Worker Rights Day, a holiday that commemorates the tireless efforts of harm-reduction advocates around the world. The holiday began in India in 2001 when over 25,000 sex workers from around the world gathered there for a festival organized by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya. The Durbar is a Kolkata-based group that translates to “The Unstoppable Women’s Synthesis Committee.”

Every year on March 3, sex workers and activists organize protests, gatherings, art shows, and lectures across the globe to raise awareness about the human rights abuses sex workers face. Events shine a light on the resilience of the sex work community, the strides activists have made, and the battles to come.

This year, DSW collaborated with several organizations to honor the work of NYC-based groups. J. Leigh Brantly, of DSW and the New York State Gender Diversity Coalition, joined the #WalkingWhileTrans Coalition in Albany to advocate for S2253/A654. This bill, endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), would repeal the criminalization of loitering for the purpose of prostitution.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey was a featured guest on the Twitter chat #SexTalkTuesday discussing #sexworkerrights on International Sex Workers Rights Day. The conversation is a weekly inclusive dialogue around sex and sex-positive topics hosted by Sssh for Women (@ssshforwomen).

DSW also attended “Our Right to Thrive,” a pop-up art show and silent auction featuring the artwork of sex workers from around the world. The event benefited the outreach initiatives of Sex Worker’s Outreach Project Brooklyn (SWOP Brooklyn) and Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective’s crisis fund for sex workers. The show was a fantastic way to conclude the commemoration of sex worker rights and to celebrate such a resilient community.

DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly is pictured with a story from the Walking While Trans Coalition at the March 3 press conference. (Photo: DSW, 2020)

L to R: DSW’s Melissa Broudo, Ryan Wall of Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Unit, Jillian Modzeleski of Brooklyn Defender Services, and DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey are pictured at “Our Right to Thrive.” (Photo: DSW, 2020)

DSW Travels To Nairobi To Meet With the African Sex Workers Alliance

February 13, 2020

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey sat down with the African Sex Work Alliance (ASWA) at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. ASWA is a Pan-African alliance of sex worker-led organizations. The group was formed in 2009 and has grown to include members from 33 countries. Bailey and ASWA discussed the overlap between what sex workers around the world are seeking in their collective fight for recognition and safety.

The discussion with ASWA centered around the power of personal storytelling within the sex worker rights movement and beyond. The conversation also explored how various legal models in different African countries impact sex workers and the LGBTQ communities there.

Later that evening, Kaytlin Bailey performed her new one-woman show, “Whore’s Eye View,” to a sold-out audience at the BaoBox in Nairobi. After the show, Rose Wanjiku told the audience about ASWA’s work, handed out literature, and educated people about efforts to decriminalize sex work in Kenya.

Decriminalization campaigns are gaining momentum across the continent, bolstered by ASWA’s support and international collaborations. Proceeds from the performance benefited the organization. To learn more about the work of ASWA, particularly the Sex Worker Academy Africa, their groundbreaking community empowerment program, visit their website here.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey performs “A Whore’s Eye View” for a sold-out audience in Nairobi. Proceeds benefited ASWA.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey (center) poses with Rose Wanjiku (right) and a fellow ASWA activist (left).

WFF Wins Appeal in Federal Court

January 24, 2020

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that plaintiffs in the Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s (WFF’s) lawsuit against the United States have standing to pursue claims. This decision guarantees sex worker rights advocates their day in court. The suit brought by Woodhull, Human Rights Watch, The Internet Archive, and two other plaintiffs is a constitutional challenge to the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which chills speech and harms sex workers. Since President Donald Trump signed FOSTA into law on April 11, 2018, sex workers have been erased from the platforms they previously used to schedule and screen their clients, share resources, and advocate for their safety and health.

A lower court dismissed the lawsuit last year, but the plaintiffs appealed. DSW’s Melissa Broudo and J. Leigh Brantly authored an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit, which was filed by DSW before the oral arguments in October of last year. The brief was instrumental in the appeal being granted, reviving Woodhull’s challenge to FOSTA. The U.S. Court of Appeals has ordered that the constitutional challenge be sent back to U.S. District Court for a ruling on the merits of the case. DSW will continue to support their motion.

U.S. Court of Appeals found that two of the four plaintiffs have adequate standing. Through her website Rate That Rescue, Alex Andrews established an Article III injury-in-fact because she has alleged intention to engage in conduct with constitutional interest. U.S. Court of Appeals found that Eric Koszyk, a licensed massage therapist living in Portland, Oregon, had also established adequate Article III standing. The passage of FOSTA and the shutdown of Craigslist “Therapeutic Services” section directly negatively impacted Koszyk’s ability to find clients and make a living. Significantly, the courts also found that if FOSTA were repealed, Mr. Koszyk’s predicament would be remedied.

“We are thrilled with the victory in this incredibly important case,” said Ricci Levy, President and CEO of Woodhull. “We are committed to fighting this unconstitutional and dangerous law to the end.” The Woodhull team and their allies have worked tirelessly on this critical case.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey authored an op-ed on the implications that this case has for the health and safety of vulnerable communities everywhere. The decision can be accessed here — Monitor WFF’s Lawsuit Against FOSTA page for further updates.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey is pictured with Woodhull’s legal team at the oral arguments last year. (Photo: DSW, 2019)

Activist and organizer Alex Andrews, of Rate That Rescue and SWOP Behind Bars, is one of the plaintiffs that the Appellate Court found to have injury-in-fact standing. Ms. Andrews (far left) is pictured here with (L to R) J. Leigh Brantly, Melissa Broudo, and Kaytlin Bailey of DSW and author and activist Dan Savage of the podcast Savage Love. (Photo: DSW, 2019)

Adult Entertainment Industry Supports DSW in the Fight Against Stigma

January 22-25, 2020

DSW attended the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards Conference in Las Vegas. At this annual expo, meet-and-greet, and awards show, members of the adult entertainment industry exhibit their latest work, newest products, and talk about business initiatives. J. Leigh Brantly, Melissa Broudo, and Kaytlin Bailey presented on DSW’s work at the expo.

