Carol Leigh: Abstracts and Presentations
Box 210256, San Francisco, CA 94121 415-751-1659

Table of Contents

Carol Leigh: Bio

General Info: Introductory Presentations and Technical Requirements

The presentations listed on this page provide an introduction to issues of sex worker rights and politics.


This page describes Scarlot's performances including short pieces and full length work.


Sex Worker Art: A Multi-Media Presentation

Factors Surrounding 20 Years of Repressive Prostitution Policies

The Nuts and Bolts of Organizing Within the System

Gender Discrimination against Female Sex Workers in the Criminal Justice System

How Many Trafficked Women Does It Take...? Commercial Sex, 'Trafficking,' and US Policies: A Sex Worker Rights Perspective

Violence Against Sex Workers in the Context of Criminalization: The Realities and The Discourse

Recent Issues/Web Sites by Carol Leigh:

Bush Administration Demands Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath

Human and Civil Rights Campaign to Oppose New Federal Anti-Prostitution Law

Massage Parlor Busts in Califorina

Critiques of Swedish Prostitution Law

Trafficking Policy Research Project

SWOP Campaign to Decriminalize Prostitution &  Berkeley Initiative to Decriminalize Prostitution


Title: Sex Worker Art: A Multi-Media Presentation
September 29-30, 2005

"We are living in a cultural moment in which representations of the sex trade abound. If the figure of "the prostitute" has been so compelling in this era, it may be precisely because she (almost always, she) has stood-in for broader cultural anxieties: globalization, changes in gender roles and kin networks, the specters of social disorder and crime. The [art of sex workers] make these linkages explicit, transforming sex-workers from empty stereotypes into complex, contradictory, and historically-rooted beings"- Elizabeth Bernstein, Ph.D,

Sex worker arts express diverse and often passionate perspectives on the experience and identity of prostitutes, dancers and other sex workers. There is a wealth of poetry , art and vision produced by sex workers in their private notebooks, scribbled on scraps of paper, shared with friends and lovers, and in classes, workshops and programs. The power and intense imagery of our status and our lives propels our art and many of us are proud of our talents.
Artistic expression and communication is a form of sustenance in a situation in which we struggle so greatly with social disapproval, confronting pathologized
or glamorized stereotypes in most movies and TV, almost always living double lives, hiding the truth from (at least some of) our family, friends and associates.

Living under the dual forces of criminalization and stigmatization, sometimes violence, alienation, for many prostitution is not simply a job, but an identity, a role and/or a series of traumas, a series of revelations, a way we paid our family’s bills, a way we spent our younger years, a lesson learned. There are numerous ways in which we function as artists. Historically in many cultures there are many links between sex workers and arts communities. Acting and performance is part of the work. Some can practice sex as an art. The video and images in this presentation show a wide range of art by sex workers which express the plight, hopes, beauty and strength through comedy, through anger and through down-to-earth rhetoric.

Title: Factors Surrounding 20 Years of Repressive Prostitution Policies
San Francisco State University Sexual Rights and Moral Panics:5th International Conference, June 21-24, 2005

This presentation surveys increases in criminalization of prostitution for women and men. Informed by recent incarceration trends for women in street economies, the presentation primarily focuses on prostitutes and clients in California.
Over the past 20 years the correlation between sex and danger has emerged in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and in the context of the public discourse regarding violence against women. A result of contemporary manifestation of this equation is an increase in repressive legislation against prostitutes. Over these last decades, in California cities, public controversies surrounding prostitution have sporadically made headlines focusing on issues ranging from neighborhood gentrification battles, to shaming clients, to praising saviors of prostitutes, to discussions of international (and local) sexual slavery. Non-profit saviors of prostitutes are called to the podium to decry the evils of prostitution, requesting broader criminalization and greater funding. This emphasis, combined with similar strategies applied to the 'war on drugs' results on the pathologization of a class of marginalized women involved in street economies. As a result, according to the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, these past decades have seen a rise of 850% in incarceration rates for women in California.
This presentation will track the influences on increased criminalization and stigmatization of those involved in the sex industry, itemize stakeholders in this aspect of the ‘correctional industrial complex,’ and examine some recent challenges to these trends.

