Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project:
What is it?
The Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project (ASWOP) is a community coalition that stands for the rights and health of sex workers by facilitating the needs of this population through connecting them to services and support.
This coalition includes a variety of community partners that come into contact with sex workers including Helpmate, Pisgah Legal Services, WNCAP, Mission Health, Homeward Bound, RHA, the Asheville Period Project, and several more including general community members.
What are the group’s goals?
Some of the goals of this collaboration include facilitating regular outreach events that create a safe space for sex workers to access services, and creating an online medium to facilitate communication with other sex workers to promote safety and well-being within the community and prevent violence.
Other goals include creating a network of service providers who can assist sex workers to fill this service gap, and educating the community about sex work to reduce stigma and biases. We also hope to ensure that active and former sex workers become more actively involved in the planning and implementation process, so that this project can truly be peer-driven.
The Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project follows a harm reduction model, and believes that all individuals deserve to be safe. In that vein, we seek to work with individuals at a high risk for sexual violence, who are also a part of a stigmatized group in society.
What does ‘harm reduction’ mean?
Harm reduction is a public health strategy designed to lessen the negative health consequences associated with different human behaviors. It is frequently discussed when referring to substance use. Harm reduction strategies for this include needle exchange programs and supervised injection sites.
Sometimes abstinence is not a feasible option for individuals, and harm reduction helps us to meet people where they are at. It also promotes decreasing risk factors while promoting protective factors. For example, in the context of sex work, at outreach events condoms, hygiene products, and free, rapid HIV testing will be available. This promotes health and safety within the community, while potentially connecting sex workers to resources they may not have been familiar with.
How is Our VOICE involved?
Our VOICE is involved in the planning and organization of the group, and is present at outreach events to provide support and services to any sex workers who have experienced violence.
We also have Kelly’s Line, 1-855-4kellys, which is an anonymous reporting line sex workers can use to report dangerous customers and access services that we provide. Sex workers can also utilize our textline to report an unsafe customer by texting VOICE or VOZ to 85511.