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. While one tranche of work began as a national research project on criminal laws and court-based “diversion” programs impacting people who sell sex, since 2017, the GHJP has partnered with a New Haven-based grassroots harm reduction organization led by and for current and former street-based sex workers called the Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN). In our local projects with SWAN, the GHJP hopes 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 collectively seek 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.

Peer-based needs assessment survey and report

GHJP partnership with SWAN includes supporting the organization structurally as it expands its scope and infrastructure. This includes supporting 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, assessing the unique gaps in social services and structural barriers to meeting basic needs faced by local street-based sex workers. Our joint GHJP/SWAN report, Mistreatment and Missed Opportunities: How Street-Based Sex Workers are Overpoliced and Underserved in New Haven, CT,  released in July 2020 is based on findings from the survey (read the full report here and press release here).

The peer-based survey 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.

To support the calls for the full decriminalization of sex work, the GHJP and SWAN have released a series of fact sheets on different legal approaches to the sex sector, the differences between sex work and sex trafficking, and the consequences of criminalizing sex work. 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.

Investigation and analysis of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) pilot program

GHJP/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. ny criminal legal system involvement t carries potential for harm to health, rights, wellbeing and dignity, and that this harm disproportionately arises in the case of marginalized and criminalized communities, including people who sell sex.  (See  2018 American Public Health Association statement on law enforcement violence as a public health issue, and [LINK TO RESOURCES] for more information on these foundational ideas and their evidentiary base]

 

Our investigations revealed that the City’s conduct of the LEAD program lacked fealty APHA guidelines, the LEAD National Support Bureau’s core principles, or widely-accepted harm reduction practices. 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.

 

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. This moment especially in light of the events and demands arising after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, presents a critical juncture for the City to rethink the role of LEAD and to develop community-based alternatives that meet social service needs independently of the police. For detailed information on our research and criticisms related to LEAD in New Haven, please visit our watch site: https://leadwatchsite.wixsite.com/newhaven

 

Justice, accountability, and redress for sex workers victims of assault

Since the end of 2020, we have been supporting 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.

 

Partners

 

Sex Workers and Allies Network of New Haven

Connecticut Bail Fund

HIPS

Publications

Global Health Justice Partnership, Sex Workers and Allies Network, "Mistreatment and Missed Opportunities: How Street-Based Sex Workers are Overpoliced and Underserved in New Haven, CT" (July 2020) (available here)

In the News

Press Release: GHJP and Community Partner Report Surveys Perspectives and Service Needs of New Haven Sex Workers (July 2020)

Resources

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

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, created by the Global Health Justice Partnership and Sex Workers and Allies Network, August 2020

A Note on How to Read the GHJP Fact Sheets on Sex Work and the Law in the Current Context of COVID-19, created by the Global Health Justice Partnership and Sex Workers and Allies Network, June 2020

Sex Work vs Trafficking: How They Are Different and Why It Matters, created by the Global Health Justice Partnership and Sex Workers and Allies Network, June 2020

The Harmful Consequences of Sex Work Criminalization on Health and Rights, created by the Global Health Justice Partnership and Sex Workers and Allies Network, June 2020

The Law & Sex Work: Four Legal Approaches to the Sex Sector, created by the Global Health Justice Partnership and Sex Workers and Allies Network, April 2020

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, Ali Miler, and Poonam Daryani for the Human Services Committee public hearing on 5 February 2019.

GHJP and SWAN watch site for the New Haven LEAD program

2018 American Public Health Association statement on law enforcement violence as a public health issue