Sex workers are individuals who exchange money or goods for sexual services. According to a National Violence Against Women study, the rate of violence among sex workers when compared to non-sex workers is 43% higher for rape and 13% higher for sexual assault. Studies have shown that most of the violence sex workers experience comes from their own customers (Church, 2001).
Many street-based sex workers are embedded in situations such as homelessness and drug abuse which can exacerbate their vulnerability; this can compound the experience of violence and leave individuals feeling hopeless. Sex workers are often less likely to seek help because they are unaware that rape crisis counseling or other services are available, or fear that they will be blamed because of what they do (Sex Work and Drug Use in a Subculture of Violence: Surratt, 2004).
At Our VOICE, we believe that all individuals deserve to be safe from sexual violence.
While the exact number of sex workers in the county is unknown, anecdotal evidence from police and other sex workers tell us the numbers are significant. Kelly’s Line is an anonymous reporting line sex workers can use to report dangerous customers and access services provided by Our VOICE and other local agencies.
Sex worker can use our free, confidential Text Line to report this information about dangerous customers and to find out information about local resources. Text KELLY to 85511 to report a dangerous customer or text VOICE or VOZ (for spanish) to ask about resources.
Kelly’s Line was named after Kelly Lane Smith, a local sex worker who was murdered in 2006. Her remains were found in the French Broad River, and despite substantial evidence pointing to a single suspect, Kelly’s case remains unsolved. One contributing factor is the stigma against sex workers and a fear of retribution. With this in mind, Our VOICE partnered with numerous other local agencies and formed the Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project (ASWOP).
Overall goals of the Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project:
- Facilitate regular outreach events that create a safe space for sex workers to access services
- Integrate sex workers into the planning committee and have them lead the needs and direction of the coalition
- Utilize online mediums to help facilitate communication with other sex workers about the safety and well-being of the community
- Create a network of organizations and service providers who can assist sex workers with their needs and concerns, filling the service gap that sex workers fall into
- Prevent violence within this community and provide mechanisms to reduce harm
- Advocate for people of color and LGBTQ+ sex workers who experience disproportionate amounts of violence
- Educate the community on sex work to reduce the stigma and biases around this work
- Advocate for sex workers within the legal system to reduce the harm and violence that is created through prosecution and court system
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. To learn more about the ASWOP, contact Kat A or Oliana L or visit the facebook page at ASWOP.