Author Archive

UN Women: Sex Workers Will Not Be Silenced

UN Women has sent out an email survey to develop an organizational policy position on sex work. Sex worker lead organizations and allies have critiqued this process. Ruth Morgan Thomas of the Network of Sex Work Projects has said that this process is “not an accountable, transparent way to connect with sex workers” because it uses complex bureaucratic UN language and because the process is occurring on an extremely short time frame (UN Women’s consultation ends October 16, 2016 extended to Oct 31, 2016).

BPPP received an email from UN Women about the consultation as a follow up to a meeting we had with the agency earlier this year. We agree with our colleagues that the process is extremely difficult to access. Further, confusion within UN Women regarding their own ability to hear the voices of sex workers calls the consultation process into question. Purna Sen, the Director of UN Women’s Policy Division who is leading the consultation process and the development of the policy, has written that prostitution is a form of violence against women and was a keynote speaker in 2007 with Catherine MacKinnon and Sheila Jeffreys.

What can sex worker lead organizations and their allies do? Here are some suggestions.

  1. sign this Call for UN Women to Meaningfully Consult Sex Workers as they Develop Policy on Sex Work and/or publicize the petition on social media and in your networks.
  2. develop and share our own organizational stances on UN Women’s policy process and what we want. We can send our own letters of concern to the Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (the Executive Director of UN Women), comment in the media, post about the policy process, and make our own demands clearly about how to have a better process, up to and including saying that UN Women should not proceed with a policy process at all at this time.
  3. engage with UN Women email consultation process critically and on our own terms, and support sex worker lead organizations to engage in the process should they wish. UN Women must acknowledge our responses. The NSWP has sent in a response which is a useful example of how we may engage with this process.

How to send a response to UN Women’s consultation: UN Women is asking for “people and groups” to send responses to the following three questions to by 16 October 2016 with the subject title “Written submission.” According to the UN Women, “these questions relate to the current framing of the UN’s work, around Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.” However, people do not have to respond to the questions as UN Women has framed them, and can simply write in their own terms about the ways in which sex workers’ human rights should be actualized. According to UN Women emails should include “your name” and “organization and title, if relevant.” Please note that UN Women will post all responses online, but, “if you do not want your submission to be posted for reasons of confidentiality or for any other reason, please note this on your response.”

1) The 2030 Agenda commits to universality, human rights and leaving nobody behind. How do you interpret these principles in relation to sex work/trade or prostitution?

2) The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out to achieve gender equality and to empower all women and girls. The SDGs also include several targets pertinent to women’s empowerment, such as: a) reproductive rights; b) women’s ownership of land and assets; c) building peaceful and inclusive societies; d) ending the trafficking of women; e) eliminating violence against women. How do you suggest that policies on sex work/trade/prostitution can promote such targets and objectives?

3) The sex trade is gendered. How best can we protect women in the trade from harm, violence, stigma and discrimination?

UN Women is asking that responses to the above questions be kept to a maximum of 1,500 words in total.

US Sex Worker representation at AWID

The 2016 forum for the Association of Women in Development will be held in Costa do Sauípe, Bahia, Brazil, September 8 to 11. The forum’s theme is Feminist Futures: Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice.

The Best Practices Policy Project is supporting two sessions. The first will extend our human rights work on the Universal Screenshot 2016-08-31 03.05.21Periodic Review (UPR) beyond our borders to inspire similar campaigns by sex workers and allies in Brazil.  The session “Working the Universal Periodic Review: Advocating at the United Nations for sex worker and trans rights” will describe how community groups can engage with the Universal Periodic Review and how this process allows the issues central to the rights of sex workers and transgender people to attention globally and to bring change in country. This is a vital training giving the forthcoming UPR of Brazil in 2017 (shadow reports are due in February 2017 to the Human Rights Council). This session will take place at Ala Mar – Vera Cruz 1-2  on September 9th, at 4.30 pm. Speakers include Penelope Saunders, Monica Jones, Laura Murray and Brazilian colleagues.

We are also proud to support “Not Your Rescue Project: film and performance from the sex worker rights revolution-our reality, visions and collective power.” The purpose of this session is to use community materials, film, performance and presentations celebrating the activism of sex workers to engage in lively discussion with a diverse audience. The session will be introduced by PJ Starr with a special guest appearance by The Incredible, Edible Akynos and Brazilian colleagues. Session will take place at Ala Terra – Sao Tome 1-2  on September 10 at 2.30 pm.

In addition to these sessions Monica Jones has been invited to participate in the Black Feminist pre-conference, Penelope Saunders will visit Rio to work on a collaborative project with Brazil’s Prostitution Policy Watch and Brazilian sex worker groups, and Akynos will present a burlesque workshop in Rio on September 3rd.


Tiommi Luckett, steps forward for Sharmus Outlaw

The Best Practices Policy Policy is glad to welcome Tiommi Luckett as a consultant on HIV Policy and Advocacy, with the specific goal of continuing the vision of Sharmus Outlaw on HIV policy and bringing her own passion and direction to our work.

