Advocating for Health and Rights

Over the years, American sex worker organizations have expanded their scope to include policy advocacy, service provision, and nonprofit work in addition to grassroots organizing. This expansion is due in part to the mobilization of public opinion that has provided advocacy groups with more resources and allies to do their work; it can also be credited to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, in which prostitutes were demonized alongside gay men as sources of the virus. Once again, as with Stonewall, sex workers were “marginalized by white male movement leaders” during the AIDS crisis and ensuing activism. [7] Despite this marginalization, grants from government anti-AIDS funding allowed sex workers to formally organize, creating groups like the International Network of Sex Work Projects to focus on the specific public health crisis faced by sex workers. The ensuing organizations, and many of the existing ones like COYOTE and SWOP (Sex Worker Outreach Project), made sexual education, safer sex supply distribution, and advocacy for harm reduction models of public health policy central campaigns of their organizations that continue to this day.

Clinics like the St. James Infirmary Clinic in San Francisco, created by COYOTE founder Margo St. James, formed to provide affordable and judgement-free care to other sex workers in an era where their health was heavily at risk. The peer-based, harm reduction approach to health and counseling for sex workers has since been recreated in other cities. HIPS, which stands for "Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive," was originally opened in 1991 in Washington, DC as an offshoot of the Center for Disease Control and was intended to provide outreach and hotline counseling to streetwalkers. The prostitutes who were collaborating with HIPS quickly became the spearheaders of the project, and HIPS turned into a nonprofit a few years later. Today, HIPS provides services far beyond counseling: the organization now hosts a needle exchange, HIV testing and counseling, a free clothing exchange, bathrooms and showers for any who might need them, public education programs, and are currently working to branch into policy research and advocacy. [8]

The ability of sex worker organizations to transition into nonprofits affords them legitimacy in a political climate that still does not see their work as entirely valid. COYOTE, HIPS, SWOP, and other organizations have managed to successfully form coalitions between community members, government agencies, and other advocacy groups to expand their services and continue pushing sex workers' right to health and agency into the public dialogue.




[7] Chateauvert, M. (2013). Sex workers unite: A history of the movement from Stonewall to Slutwalk. Boston: Beacon Press.

[8] History. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2016, from