June 29 Webinar Information (<= Click for details & to register)
The Intersection of Sex Work and Drug Use: Overlapping Communities
The Current Situation
As of January 2016, 34 states and the District of Columbia have enacted Good Samaritan Laws. While these laws afford basic protections, they do not cover everyone and every situation- including sex workers, thus putting those most in need of protection at risk of criminal charges when they reach out for life-saving help. With a record 47,055 number of people dying from overdose in 2014, our communities cannot afford to stand idly by any longer.
Sex worker rights and drug policy reform advocates share values and struggles. Both groups are fighting for the right to exist without criminal justice intervention while also advocating for policies that benefit their respective communities, often utilizing a harm reduction framework.
Moreover, these communities are often intentionally and unintentionally linked, as sex worker and drug user communities overlap. A Tijuana study of both indoor and outdoor sex workers found an 18% lifetime prevalence rate of injection drug use. A 2001 Vancouver study of injection drug users found 36% of female participants had engaged in sex work over the past half year, with similar prevalence rates in Baltimore. In Seattle, all drug-offense-related female referrals to LEAD, a pre-booking diversion program, were also engaged in commercial sex. Our identities as sex workers do not exist in a vacuum – people who sell sex hold various identities which overlap leading to experiencing a web of privilege and oppression. It is important that we acknowledge and address these intersections while maintaining their separation. For years, we have fought the public notion that all sex workers trade sex to support a drug habit. It is important that we continue to assert this, while at the same time defending those in our community who face increased stigma.
Recognizing the intersectional nature of our fights can help us mount the strongest defense against stigma, barriers to essential programming, and criminalization. Furthermore, a united defense of basic human rights can build the momentum needed to ensure this common goal becomes a reality.
Why Connect Over Good Samaritan Laws?
Harm reduction advocates for sex workers and drug users share the goal of ensuring drug users who overdose or witness an overdose are protected. Sex workers constitute a significant, particularly vulnerable subsegment of drug users. Elevated risk of violence and arrest, and less network stability and control over their environment undermine sex workers’ and street-based drug users’ overdose prevention strategies, increasing their risk for overdose. While sex workers, especially street-based sex workers who use drugs are more likely to experience incarceration than their demographically similar counterparts, sex workers who experience or witness an overdose are still at higher risk for being arrested, charged, and prosecuted as their work isn’t specifically protected (unlike low-level possession, for instance) in existing Good Samaritan laws.
With broader mainstream support for harm reduction, we see an opportunity for collaboration around the expansion of existing Good Samaritan laws to protect sex workers as well as others who remain vulnerable. Further, we see an opportunity to work with drug policy advocates to propose legislation that’s protective against solicitation in addition to drug use charges, thereby ensuring that members of our communities receive the support, care, and protection they need and deserve.