DSW Joins Community Organizers at a Trans/Sex Workers Rights Mixer

October 4, 2019

The New York State Gender Diversity Coalition convened at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar to exchange ideas about how to support gender diversity, equality, and sex worker rights in New York. This new coalition of sex workers’ rights and LGBTQIA* activists highlights the important overlap between DSW’s mission and the rights and safety of the LGBTQ community.

The event was organized by The New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) and The Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute, co-directed by Melissa Broudo and Crystal DeBoise of DSW. NYTAG and SOAR have a veritable history of fighting for both of these communities in the New York area and beyond. DSW was honored and excited to join them at this event.

Activists march for sex-worker and trans rights in Stockholm, Sweden, in October 2019. (Photo: Twitter/SWARM)

DSW’s Melissa Broudo and Frances Steele join with the organizers and attendees of the Brooklyn event.

This alliance continues to be incredibly important to the policy we are striving towards. On October 2, LGBTQ advocates in Washington, DC, delivered a letter to DC Council members advocating for the full decriminalization of sex work on the grounds that it is “critical to the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ community.” There will be a hearing on October 17 in DC on the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019. If passed, the bill will decriminalize sex work in our nation’s capital. Kaytlin Bailey will testify at the hearing.

Twenty Years Later, Data Show That the Swedish Model Harms Sex Workers

September 29/30, 2019

Twenty years after Sweden passed the Sex Purchase Act of 1999, the country hosted “Sex Work, Human Rights, and Health: Assessing 20 Years of the Swedish Model” in Stockholm. The conference brought together activists, researchers, and policymakers from around the world to discuss the impact of the 1999 law, which criminalized the purchase of sex (arresting clients) while permitting the sale of sex (not arresting sex workers).

According to a report released by the organizers of the conference, Sweden’s law has “contributed to [the] increasing stigmatization and vulnerability of women, and people of all genders, contradicting the proclaimed feminist-humanitarian principles of the lawmakers.”

Fuckforbundet, a sex-worker rights organization founded by and for sex workers, organized the conference and published the report “Twenty Years of Failing Sex Workers: A community report on the impact of the 1999 Swedish Sex Purchase Act.”

The report explains how sex workers’ living and working conditions have deteriorated since 1999 because of the Swedish government’s “widespread systematic attempts to eradicate the sex industry.” Rather than empowering women, the Swedish model increases the stigmatization and vulnerability of workers in a criminalized industry. This criminalization is particularly dangerous for immigrants and women of color.

Before the conference concluded, hundreds of activists marched through Stockholm’s streets to demand that the Swedish government protect sex workers. Protesters explained to reporters from PinkNews UK that criminalizing clients contributes to the stigmatization of those in the sex industry.

Notably, the Swedish government has yet to a systematic evaluation of the law. Despite this lack of research, the policy has spread to other countries, including Norway, Iceland, Finland, Canada, and Northern Ireland.

In 2014, a study commissioned by the Norwegian government concluded that sex workers in Norway today suffer from diminished bargaining power and increased safety concerns, instead relying more on abusive third parties.†

The results from Norway prompted Amnesty International to conduct its 2016 study of sex-worker rights, which recommended the full decriminalization of sex work in order to “respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of sex workers.” These findings have been backed up by scholars of multiple disciplines, whose work can be found on the “resources” page of DSW’s web site.


†Bjørndahl, U. (2012). Dangerous Liaisons. A report on the violence women in prostitution in Oslo are exposed to.

Marchers carry red umbrellas, the international symbol of sex workers’ rights, at the Stockholm demonstration. (Photo: Twitter/SWARM)

The sex workers’ rights movement wants sex work decriminalized globally. (Photo: Twitter/SWARM)

The cover page of the report by Fuckforbundet

DSW Attends International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference

September 5, 2019

DSW attended the International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference in Toledo, Ohio. The conference has been an annual event since 2004, bringing together researchers, survivors, allies, and service practitioners to exchange expertise and ideas and collaborate on future initiatives to fight human trafficking and social injustice worldwide. As anti-trafficking work is central to DSW’s mission, we were excited to attend and inspired by the amazing work that so many of our allies are doing.

This year’s conference hosted attendees from 42 states and 30 countries, laying the groundwork for action in the social service, health care, and criminal justice fields. DSW’s general counsel, Melissa Broudo, represented our harm reduction advocacy efforts on behalf of human trafficking survivors and sex workers across the globe.

