i. Identity and values
We are a sex worker-led organisation.
When we say that we are are sex worker-led, we are defining ‘sex workers’ as: people who sell or exchange their own sexual labour or performance (or who have done so in the past). We do not consider managers or bosses to be sex workers, and thus our organising collective is not open to people who make a profit from another person’s sex work.
When we say we are sex worker led, we mean that we are a collective comprised primarily of current and former sex workers, although we are also inclusive of allies. (We define allies as: people who share our goals and values, and who have never made a profit off another person’s sex work.) Allies can contribute to, but should never predominate in, SWOU’s decision-making process. For details on that, see the governance section.
We subscribe to the core values of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, namely:
● Acceptance of sex work as work
● Opposition to all forms of criminalisation and other legal oppression of sex work (including sex workers, clients, third parties, families, partners and friends)
● Supporting self-organisation and self-determination of sex workers
We operate as a workers’ collective, and most decisions are therefore made collectively through discussion and consensus.
Where it is not feasible to make decisions collectively, generally because a decision needs to be made quickly, we have organised a Steering Committee. This functions as a smaller decision-making group within SWOU, empowered to make decisions on behalf of the organisation.
The Steering Committee can be between 80 and 100% current or former sex workers: allies are permitted to comprise up to 20% of the Steering Committee members. The Steering Committee meets at minimum every two months. Membership of the Steering Committee is determined through a process of either self-nomination or invitation. Involvement in SWOU’s organising collective is a necessary pre-requisite for participation on the Steering Committee.
Confide, an organisation that provides sex worker-led service provision, is a sub-project of SWOU, and while it has separate (but similar) governance, we wish to maintain meaningful SWOU links with Confide by always having a Steering Committee member on the Confide Governing Committee.
SWOU’s vision is that we build a diverse and inclusive sex working community that can achieve decriminalisation, and fight stigma(s) - through optimistic, creative, radical politics.
● Sex workers will have strong, sustaining and sustainable self-organised communities that will enable us to offer each other emotional and practical support, and that these communities will particularly include those who have been thus far most marginal, most precarious, and most stigmatized.
● That these communities - and the voices of sex workers - will be given credence by the general public and by policy makers as the varied and diverse experts on the sex industry which we are, and that sex workers and the sex working community will be recognised as fundamental and primary stakeholders in issues that directly concern us - most obviously, the legal status of our work, but also on issues pertaining to (for instance) LGBTQ and migrant rights, the feminisation of poverty, and drug policy.
● That our input into the sex work ‘debate’ will drive a more humane, evidence-based, and non-judgemental set of policy initiatives, including - but not limited to - full decriminalisation.
● The legal context is crucial, but is only part of the picture, and beyond decriminalisation we want to tackle the stigma that would continue to hurt us even if we achieved all our policy goals tomorrow. We would like to usher in an era in which sex workers are seen as the valuable and legitimate members of the community that we are, and that in the course of creating that change we’d like to challenge the entire binary of us/them, inclusion/exclusion (e.g trans*/cis, employed/unemployed, or HIV-/HIV+) that maintains our “communities” along a web of intersecting stigmas.
We are not “pro sex work” or “sex industry advocates” and we reject the simplistic and antagonistic portrayals of those who would cast us so. We are intensely aware that for many people, the entrance point into sex work is one of exclusion or desperation - why wouldn’t we be aware of that? We are those people - but we assert that no one can label us victims and use our experiences to silence us, because we’re resourceful, resilient and the experts on our own lives.
SWOU seeks to live our values and achieve our vision through a variety of activities. We organise within our own community in ways including (but not limited to): skill-shares, sex worker-only workshops, drop-ins, socials, and supporting SWOU members in pursuing sub-projects. We organise in ways that reach our own community, and also non sex working communities, in ways including (but not limited to) festivals, conferences, education workshops, exhibitions, debates, film screenings, performances, and demonstrations.