Sex Work Awareness

The main objective of Sex Work Awareness (SWA) is to do capacity building for sex workers and sex worker-run organizations. We have two different trainings for sex workers who are interested in getting their voices and the perspectives of their communities into public debate: Speak Up! Media Training and Sex Work Issues and the New York State Legislative Process.

Speak Up! Media Training
“Speak Up! Media Skills for the Empowered Sex Worker” is a weekend-long seminar offered by Sex Work Awareness (SWA) in New York City. Speak Up, Sex Work Awareness’ flagship project, is taught by Audacia Ray and Eliyanna Kaiser, two former executive editors of $pread magazine who have worked with mainstream and independent media as part of the sex worker rights movement for many years.

The impetus for developing Speak Up is based on a real need expressed by members of our community for more resources and skills training on how to (a) respond to media requests effectively and safely, (b) engage with the mainstream media in order to get a particular message out, and (c) create our own media products. Sex workers, like many other marginalized communities, find the mainstream media a crucial site of resistance due to the harmful misrepresentations and stereotypes that it promulgates. This is especially true when the job the sex worker does is illegal and becomes further compounded by factors such as race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, relative poverty, drug use, family status, immigration status, and age. All too often, sex workers simply choose not to engage with the media due to potential social and legal repercussions or sex workers get in over their heads and are unwittingly exploited by the media without getting anything out of it.

Our seminar teaches sex workers how to evaluate media requests and to formulate strategic responses to the media in a variety of formats. Sex worker participants learn to write press releases, op-ed pieces, and letters to the editor, build a press list, pitch a story to a reporter, and pitch their own freelance journalism to an editor. Attendees also get a crash course on how to start their own podcast, blog, or video podcast. Additionally, seminars will contain practical hands-on activities and role plays (like video taping a simulated interview with a television reporter). We will also have participants look to already existing nationally-focused sex worker media and talk about how sex workers can contribute to these and other national efforts.

We have had two trainings so far, on April 18, 2009 and April 9-11, 2010. We look forward to growing and improving the program in 2011.

Sex Work Issues and the New York State Legislative Process
Ask most people about government and they tend to talk about their federal representatives, the White House, or maybe the Mayor. But the state government may have the most significant impacts on our daily lives, particularly in the realm of criminal justice. In this two hour seminar, sex workers, former sex workers, and allies will learn from a veteran staffer of the state legislature how the legislative process works, how to talk to elected officials about sex work issues, and what opportunities exist to engage with elected officials and affect change in Albany.

Mission Statement
We believe that all sex workers have a right to self-determination; to choose how we make a living and what we do with our bodies.

We aim to empower our diverse community by building the capacity of sex worker-serving and sex worker member-based institutions as well as the skills and resources of sex workers themselves.

We also conduct research about sex workers and the sex industry in order to better understand it, develop public education initiatives, and advocate for the rights of sex workers.

History
Eliyanna Kaiser, Audacia Ray, Susan Rohwer, and Kevicha Echols are the founders of Sex Work Awareness. The four women were originally editors and staff at $pread, a magazine by and for sex workers that was founded in 2004 and has been publishing on a quarterly basis since March 2005. Susan Rohwer is no longer with SWA and is in journalism school. Melissa Ditmore became our first board member in 2008.

Mission Statement
We believe that all sex workers have a right to self-determination; to choose how we make a living and what we do with our bodies.

We aim to empower our diverse community by building the capacity of sex worker-serving and sex worker member-based institutions as well as the skills and resources of sex workers themselves.

We also conduct research about sex workers and the sex industry in order to better understand it, develop public education initiatives, and advocate for the rights of sex workers.