At this year’s conference, we were honored to be able to support Jill McCracken, Ph.D., Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at the University of South Florida and the co-founder/co-director of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars as she received the 2019 Influential Scholar Award. Dr. McCracken presented her research on how decriminalization of prostitution helps to fight violence and trafficking in the sex industry. The seminar centered on a community based participatory research project with the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. Following the decriminalization of prostitution in 2003, three months of fieldwork produced interviews with 33 sex workers and 34 service providers, clients, and health professionals.

Dr. McCracken presented data on how decriminalization specifically addresses harms; examples of individual sex workers and communities recognizing, preventing, or resisting violence; how they recover from it; how sex workers are able to control their work to greater or lesser degrees; legislative recommendations based on the perspectives of impacted individuals; and future areas of exploration. The audience walked away with an understanding of the stark and important differences between consensual sex work and trafficking, a greater understanding of different legislative models related to sex work, how said models affect violence, and a picture of decriminalization in New Zealand and its day-to-day impacts.

DSW tabled with SWOP Behind Bars, an ally that provides interdisciplinary community support for incarcerated sex workers in the US, as well as other fellow organizations working to fight sex trafficking through criminal reforms. Anti-trafficking and harm reduction is at the heart of DSW’s work, and we were honored to collaborate with such amazing individuals and organizations promoting the health and safety of sex workers worldwide.

L to R: DSW’s Melissa Broudo poses with Dr. Jill McCracken after the latter was presented with the 2019 Influential Scholar Award for her work on decriminalization of sex work, anti-trafficking and harm reduction. (Photo: DSW, 2019)

L to R: DSW’s Melissa Broudo, Alex Andrews and Jill McCracken, PhD, of SWOP Behind Bars, and Danielle Bastian, LCSW, table at the conference. (Photo: DSW, 2019)

DSW information at the SWOP Behind Bars table at the conference (Photo: DSW, 2019)

L to R: DSW’s Melissa Broudo and Logan Dee of We Are Dancers USA catch up and take a selfie the first day of the conference. (Photo: DSW, 2019)

Historic Prison Reform in NYC

September 5, 2019

DSW joined a crowd gathered outside NYC’s city hall to attend a hearing on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inner-borough jail expansion plan. Although the city council’s Criminal Justice committee had invited DSW’s Melissa Broudo to testify, she decided to let allies closer to the issue speak at the hearing. Nevertheless, we felt honored to participate in this historic moment in NYC’s criminal justice history. The hearing followed the City Planning Commission’s 9-3 vote to approve the mayor’s contested proposal, first laid out in 2017, pushing it into the final stage of the city’s land use review process.

The multi-billion-dollar plan would shutter Rikers Island, a sure victory for human rights and criminal justice reform in New York City, and follows efforts to reduce the city’s incarcerated population from 7,400 to 4,000 by 2026 using criminal justice reforms. De Blasio believes his plan will bring New York “one step closer to closing Rikers Island and creating a smaller, safer, fairer jail system … bringing people back to their communities and families,” helping to combat recidivism and mass incarceration. However, designs to construct new 1,150-bed jails in four of the city’s five boroughs have raised concerns from community members, social justice activists and borough presidents over the location of the new prisons, continued police abuse and an overall lack of engagement with communities in drafting the plan.

Close Rikers Now is a NYC grassroots campaign that has fought long and hard against a broken prison system in New York City and its history of violence and abuse against largely minority inmates. The organization supports the mayor’s plan, with caveats, while others, like No New Jails NYC, oppose it on the grounds that the new plan will replace one broken system with another. Brittany Williams, a community organizer for the organization, is quoted in The New York Times asserting that “the city has failed for decades to hold themselves accountable for how people are being treated once they are incarcerated.” There is also concern over the lack of legally binding mechanisms to ensure follow-through on the shuttering of Rikers, and the historic 75% decrease in the New York’s incarcerated population, after Mayor De Blasio leaves office. 

At the protests outside of city hall, DSW Project Manager Frances Steele stood with the No New Jails Coalition as they chanted “If they build them, they will fill them.” Sex workers’ rights are incredibly relevant to the issues raised by the current jail system debate in New York. DSW is encouraged by the decarceration efforts and community activism taking place across the city. We support the commitment to give New York City residents in all five boroughs the justice, health and safety they deserve and end mass incarceration.