DSW’s presence highlighted the critical connection between labor rights for both legal and criminalized sex workers. We were encouraged by the supportive reception DSW received at the expo, as well as the valuable allies garnered by our presence there—folks at the intersection of law enforcement, mobility-impaired clients of sex workers, and other adult performers and activists.

Politicians have long demonized the porn industry, implementing repressive labor policies that pose barriers to fair wages, rights, and safety. Sex workers are standing together to fight for their rights. Elizabeth Nolan Brown from Reason visited DSW’s booth at the expo and interviewed Kaytlin Bailey. “We are all stigmatized as sex workers,” says Bailey. “There are a lot of people here that told me that SESTA-FOSTA was the thing that got them to contact their senator for the first time, or got them to vote or pay attention to politics.” 

The most substantial barrier in the realization of rights for all sex workers, criminalized and otherwise, is stigma. FOSTA/SESTA is only the newest form of legal discrimination against the industry. The law is designed to target “any web content that promotes or facilitates prostitution.” In practice, this heavily censors the work of legal adult entertainers as well as full-service sex workers. Many of the cash apps entertainers use are censored, as well as their social media accounts, making it impossible for workers to advertise safely or accept payment.

A huge thank you to the AVN community for supporting DSW and sex workers everywhere.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown captures Kaytlin Bailey at DSW’s expo booth. (Photo: Reason, 2020)

Melissa Broudo, Kaytlin Bailey, and J. Leigh Brantly (left to right) at DSW’s expo booth. (Photo: DSW, 2020)

DSW’s Melissa Broudo (front left) and J. Leigh Brantly (front right) are pictured at a strategy breakfast with Barb Brents of UNLV (back left) and journalist and adult entertainment actress Siouxsie Q (back right). (Photo: DSW, 2020)

2019 In Review: DSW Concludes Its First Year

January 1, 2020

This month marks Decriminalize Sex Work’s first full calendar year as a national advocacy organization. It is hard to believe how fast it has gone!

Since DSW’s founding in the spring of 2019, our organization has:

1. Helped New Hampshire activists promote a study commission on sex work and human trafficking in the state, and offered expert testimony at numerous hearings;

2. Submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation to support its constitutional challenge of SESTA/FOSTA;

3. Participated in a successful hearing with internationally recognized experts on the subject of sex work and trafficking in Rhode Island;

4. Hosted a Unity Reception at the Cornell Club in New York City, at which speakers included Dame Catherine Healy of New Zealand and Ceyenne Doroshow;

5. Provided expert testimony in a hearing to fully decriminalize sex work in Washington, D.C.;

6. Partnered with local sex worker rights advocates on legislative initiatives and community outreach efforts in NH, RI, WA, HI, CA, VT, and DC;

7. Established a grants program for sex worker rights activists and organizations around the country — five different individuals and organizations, spanning the country from Hawaii to New Hampshire, received grants to further the cause of decriminalizing sex work;

8. Attended and exhibited at the following national and international conferences:

  • South by Southwest 2019;
  • The Seattle Annual Sex Worker Summit;
  • Law and Society Association Conference;
  • National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting;
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers 2019 Defending Sex Crimes Seminar;
  • Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s 2019 Sexual Freedom Summit;
  • 2019 International Human Trafficking and Social Justice conference;
  • American Public Health Association’s annual international conference;
  • American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2019 policy summit;
  • and the National Organization for Women’s New York state conference.

 

DSW is gaining momentum. We have expanded our team from six to nine dedicated members and doubled our budget to accommodate a growing number of exciting initiatives. Through mailing lists, social media, and personal and professional partnerships, our outreach touches thousands of advocates around the world. We participate in coalitions and initiatives supporting sex workers, trafficking survivors, LGBTQ, TGNC, and migrant rights across the country.

This month we met with lobbyists working to pass two incredible decriminalization bills in Vermont, and we are assisting the New York Public Advocate’s office in drafting a Sex Worker Bill of Rights. DSW has expanded its grants program to better serve the incredible work activists are already pursuing nationwide.

It is because of supporters like you that DSW can have the impact that it does. Thank you for believing in this organization and following our journey. If you are able, please consider donating via DSW’s website to help us continue fighting for the rights, health, and safety of sex workers and their communities in the United States.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey testifies before the Council of the D.C. city council in support of legislation to decriminalize adult sex work.

L to R: DSW’s J. Leigh Brantly, Melissa Broudo, Kaytlin Bailey, Crystal DeBoise, and Avery Manuel pose with Dame Catherine Healy on May 2 at the Cornell Club.

DSW's Kaytlin Bailey is pictured with Ricci Levy, WFF's CEO, president, and former executive director named the lead plaintiff in the Woodhull v. USA case, as well as the team from Davis Wright Tremain Law Firm, litigating the suit. (L to R: Larry Walter, Ricci Levy, Robert Corn-Revere, Kaytlin Bailey and Ronald G London; Photo: DSW, 2019)

Kate Mogulescu, Esq., lead attorney for the ABA Survivor Reentry Project; Jillian Modzeleski, Esq., senior trial attorney for Human Trafficking Intervention Court; Dame Catherine Healy; Jill McCracken, PhD; Scott Cunningham, PhD; and Melissa Broudo, Esq. (L to R) work to prepare for their testimony before the RI House Judiciary Committee.

DSW's Melissa Broudo and Frances Steele work the table at the APHA expo.