Sex Worker Rights Summit Produces National Anti-Criminalization Principles

Jul 3, 2018 | Sex Worker Advocacy

Following unprecedented involvement during the International Whores’ Day actions on June 1st and 2nd in cities across the nation, a summit of sex workers, survivors, and advocates from across the country convened in Los Angeles on June 22nd and 23rd to discuss the next steps for the sex worker rights movement in the United States. They emerged at the end of the weekend having produced a concise four-point document titled the National Sex Worker Anti-Criminalization Principles.

Using the 1983 Denver Principles as a template, which unequivocally declared and demanded the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, this document serves as a manifesto for how the sex working community will take back the narrative of exploitation and criminalization and reframe their struggle as a battle for basic human rights.

“This document positions sex workers in a way that takes back our narratives, insisting that our voices are prioritized when it comes to policies that affect our lives,” said Cris Sardina, Director of the Desiree Alliance: a sex worker rights convention that chose to cancel its 2019 programming in light of new laws that further criminalize the industry.

While the war on the sex industry has been raging for centuries in the United States, the catalyst for this latest wave of lobbying, litigation, media advocacy, and direct action is a new anti-sex trafficking bill commonly known as SESTA/FOSTA, signed into law in late March. Sex workers and their allies, along with trafficking survivors and advocates and have since been organizing and mobilizing to speak out about the law’s unintended but ultimately harmful consequences.

These communities who are often pitted against one another in both politics and media, have come together to respond to the disappearance of dozens of online resources that sex workers had once used to put valuable space, time, and scrutiny between themselves and their clients. Now unable to use the internet freely to advertise and screen, sex workers must rely more heavily on potentially exploitative third parties or turn to riskier options, including street-based sex work, where they are far more likely to experience violence from both predators and police.

“We hope that this serves as a starting point for lawmakers, journalists, advocates, and academics to better understand our community’s needs,” said Kristin DiAngelo, a sex trafficking survivor, sex worker, and the Executive Director of the Sacramento chapter of the Sex Worker Outreach Project.

These anti-criminalization principles echo the recommendations of prominent human rights and public health organizations such as Amnesty International and the World Health Organization, which called for an end to the criminalization of sex work worldwide as early as 2012. While clearly stating a rejection of punitive intervention, this document also seeks to align itself with communities that face similar labor issues, social stigma, and criminalization, acknowledging that sex work-related arrests often serve as a strategy to further police persons of transgender experience, immigrants, and communities of color. Bodily autonomy, self-determination, and agency are common themes within the principles document, along with a demand for respect and an end to discrimination based on gender, sexuality, citizenship, or work status.

Ceyenne Dorsohow, founder of the Gays and Lesbians Living In a Transgender Society (G.L.I.T.S.) added, “This was an intense drawing of emotions into a document that sets the precedent of what are now asking for and expecting of other leaders, society, and government.”

The document also recommends placing sex workers in leadership roles at every level of decision-making on policies related to sex work and insists on the right for sex workers to speak on and access all public channels of communication–a clear response to the chilling of speech that sex workers have felt on social media platforms where a wave of sex work-related hashtags and accounts have been “shadow banned,” deleted, or frozen following the implementation of SESTA, prompting several individuals and organizations to file federal complaints.

“Sex workers must no longer be treated as though we are not an integral part of society,” said Siouxsie Q James, Secretary of The Adult Performer Advocacy Committee. “We stand and fight in community with adjacent anti-criminalization movements that seek to rebuild our country and dismantle the ways in which we have policed and persecuted marginalized communities since our nation’s founding.”


June 23, 2018

We offer up these principles to our movement as a working template for a national platform:

  • General statement – We advocate for people impacted by labor issues, social stigma, and criminalization, and we condemn any attempts at restricting our autonomy and self-determination.
  • Recommendations for all people –
  • Support us in our struggle for justice and human rights and against those who would deny us access to the same services or rights because of our work.
  • Respect us as the experts in our lives without assuming we are flawed in some way.
  • We do not want punitive intervention.
  • Recommendations for sex workers –
  • We insist on sex worker leadership at every level of decision-making on policies around sex work.
  • We reserve to ourselves the right to maintain our own health.
  • We demand the right to speak, access all public channels of communication, choose those who speak for us, and be recognized by the media, public officials, and others as the authorities on our own experience.

Rights of sex workers

  • To make our own sexual and relationship choices without others invalidating our consent.
  • To access social, medical, and justice services without discrimination in any form, including but not limited to gender, sexuality, race, citizenship status, or the way we choose to work.
  • To have our choices and bodily autonomy respected, including the right to decline services.
  • To be free to work in a manner of our own choosing without onerous regulation that is disrespectful of our agency and autonomy.