Stories of sex work are rarely ever told by the people actually doing the work. And the sex work narrative typically portrays those involved in the industry as victims, martyrs or worse — immoral harlots bent on unraveling the very fabric of society. That’s why the Red Umbrella Project (RedUP) aims to give sex workers a voice: their own.
According to the project’s website, RedUP “amplifies the voices of people who have done transactional sex, through media, storytelling, and advocacy trainings” and supports “advocacy projects and campaigns that promote the human rights of people who trade sex for something they need.” Just last week, RedUP announced a new initiative — a free writing workshop in New York City for current and former sex workers. Explains workshop instructor (and former sex worker) Melissa Petro, “People turn to the sex trade to generate income for as many reasons as there are sex workers, and yet given the prevalence of misinformation and misconceptions regarding what kind of person participates in the sex trade and why, sex workers’ personal stories are oftentimes surprising.”
The program will enable sex workers to write and share work with one another in a safe and judgment-free space. “Participants can explore their realities and tell these stories, which are oftentimes different than stories imposed upon the community by outside sources,” says Petro.
Ultimately, Petro hopes that telling sex work stories will help reduce the stigma related to sex work, providing sex workers with increased freedom and currency in the job market. “Writing is a form of social justice, and writing can be a powerful vehicle for social change,” she says. “We hope that giving sex workers the skills to tell their own stories will have the longer term effect of reducing stigma attached to people who do transactional sex. ”[Red Umbrella Project]