Harm Reduction

Harm reduction refers to practices that aim to minimize the harm of drug use and sex work without judgment, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that people stop using drugs or engaging in sex work as a precondition of support.

SWAN’s commitment to harm reduction means that we try to meet people’s most pressing needs without standing in judgment of their choices. To counter the harms of structural disempowerment, SWAN connects people on the streets to basic resources, bridges the gap between the streets and social service organizations, and advocates alongside clients to local authorities and service providers.

SWAN advocates for the expansion of syringe exchanges, for expanded access to and availability of naloxone, and for the introduction of safe injection sites (also known as supervised consumption facilities). Safe consumption sites are legally sanctioned facilities that allow people to consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained staff. Evidence from such facilities around the world show that they reduce overdose rates and promote access to health services.

Photos by Graham MacIndoe

Decriminalization of Sex Work

SWAN advocates for the full decriminalization of sex work. Decriminalization removes penalties for sex workers, buyers, and those who work in supporting sex workers’ labor. Without criminal penalties, sex workers have better access to health and legal services, more control over their work, and greater ability to seek protection or redress in the face of violence or other harms. Trafficking, violence and victimization, intimate partner violence, and commercial sex acts involving minors all remain illegal under this model.

Reasons to decriminalize sex work:

Safety: Criminalization forces workers to compromise on some or all of their safety strategies in order to avoid police.

Economic hardship: Criminal records make it harder for sex workers to find alternative employment, holding them in street economies and economic hardship.

Health: Stigma and discrimination make it harder for sex workers to access essential health care and mental health services.

STI Transmission: The threat of arrest reduces sex workers’ ability to negotiate with clients about condom use. According to the ACLU, decriminalization could prevent 33 to 46 percent of HIV transmissions among female sex workers.

Social justice: Sex workers from marginalized populations experience higher levels of violence and are more likely to work on the streets.

Basic rights: Criminalization makes it difficult for sex workers to open bank accounts, vote, serve on juries, qualify for financial aid or college admission, or get professional licenses.

Fighting trafficking: Evidence shows that decriminalization is part of an effective set of anti-sex trafficking interventions. When sex workers are not threatened with criminal charges, they are better able to identify and report cases of trafficking, violence, and abuse to authorities.

Criminalization does not prevent commercial sex. It does not deal with the root causes of why people sell sex – which is to get the resources they need.