In Defense of Prostitute Women’s Safety Project

For women who work the streets, massage parlors, clubs, in a house, as dancers, escorts, mistresses, models, on parole…it’s ok to use your working name or any other name – we respect your privacy.

We are a self-help community resource that began in 1998 to:

  • Provide public awareness and education on violence against sex workers.
  • Support sex workers who have been raped and/or sexually assaulted or suffered other violence, including by providing legal advice and help with reporting to the police, getting protection, compensation and justice.
  •  Increase all women’s safety – when prostitute women aren’t safe, no woman is safe.

If sex workers are defined as criminals, how can we get protection from rape?

Prostitute women face daily attacks including rape. But, police often don’t take reports from sex workers seriously. They tell women that violence is “part of the job”, and don’t bother to investigate the charges. Women working the streets face the most violence. Black women, immigrant women, and women of color generally are often the most vulnerable, and then face the racism of the police and courts. Attackers feel they can go after sex workers and get away with it. Serial murderers, often start with prostitute women and go on to attack other women.

 Sex workers who are victims of rape and other violent crime, are denied compensation by the Victim Compensation Board. No conviction for prostitution is needed as evidence — a suspicion that someone is involved in the “Qualifying Crime of Prostitution” is enough.  When sex workers are raped, “do we not bleed?”  Compensation, protection, and justice are every victim’s right. People on felony probation or parole suffer similar discrimination.

Who are sex workers? We are women (mostly), men (especially young men), and trans people trying to make a living.  About 70% of prostitute women are mothers, mostly single mothers.  Growing unemployment, homelessness and punitive polices which have cut people off welfare, have left many of us with few alternatives to prostitution and other underground ways of surviving.  Desperation and destitution makes us more vulnerable to any kind of abuse.

Welfare, a living wage for caregivers, affordable housing, support for former prisoners, are needed for those who want to leave prostitution, and for all women.

Victims of trafficking can find it particularly hard to get support and protection.  Anti-trafficking laws, set up in the name of protecting women, can result in immigrant women feeling vulnerable to arrest and deportation. We help women press for protection and survival resources.

In New Zealand, prostitution has been decriminalized – the only country to do so. It is no longer illegal to be a sex worker. More women have been able to move off the street and work with others indoors. Criminal records have been expunged making it easier for women to leave prostitution and get other jobs. Crucially, women who report rape and other violence know they can now insist on being treated like any other victim of crime, and not ignored or dismissed because they are sex workers.

In Defense of Prostitute Women’s Safety is part of the “Safety First: Protecting Sex Workers from Violence” public education campaign, first launched in December 2007.  The campaign brings together people from all walks of life from the church, students, immigrant organizations, women of color groups, lawyers and legal groups, sex workers and others, to keep a focus on violence against sex workers on the City’s agenda. We work together to insist that protection from violence is prioritized over prosecution for prostitution and for implementation of the groundbreaking recommendations of the Board of Supervisors’ Task Force on Prostitution.

Some of our successes include:

Helping put serial attacker Jack Bokin behind bars. Our two-year court monitoring initiative, helped ensure that Bokin was convicted. He was sentenced to 231 years in prison for attempted murder, torture and rape of sex workers.

A ground-breaking City Hall hearing on violence against sex workers which led to the “Mitigating Violence Against Prostitutes” resolution calling for the city to actively enforce laws against rape and other violence against sex workers and support provision of resources and services over prostitution arrests.  The supervisors passed it, the Mayor didn’t sign.

Public opinion has changed with most people agreeing that the safety of sex workers must be the priority.  The ‘slut walk’ protests, initiated by young women, which have been inclusive of sex workers, are a sign of this change.  But more work is needed to bring to light the daily discrimination and inequalities which sex workers face.

Justice is a vital healer.

We will respect your privacy as a sex worker in getting your rights.

IDPWS holds legal and health workshops, public meetings and other events. Through these activities, we aim to address the high level of rape and other violence against sex workers, build public support for city and state policies which prioritize protection over the criminalization of sex workers and ensure that violent attackers are brought to justice.

IDPWS is a collaboration between the US PROStitutes Collective, Legal Action for Women and Women in Dialogue.

What can supporters do?

►Invite us to speak at your student group, community organization, labor union, church  . . .

►Volunteer to help with outreach, with our website, with research

►Publicize our project by taking this brochure to your local health center, community group, drop-in center…

►Join the Safety First: Protecting Sex Workers from Violence campaign which brings together people from all walks of life

► Make an urgently needed donation via Women in Dialogue for In Defense of Prostitute Women’s Safety here on this website.  Specify it is for IDPWS.

For more information: tel: 415-626-4114, email:, mail: PO Box 14512, San Francisco, CA 94114.

IDPWS is partially funded by the Department on the Status of Women

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