Fact Sheet

Sex Work & Harm Reduction

What is Sex Work?

Provision of sexual services or performances by one person (Sex Worker) for which a second person (Client or Observer) provides money or other markers of economic value.

These markers of economic value may include:

  • Money
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Drugs
  • & More

Sex Work is an Umbrella Term Inclusive of:

  • Trade Sex
  • Porn Performance
  • Dancing
  • Phone
  • Webcam/Internet
  • Survival-based
  • Street-based
  • BDSM
  • Magazine
  • Film/Video
  • Out Calls / In Calls
  • & More

Sex Work Can Be Licit or Illicit.

Sex work involves a Worker, Consumer and oftentimes, a Manager.
In situations of illicit sex work, risk is involved for all three parties.


What is it?

  • Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act / Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act
  • Bipartisan bill passed by House and Senate March 2018, signed April 2018

How does it work?

  • Makes third party sites responsible for posting ads for sex workers — legally liable for trafficking
  • Shut down Craigslist personals, Backpage, and other sites

What’s the impact?

  • Makes it more difficult for sex workers to find and screen clients
  • Pushes people out into the street again — putting sex workers of color, of trans identity, and/or of undocumented status further at risk
  • Creates more competition and more risk for sex workers who are 100% street-based (and often survival-based)
  • Puts people more at risk of being trafficked

Why Do People Engage in Sex Work?


  • Julia chooses to work as a dominatrix because the work is profitable and she enjoys it. 
  • Julia chooses to do sex work.


  • Mark is marginally housed and engages in a relationship with Peter to have a place to sleep. 
  • Mark’s sex work is circumstantial. 


  • Leah’s partner coerces her into trading sex with their supplier in exchange for drugs, even though she doesn’t want to. 
  • This is a human rights violation and not the same as consensual sex work. 

Sex Work is Work.

  • Everyone who engages in sex work has personal, unique reasons for doing so. 
  • Sex work is one of the few trades in which someone without any formal education can provide for themselves at an equal level to someone with an advanced degree. 
  • However, sex workers who hold marginalized identities are uniquely vulnerable to racism, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, and other forms of structural violence. 

Harm Reduction Interventions

    • Drop-in Center
    • Community Organizing
    • & Policy Change
    • Intra-community Skill Sharing
    • Medical & Health Services
    • Safer Drug Use & Overdose Prevention Materials
    • Street Outreach
    • Safer Sex Materials & Education
    • Anonymous Testing Services
    • Bad Date Sheet
    • Offer Hand Sanitizer, Antiseptic Wipes, Mouthwash, Makeup Remover Towelettes

Don’t assume!

    • Don’t try to “save” anyone from sex work