Demonstrators from No New Jails NYC stand outside City Hall on Sept. 5 to protest Mayor DeBlasio’s borough-based jail system plan. (Photo: Frances Steele/DSW, 2019)

Charges were brought that capacities at the hearings were kept purposefully low to keep out protestors against the construction of the new prison system. (Photo: Elizabeth Kim/Instagram, 2019)

DSW Participates in Woodhull’s 2019 Sexual Freedom Summit

August 18, 2019

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey attended the 10th annual Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit hosted in Washington, DC. She connected to sex worker rights activists and sexual freedom advocates from all over the country. Attending panels, presentations, and performances, Kaytlin was able to get a broad perspective on the issues plaguing sex workers and their allies in different states.

Kaytlin was especially moved by DC’s Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS) and the transgendered women willing to speak to the systemic issues that bar them from fully participating in some advocacy organizations. She connected with criminalized sex workers in Nevada, got to hang out with living legend Carol Leigh, participated in an incredibly informative discussion about using a human rights framework to advocate for sex workers’ health and safety led by Dr. Jill McCracken, and had many conversations about strategy and pushing for a better future for all of us.

Sex workers are not a homogenous group. We come in all colors and creeds, we come to this work for different reasons, and we have wildly different experiences—but allies from across the political spectrum can work together toward a future where our lawmakers listen to sex workers and stop the arrests.

Kaytlin Bailey smokes a cigar with Ceyenne Doroshow, strikes a pose with Carol Leigh, and hangs out with Amber DiPietra & Ceyenne (clockwise from L, August 15-18, 2019).

DSW Makes Its Case at National Conference of State Legislatures

August 6-8, 2019

Melissa Broudo, DSW’s general council and RI coordinator, and Kaytlin Bailey, DSW’s communications director, met with state legislators from all over the country at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting, which was hosted this year in Nashville, TN.

DSW handed out fliers, t-shirts and buttons, and we started conversations with lawmakers pressing the point that the best way to end violence and exploitation within the sex trade is to stop arresting consenting adults engaged in sex work. To demonstrate the difference between trafficking and sex work, we compared the high-profile cases of Jeffrey Epstein—a serial predator who preyed on children and should have been stopped years ago—and Robert Kraft, a single 70-year-old man who payed a 40-year-old legally licensed masseuse to rub a different part of his body.

DSW was very well received. We ran out of t-shirts within the first hour and ran out of buttons on the first day. Legislators from across the political spectrum and country were ready to talk about decriminalization. Many lawmakers seemed to understand that this is not a problem we can arrest our way out of. Several legislators pledged to begin forming coalitions and pressing their colleagues using the information we presented.

Kaytlin Bailey & Melissa Broudo mind DSW’s booth at the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in Nashville (August 7, 2019).

Nevertheless She Existed: Kaytlin Bailey Presents a Sex Worker From History

July 31, 2019

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey participated in Nevertheless She Existed, a live show and podcast produced at Caveat Theater. She told the story of Phryne, a famous courtesan in the classical Greek period who defended herself against blasphemy charges by disrobing in front of the all-male jury and declaring her perfect body a gift from the gods. She won her case.

This show specifically highlighted the contribution sex workers have been making to their communities for literally all of human history. Junior Mintt reminded us what an undeniable powerhouse Josephine Baker was in her lifetime. Solange Azor talked about one of the founding mothers of the sex worker rights movement, Margo St. James, who created COYOTE, and Anna Bianco talked about the incredible achievements of Theodora, who became empress of Rome in 527 after spending some time in a brothel in the Roman Empire.

Kylie Holloway, Kaytlin Bailey, Junior Mintt, Anna Bianco, Solange Azor & Molly Gaebe at Caveat Theater perform for Nevertheless She Existed (from L to R, July 31, 2019).

Queer Liberation March: Pride Without Barriers in NYC

June 30, 2019

DSW attended the Queer Liberation March and political rally that followed on June 30, organized by the Reclaim Pride Coalition to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The march took place on the same day as the NYC Pride Parade, which also hosted World Pride this year, but without corporate sponsors or police officers present. The Reclaim Pride Coalition, represented in a WBUR interview by their attorney and former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Normal Siegel, wants to ensure that Stonewall50 lives up to the original spirit and intent of the first marchers in the June 1969 uprising: "the freedom to be who you are and to take pride in that." The message of the Queer Liberation March is to stand "in solidarity with other oppressed groups, to demand social and economic justice worldwide."

Reclaim Pride Coalition Art Build

The Wednesday before Pride, the coalition hosted an art build in which all kinds of activists got their heads and hearts together to make art, signs, posters and banners for the Queer Liberation March and Rally. The build united criminalized bodies against corporate control, erasure, and violence and provided an understanding of the breadth of the movement and the identities for whom it holds significance. DSW Communications Director Kaytlin Bailey attended and collaborated on two signs representing our message: “Listen to sex workers” and “Prostitution isn’t the problem, it’s the patriarchy.”

