Safer Spaces Statement for A Decriminalised Future: Sex Worker's Festival of Resistance
The Sex Worker's Festival of Resistance: A Decriminalised Future is a three day event for people interested in better understanding and tackling the oppressions that sex workers face both as marginalised workers and as members of marginalised communities and identities. We aim to create a respectful space that centres sex workers and their experiences, while also exploring the intersections of these experiences with other social struggles.
We are mindful that people attending the festival will be coming from many different communities, experiences, countries, backgrounds, educational levels and contexts and that we might not always have a shared language, vocabulary or understanding. Throughout the festival, we aim to foster a space where we can communicate thoughtfully and respectfully of difference, while building a movement that supports not only sex workers’ rights but collective liberation.
During the festival there will be discussions on a wide range of topics that impact on sex workers, and that connect and intersect with sex worker rights organising. Some of these discussions might be complex and emotionally affecting. We want to foster an environment of open-mindedness, willingness to learn, collaboration, and respect for each others’ experiences and perspectives. We want all participants to feel able to express themselves and ask questions without fear of reprisal or humiliation, while also being able to listen to challenges and engage in active reflection. This festival aims to support the wellbeing of participants while also recognising that challenging environments can allow opportunities for growth, and new understandings and connections.
We live in a world where oppression and violence are widespread and socially entrenched. Challenging and undoing these oppressions, whether on individual, community or structural levels is an ongoing practice that we are committed to doing. We recognise that many of the people attending the conference experience oppression on multiple intersecting axes and that living with constant oppression can be exhausting and demoralising. Attendees are asked to recognise and honour this in themselves and in others, and attend with the awareness that unlearning our own internalised prejudices is ongoing and imperfect work.
We will have well-being volunteers at the conference who will be available to listen, offer one-to-one support, and talk to you about what other support might be available to you if need it. We will also have a quiet space for people who need a break from the conference. We all respond to harm differently, so please take care of yourself during the gathering, ask for what you need and we will do our best to support.
The following are some suggested guidelines for building a productive and supportive space at the conference:
This is a sex worker centric space. Please think before talking over sex workers on topics related to sex work. If you are not a sex worker please be thoughtful about the words you use to describe sex workers and sex work. If you are not a sex worker you do not understand our jobs better than we do ourselves.
Sex workers and other activists often need to use pseudonyms when speaking publicly about their work. Please be thoughtful about which names you use for people that you know from other settings and check you are using their correct name and pronoun if you are unsure.
Many of us experience oppression related to factors including (but certainly not limited to) work, gender, disability, race, transition, migration, class - and many others that may not be immediately obvious. Please be aware of your social position in relation to others. Think about how how your view of the world may have been shaped and who might be excluded or harmed by your words, opinions and actions. Be careful to avoid making generalisations or assumptions about others.
In order to foster a culture of consent, please respect others’ physical and emotional boundaries. Please ask before touching someone, even in passing, and change your behaviour if someone lets you know that you are crossing their boundaries. You are encouraged to think about and communicate your own boundaries. If you need support or assistance with this well-being volunteers will be available at the conference.
Many of those in attendance, including many sex workers, have survived violence physical, sexual, and emotional, including detention, deportation, forced migration and other forms of state violence. In particular, many sex workers have experienced sexual violence at work. In addition to this, many of those attending will have trauma related to mental illness, familial upheaval, homelessness, poverty, and other traumatic experiences. Please consider the impact of disclosures around harm received or perpetuated and consider the need for support - both for others and for yourself - that may result from these disclosures. A quiet space space is available for use as well as well-being volunteers should you need them.
If you are a client who is planning to attend the festival please be reflective of how your presence might affect sex workers in the space. Be aware it is possible you may be asked to leave. If you would like to support the festival or sex worker rights organising you can do so here .
Addressing harm & challenging oppression
Challenging oppressive behaviours is a collective responsibility. Please comment if you observe someone behaving in a way that reinforces rather than challenges oppressive systems. If you experience or are aware of harmful incidents, we encourage you to raise it as a collective issue and not feel that it is your responsibility to deal with it individually. SWARM is committed to principles of transformative justice rather than punishment and immediate exclusion. We try to work on a principle of “calling in”, with the aim of changing people’s behaviour and expanding their understanding through compassion and care rather than shaming and aggression. If incidents of harm occur, we will work collectively to support those who have been harmed, and address the issues.
While we are committed to resolving conflict and addressing harm with compassion, we believe it is extremely difficult to achieve anything productive or transformative with people who are not acting in good faith. Based on this, if anyone attends the conference with the intent of disrupting discussion or has shown intent to cause harm or distress to sex workers, sex worker rights organisers or our allies - whether at the conference or in other forums - they will be kindly asked to leave.
If someone needs calling in: do not be afraid to ask for support either from well-being volunteers or by asking them to find someone appropriate to your situation. Remember that doing this work can be exhausting and difficult, and you are not obligated to damage yourself in the service of it. If possible, name the specific harmful action; if you are aware of any relevant resources, you are encouraged to share them.
If you are called in: understand that the person speaking to you may be upset or angry, and they are entitled to feel this way; take a breath and try to understand the cause of their upset rather than responding defensively. Remember that calling in comes from a place of solidarity, and that whoever is doing so believes that you are able and willing to do better. Attempt to listen attentively, explain what you’ve learned, apologise for the harm you’ve caused, and commit to doing better in the future. If you cannot engage productively in the moment, the best response is to apologise, thank the person for their labour, and ask to leave the conversation so you can take time to reflect. Remember that impact is greater than intent, and it is possible to do harm without having intended to do so.
In wider discussions around which behaviours require calling in, please remember that oppressed individuals are the experts on their own oppression, and those who do not experience a particular type of oppression do not understand it as well as those who are currently living it.
If you wish to explore these concepts further, the following articles may be of use:
Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable by Ngọc Loan Trần - http://www.bgdblog.org/2013/12/calling-less-disposable-way-holding-accountable/
Calling In: A Quick Guide on When and How by Sian Ferguson - https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/guide-to-calling-in/
What to do if you are called out/called in: 9 Phrases Allies Can Say When Called Out Instead of Getting Defensiveby Sam Dylan Finch - https://everydayfeminism.com/2017/05/allies-say-this-instead-defensive/
Guidance on pronouns
You cannot identify someone’s gender identity or choice of pronouns simply from looking at them. If you feel able to do so, please feel free to introduce yourself with your own pronouns and ask others for their pronouns. If you mistakenly use the wrong pronoun for someone, please apologise briefly (an extended period of self-flagellation helps no one), correct yourself, and move on.
SWARM is explicitly supportive of trans and nonbinary identities, including the use of neopronouns such as xey/xem. If you need assistance understanding a pronoun set, Pronoun Island (www.pronoun.is) is a useful website that uses minimal data to load and contains illustrative examples of both traditional pronouns and neopronouns.
Thank you to Abolitionist Futures and Sisters Uncut for sharing their safer spaces documents to help us build our own for this event.