Supporting sex worker health, rights and advocacy in New Haven

The GHJP has been engaged in national and global work to support the health and rights of people involved in the sex sector since its inception. For several years, the GHJP has worked closely with the Sex Workers Project (SWP) of the Urban Justice Center to understand the ways in which criminalization impacts the lives of people in the sex sector and to explore potential strategies for changing harmful laws and policies in the US. Since 2017, the GHJP has partnered with the Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN) of New Haven. In local projects with SWAN, the GHJP has hoped to engage ethically and in politically reflective ways with sex workers and other historically marginalized communities, with particular attention to the tensions, perils and potentials of working in New Haven from within Yale University. GHJP/SWAN projects have collectively sought to enhance SWAN’s capacity to advocate for and serve the needs of people engaged in selling sex or other street economies in New Haven.

Collective work has sought to remove or minimize the harms of policing and criminal legal regulation on people in street economies, while simultaneously advocating for power and resources to be redirected to community-led, non-penal services and programs. Our work expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, as local and national exigencies around policing marginalized communities and state failures to enact socio-economic supports for appropriate public health interventions has exacerbated long-standing injustices that impact health in the U.S. 

The GHJP and SWAN have released a series of fact sheets on different legal approaches to the sex sector, the consequences of criminalizing sex work, the differences between sex work and sex trafficking, and the impact of Connecticut’s vacatur laws on sex workers’ rights. The fact sheets are intended to dispel common misconceptions about sex work and to help the public and policymakers appreciate the unjustifiably deleterious impacts of criminalization on sex workers, their families, and their communities.

The GHJP supported SWAN as it conducted a peer-based needs assessment survey on the perspectives and experiences of street-based sex workers in New Haven with criminalization, policing, and social service provision. Our joint GHJP/SWAN report, Mistreatment and Missed Opportunities: How Street-Based Sex Workers are Overpoliced and Underserved in New Haven, CT, found that precarious and insufficient access to social services, compounded by harmful policing practices and criminal legal system involvement, represent the greatest sources of vulnerability for street-based sex workers in New Haven. In response to these findings, our report makes several recommendations to improve the design, supply, and delivery of social services through community input and meaningful consultations with people in the sex sector. The findings underscore the need to limit police surveillance and interactions with the criminal legal system, in part through the decriminalization of “quality of life” criminal charges such as those associated with sex work, drug use, and homelessness.

The GHJP and SWAN also collaborated on an investigation and analysis of a criminal “diversion” initiative called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) that the City of New Haven struggled to implement from 2017-2020. The GHJP supported SWAN in developing engagement and advocacy strategies with New Haven’s pilot LEAD program to increase the accountability and transparency of the City and other actors, as well as to create mechanisms for meaningful community input and leadership. This included the development of a watch site. It appears that the New Haven LEAD Pilot Program was terminated at the beginning of 2020 due to significant implementation issues and very few positive results

Since the end of 2020, GHJP has been working on accountability for police harassment and abuse, extending from support to SWAN in seeking justice, accountability, and redress for two of their members who were sexually assaulted by a former New Haven police officer. We have been working with SWAN to identify sources of legal, financial, and social support for the two victims, and to ensure public accountability around the case. This also informs ongoing work to map accountability options nationally and locally for sex workers who have been subjected to police harassment and violence, and our call for sexual misconduct to be a specific ground for police decertification in Connecticut



GHJP/SWAN Peer-Based New Haven Needs Assessment

Mistreatment and Missed Opportunities: How Street-Based Sex Workers are Overpoliced and Underserved in New Haven, CT 

Supporting Sex Worker Health, Rights, and Advocacy in New Haven, CT: A Reflection Memo on the Process of Conducting a Peer-based Needs Assessment Survey through an Academic-Community Partnership

Press Release: GHJP and Community Partner Report Surveys Perspectives and Service Needs of New Haven Sex Workers

GHJP/SWAN Factsheets: Sex Work and the Law 

The Law & Sex Work: Four Legal Approaches to the Sex Sector

Sex Work vs Trafficking: How They Are Different and Why It Matters

The Harmful Consequences of Sex Work Criminalization on Health and Rights

The Impact of Connecticut’s Vacatur Laws on Sex Workers’ Rights 

(Available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Kreyòl, Simplified Mandarin)

See also: A Note on How to Read the GHJP Fact Sheets on Sex Work and the Law in the Current Context of COVID-19

Justice, accountability, and redress for assault against sex workers 

Dossier on sexual assault allegations against ex-NHPD officer Gary Gamarra: Summary of the publicly available information on the allegations and their aftermath

Police decertification in CT must include sexual misconduct as a specific ground, CT Mirror (June 20, 2023)

Testimony in support of New Haven’s proposed Homeless Bill of Rights 

GHJP Testimony in support of New Haven’s proposed Homeless Bill of Rights and the Resolution to Decriminalize Homelessness (delivered by Taiga Christie and written by Devin Race, Alice M. Miller, and Poonam Daryani for the Human Services Committee public hearing on 5 February 2019).


Open Letter: Urgent Action Needed to Protect Individuals in Connecticut’s Prisons and Jails from Coronavirus-19 Pandemic

Press Release: CT Coalition Pens Open Letter to Governor Demanding Emergency Action to Protect Incarcerated People and Public from COVID-19

LEAD Watch Site (Archive)

GHJP and SWAN watch site for the New Haven LEAD program


Sex Workers and Allies Network of New Haven

Connecticut Bail Fund