The Rally: Rights and Safety for All

Well before the march started, crowds had gathered at Sheridan Square, holding signs and sporting black, pink and gold attire. The energy and love in the streets was breathtaking. The march took place along the historic root, up Sixth Avenue and into Central Park, where a First Amendment political rally took place from 1-4pm, addressing the biases, homophobia and stereotyping of the LGBTQIA community that persist today. As the crowd walked up town, a moment of silence was held at 11am to commemorate those in the LGBTQIA* community lost to violence, stigma, racism, HIV/AIDS, and lack of access to safety or health care, particularly trans women of color.

The coalition wants to highlight that, though progress has been made, the queer and trans communities, especially individuals of color, are still stereotyped, harassed and criminalized on a day-to-day basis. The march was open to the public, without sidewalk barriers or police presence. It concluded on the great lawn of Central Park. The rally hosted speakers, performers and a display of the artwork that community members and allies had made for the event. Speakers included Larry Kramer and Jason Walker from ACT UP, Black Trans Media Representatives Sasha Alexander and Olympia Sudan, and many more. DSW feels so privileged to have been able to participate and see the wonderful community this march created.

Queer Liberation March route (reclaimpridenyc.org)

Marchers on Sixth Avenue in NYC. (photo: Leandro Justin)

DSW's Communications Director Kaytlin Bailey stands with all criminalized bodies—immigrants, trans people, black & brown people, the LGBTQ community & sex workers—at the Queer Liberation March on the Great Lawn at Central Park (June 30, 2019).

“Gay Panic” Defense Can No Longer Be Used to Excuse Murder, a Win for Trans Sex Workers

Just before the June 30, 2019, kickoff of the World Pride March in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed A2707, a new law that bans the "gay and transgender panic" defense from being used in murder cases prosecuted in New York State. The panic defense has historically been utilized to lessen charges in the case that the defendant alleges his or her violent actions with in response to the unwanted advances of someone of the same sexual orientation. The defense has also been used in the murder trials of transgender victims. New York is the sixth state to ban the use of such a defense, the first being California in 2014.

In 1944, 19-year-old Lucien Carr used it to excuse the murder of 33-year-old David Kammerer, whom he stabbed in Riverside Park and dumped into the Hudson River. Carr alleged that Kammerer had been following him around the country making continual, unwanted sexual advances. His killing was depicted in the media as an honorable response to such a threat. Though convicted of murder, Carr pled guilty to a lessened charge of manslaughter and served only two years. The defense has been used dozens of times since then, as an outgrowth of the traditional legal doctrine of "provocation," or that the victim is partially responsible for a crime by eliciting it through some offensive action (Suk Gersen, 2019).

The memory of institutionalized violence against the LGBTQIA community lingered as the world commemorated the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots on June 30. In 2018, a federal bill to ban the "gay and trans panic" defense nationwide died in a U.S. House committee. The New York bill is a step towards protecting the health, safety, and very humanity of every individual in the United States, but we still have a long way to go.

The #DecriminalizeSexWork movement has played a vital role in speaking out about the criminalization of trans and queer bodies, especially for women of color and those involved in the sex trade. Grassroots activism has been vital to the passage of this bill. We are fighting against the unjustifiable deaths of those who are most vulnerable, such as Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old transgender woman who died in her jail cell on June 7 at Rikers, where she was being held, unable to make a $500 bail resulting from a prostitution arrest in August 2017. Polanco is the tenth transgender woman of color to be found dead in the U.S. in 2019. Decriminalization is necessary to combat state-sponsored violence, such as that condoned by the "gay panic" defense. Our path forward is to focus on public health and harm reduction and to stop the murders of innocent people.

After signing A2707 to ban “gay/trans panic” legal defense in NY, Gov. Cuomo marched in the New York City Pride parade. (photo: Brittany Newman/NYT, 2019)

New York Legislator To Introduce “Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act” – June 10, 2019

Protesters advocate for the full decriminalization of sex work in New York State. (Photo: Rolling Stone)
On June 10, Assemblywoman Julia Salazar, in tandem with local coalition DecrimNY, announced that she would be introducing a series of bills in the NY legislature that would fully decriminalize sex work in New York State. While it usually takes years to enact legislation into law, the mere introduction of the NY legislation fits with the trend of good legislation that has been introduced in states like NH, RI, and HI this year — something we haven't seen in decades of organizing.