The topic of sex work has risen in importance on the international agenda in recent years, and has prompted research, debate and activism across the globe. After the heated feminist debates in the seventies and eighties, and the setback of efforts toward legalization during the AIDS crisis in the eighties and nineties, dominant discourse and policy toward sex work - particularly in the United States - have focused narrowly on issues of forced prostitution and trafficking, especially international sex trafficking or child prostitution. At the same time, some European countries have recognized sex work as legitimate labor through policies that legalize and address some of its more exploitative elements.
At the activist and academic levels, the dialogue on sex work has divided primarily into two opposing positions. The anti-porn/anti-trafficking movement views all sex work as exploitative and coerced and therefore to be erradicated, while the 'sex work as work' position advocates that sex work be recognized as a legitimate profession with the accompanying legal protections. The latter movement explores the diversity and contradictions of the sex industry involving issues of gender, race, class and capitalist economy.
New York City is home to numerous scholars, activists and analysts engaged in the debate over sex work as work. Students and younger activists are also demonstrating a growing interest in the topic, as evidenced by their increasing involvement in activist organizations. Artists too, continue to challenge conceptual boundaries about sex work and ownership of the body in their work. Despite this growing interest, few forums bring these groups together.
The Sex Work Matters project aims to fill this gap by giving scholars, activists and analysts a platform for multidisciplinary, cross-institutional exchange of ideas and networking. The project brings diverse perspectives and experiences together to explore the theoretical, sociological, political and economic dimensions of sex work in a globalized world. At the same time, it provides a much-needed opportunity for graduate students and activists to enter the debate, present original work and identify areas for collaboration.
The centerpiece of the project is a conference planned for March 30, 2006. Events will include networking opportunities organized with local groups and organizations, an opening discussion featuring established scholars and activists in the field, roundtables on activism and outreach as well as graduate student panels.