Tiommi Luckett is a nationally recognized advocate for the rights of people living with HIV and for trans* rights, focusing on the issues particular to transgender women of color. She was also a close friend and colleague of Sharmus Outlaw, a leading policy advocate at the Best Practices Policy Project who passed away in July 2016.

Tiommi contributed to the report Nothing About Us Without Us last year, she was interviewed by Sharmus Outlaw and brainstormed many key ideas that emerged in the report that focused on the intersections of sex work, HIV policy, and transgender rights. In the report Tiommi advocates for the intertwinned rights of sex workers and trans* people noting that Federal policy makers need to acknowledge both groups in the National HIV Strategy. “They need an indicator for sex workers and transgender women,” she says “Now they mention sex workers just one time in the whole 22 page document. What I am doing is working with a network of people living with HIV… to speak about the issue and how they can correct it.” Today Tiommi has released a blog posting on the ongoing erasure of the issues faced by trans* people in HIV policy. “People often ask me what can they do to help,” she writes, “and my response is always the same: First, there is an entire community of people who are too frequently not at the table, so in our absence, be our voice and advocate. Even better, no one can educate you on my lived experience but me. Help get us a seat at the table – and when we’re there, don’t stifle our voices even when what we say is difficult to hear.”

Tiommi will be attending the Speak Up Conference in September 2016, and among one of the many things she will do at the convening is to honor two trans* leaders who passed away within 9 days of each other (Channing-Celeste and Sharmus). She will be distributing copies of the Nothing About Us Without Us report to the trans* pre-conference convening. She will also be traveling to the US Conference on AIDS.

DOJ Report on Baltimore Police Shows Harms of Criminalization of Commercial Sex


Jacqueline Robarge, Power Inside | jrobarge at (410) 889-8333
Darby Hickey, Best Practices Policy Project | darbyhickey at (202) 250-4869
Katherine M Koster, SWOP-USA | katherine at (877) 776-2004

DOJ Report on Baltimore Police Shows Harms of Criminalization of Commercial Sex

Statement from Power Inside, Best Practices Policy Project, and Sex Worker Outreach Project-National (SWOP-USA)

The August 10th U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigative findings on the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) reveals police abuse and misconduct that sex workers have documented for years. According to the DOJ findings, BPD officers “fail to meaningfully investigate reports of sexual assault, particularly for assaults involving women with additional vulnerabilities, such as those who are involved in the sex trade.” In addition to ignoring sexual assault reports, the DOJ reports, officers themselves targeted, raped, and sexually assaulted sex workers, noting that such conduct “is not only criminal, it is an abuse of power.”

The DOJ details the BPD’s sweeping racial bias and unconstitutional practices that include racial profiling, degrading strip searches, excessive force, abusive language, and erroneous arrests. According to the report, African American sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are particularly impacted by biased policing and are repeatedly targeted for stops without cause. The DOJ noted that, “BPD’s application of city ordinances banning loitering, trespassing, and failing to obey an officer’s order violates the Fourteenth Amendment.” Once stopped, sex workers of color or those perceived as sex workers are treated with a magnified level of disrespect and abuse.

Unfortunately, this mistreatment is not unique to Baltimore. In 2014 at the United Nations review of the U.S. human rights record, sex worker groups presented documentation of widespread human rights abuses in the U.S. against sex workers and those profiled as engaging in commercial sex, including documentation from Baltimore. The documentation presented in 2014 was a follow-up to a 2010 U.S. human rights record review in 2010, when the U.S. Government agreed to address discrimination against sex workers

Despite this longstanding documentation of police abuse of individuals engaged in the sex trade, particularly African American cisgender and transgender women, the U.S. government has taken no steps to address these pervasive human rights violations. Just as the DOJ documented in Baltimore, throughout the country police officers assault and rape sex workers, ignore sexual assault claims brought by people involved in sex work and deliberately fail to investigate these abuses. Police officers also profile people, particularly transgender and cisgender women, as sex workers, stopping and arresting them on scant evidence. This profiling comes as part of the broader racial and gender profiling of African Americans and other people of color documented extensively by DOJ across the country.

These human rights violations are a direct result of criminalization of marginalized communities in general and the criminalization of sex work more specifically. To address them, states and municipalities should work against criminalization in general and towards the decriminalization of drug use and sex work. The federal government should issue guidance on racial and gender profiling, make state and local funding contingent on an end to such practices, and promote policies and practices which stop human rights abuses against people of color, transgender people, sex workers and those profiled as involved in commercial sex.

The crafting of the Baltimore’s DOJ consent decree, and those in other DOJ investigations, must meaningfully include sex workers, LGBT people, and marginalized survivors of violence that have been most impacted by neglectful and unconstitutional practices. Real reform must include robust reforms that are specific to marginalized communities.

Read the U.S. Department of Justice report:

Listen to women in Baltimore describe interactions with the police:­of­violence

Read reports submitted to the United Nations regarding human rights abuses of sex
workers by police:
2010 report to the Universal Periodic Review

2014 report to the Universal Periodic Review

For more recent documentation of police misconduct against sex workers, see: