Sex Worker Open University advocates for the rights of everybody who sells sex or sexual services. We believe in self-determination, solidarity and cooperation.
We define sex workers as people who sell or trade their own sexual labour or performance, or who have done so in the past.
Although we recognise that many agency managers or brothel owners can be or have been sex workers themselves, our organising collective is not open to managers, or those who make a profit from the work of other sex workers. We are against the criminalisation of managers and third parties as this criminalises and endangers sex workers. In the UK, many sex workers are convicted of brothel keeping for simply sharing a flat for safety, and when we work for a manager, their criminalisation means we are working without access to labour rights.
We are in solidarity with other workers. We believe that a in a fairer and more equal society, no one should be forced to do any work they are not inclined to do. Everybody should have access to safety, justice, housing, healthcare, fulfilment and dignity regardless of their employment status. We do not believe in the abolition of sex work, as long as the current form of waged labour exists. Sex work is an option, often amongst limited options. We fight for our right to use this option as a tool to survive.
We believe that collective self-organisation, either in trade unions, or other organisations, will bring better working conditions. Work-related illnesses, accidents and deaths – including the murders of trade unionists, or those doing stigmatised occupations – are a key cause of mortality worldwide. 2.3 million people die from work-related illness and injuries each year. Sex workers, like every other kind of worker, want better working conditions, and unequivocal access to health and justice.
We are part of the women's rights movement. In a society where most capital, resources and land are owned by men, sex work is an option or survival tool for many women. This is particularly the case for women who experience multiple marginalisations: women of colour, trans women, disabled women, women who are single mothers. We believe that if you want fewer women to do sex work, you need to focus on expanding women’s options: not criminalising what they’re doing to survive. We denounce carceral feminism which seeks to take away our livelihood and our survival. A feminist society will not be built on the bodies of sex workers; we do not see an end to patriarchy through policies which increase violence against marginalised women. We call on all feminist groups and organisations to listen to sex worker-led organisations and open their door to us so that we can work together for the eradication of violence against all women.
We are in solidarity with migrants, documented or undocumented. We believe every human being should be free to travel, cross borders and look for a better life for herself, himself or themselves. We believe more should be done for victims of trafficking and exploitation, but current anti-trafficking strategies simply increase surveillance, raids and deportations, exacerbating the conditions which made people vulnerable to exploitation in the first place. ,As such, ‘anti-trafficking’ discourses are profoundly implicated in the violence through which states “defend” their borders, including the prison-industrial complex, immigration detention centres, and the mechanics of forced deportation. We recognise these locations and industries as documented sites of violence against women, racist/imperialist violence, and transphobic violence.
We are in solidarity with the transgender rights movement. Deep-seated transphobic and transmisogynist attitudes in our society limit employment options for many trans women, trans men, and gender non-conforming people and make the sex industry an option for livelihood or survival. We applaud the courage of all trans sex workers who worldwide are working against abuse and violence, and are fighting for the rights of all sex workers.
We are in solidarity with the students' movement. We believe education should be free and that students should be able to access generous financial assistance. The rising costs of higher education has led to an increase in students selling sexual services. Student sex workers, like all students and all workers, should should be supported, and should have unencumbered rights to health and justice.
We are in solidarity with the drug user rights movement. Stigmatised and criminalised, the drug users’ movement shares many similarities with the sex worker rights movement, and we support their struggle to end criminalisation, and for policies based on evidence and harm-reduction, not ideology. Sex workers who use drugs face a double stigma: our lives are often reduced to stereotypes and our agency denied.
We are part of the movement to end HIV and AIDS. We refuse the criminalisation and scapegoating of HIV+ people, and particularly of sex workers living with HIV. We will never ‘buy’ respectability through distancing ourselves from sex workers living with HIV: they are integral to our movement and community. Tackling HIV will only be possible through ending the stigma, exclusion and criminalisation that sex workers living with HIV are so vulnerable to: sex workers need the HIV movement, and the HIV movement needs sex workers.
We are here as sex workers who are survivors of economic violence, domestic violence, border violence, and sexual violence. We are part of a global movement, and we are proud to work in solidarity with each other. Many sex workers within SWOU navigate our lives across several of the groups we’ve affirmed in this manifesto. Our solidarity with each other is not words; it is how we stay alive. Sex worker rights are human rights.