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Sex Workers and Trade Unions: What the U.S. Can Learn from Europe


For her Action Project, Senior Fellow Audrey Winn was inspired by conversations and advocacy work she had done with sex workers in Amsterdam’s red light district. Hearing about how the experiences of sex workers varied wildly between countries with legalized prostitution versus countries where they had to work in the shadows convinced her to dig deeper.

Audrey’s Action Project involved direct advocacy and education through meetings with unionists and presentations to labor advocates, where she argued for the inclusion of sex workers in the union movement.

After witnessing the way that sex work policies directly affected the safety and health of the workers in the Netherlands, Audrey wanted to explore the issues from a U.S. perspective and how sex workers there were fairing. To lay the ground work for her Action Project, Audrey reached out to her network of union and labor advocates. She spent a lot of time talking with workers in the sex industry about topics ranging from health and safety, employment classifications and organizing outside of traditional unions. Through these discussions, Audrey presented her pitch to labor unions to include sex workers in their membership.

“Sex workers are not integrated into the U.S. labor movement. Though sex workers are incredibly vulnerable and many aspects of sex work are legal (e.g., porn actors in the adult industry), the union movement continues to ignore their plight.”