Title: The Nuts and Bolts of Organizing Within the System
Forum XXX, Stella, Université du Québec à Montréal (Québec, Canada) from May 18-22nd, 2005

In the last decades sex worker organizations have been actively involved in a range of legislative and policy reform efforts. This workshop will serve to collect stories about the interface of sex worker rights organizations and activists with our governments, participating in government commissions, influencing policy within government agencies, opposing repressive legislation and advocating for decriminalization. The goal of this workshop will be to collect stories of challenge, conflict and success, recognize patterns within these contexts, define and critique strategies we have used, and emerge with informed by our broad range of experiences. Activists are invited to send materials documenting their experiences to for advance preparation for this workshop.
Negotiating with Government Representatives and Officials: Emphasis on Strategies
* Developing and promoting local/national/international law and legislation
* Interfacing with elected representatives- Working with political clubs, organizations and unions
* Policy Reform: Working with Government Departments on internal policy and legislation developed by these departments
* Funding projects including networking, compromising agendas, developing donors and supporters
* Running for Office- a number of sex workers and rights activists have run for public office and mounted campaigns addressing sex work issues.
* Negotiating with Police
Supporting political candidates; working against political candidates
* Regulating prostitution rubrics and legal sex industry businesses such as massage and strip clubs. What are the challenges? What have we learned?
* Analyzing, critiquing and developing decriminalization models
Negotiating with Government Representatives and Officials: Emphasis on Our Community Process
* How do we work as a team to negotiate with City Hall and other government bodies?
* Divisions in our communities: How do we fight and how do we collaborate?
* Ethics in negotiations with government officials including police, health departments and others.
* Funding and other competitions with sex workers

Hastings Women's Law Journal: Women and Incarceration: Is Justice Gender-Blind?
Friday, February 25, 2005

This presentation is based on a Powerpoint summary of incareceration and arrest rates for women and men in California. Updating the 1998 work of Johanna Breyer in "Gender Discrimination Against Female Sex Industry Workers Within the Criminal Justice System," this presentation presents recent factors including escalating criminalization and incarceration of women, "alternatives to incarceration programs" as incentives to arrest (and thereby, rescue) women and recent US reports on prostitution abatement programs.

Violence Against Sex Workers in the Context of Criminalization: The Realities and The Discourse

This workshop will: 1) examine the effect of criminalization on the safety and well-being of prostitutes and other sex workers and 2) consider options to construct a model of law reform and support services that would be most effective and relevant to those working in various contexts of sex work.
The workshop will begin with a survey of current examples of health and safety services for sex workers (including harm reduction, occupational health/safety and 'rescue-based' approaches) in the context of criminalized and decriminalized prostitution. A multi-media presentation will detail efforts by sex worker organizations (US and internationally) to address issues of health and safety, examining successful projects in a wide variety of legal contexts including: peer-run programs in decriminalized New Zealand; an HIV prevention/sex worker rights organization in India comprised of 80,000 sex workers and supporters; efforts by labor organizations in Hong Kong and Taiwan; Canadian outreach projects in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal (where prostitution per se is not illegal), and more. We will also review models of prostitution law including New Zealand's decriminalization, Sweden's new criminalization of patrons, abolitionist forms of criminalization in Canada, etc. and compare these forms to prostitution laws in the United States. How do U.S. based prostitute-outreach programs provide services within this criminalization? What roles does the criminal justice system play in providing assistance to prostitutes and other sex workers?
We will then examine the rhetoric within the contemporary discourses about sex worker/prostitute health, safety and rights. What is the difference between legalization and decriminalization? What is 'sex work' and how is that term used around the world? Why do we debate about 'choice' in the sex industry? Harm reduction or risk reduction? Finally, we will explore the needs that are not met by the current approaches and look towards the potential to improve conditions for sex workers, providing services within our current system, and working towards law reform.

Additional Abstracts:

 Title: How Many Trafficked Women Does It Take...? Commercial Sex, 'Trafficking,' and US Policies: A Sex Worker Rights Perspective

This presentation reviews the history of US anti-trafficking policies and laws. This investigation will focus on efforts by United States feminist prostitution prohibitionists to expand criminalization of prostitution in the US and internationally through anti-trafficking policies.
For over a decade international sex worker rights supporters and human rights activists had been engaged in a battle with primarily US based prostitution prohibitionists who sought to invoke the victimization of prostitutes as a justification for further criminalization of the sex industry. The TVPA (Trafficking Victim's Protection Act 2000) positions the US against the legal (and illegal) sex industry. This new US law defines trafficking broadly, to include all commercial sex.

Can this be invoked to include porn, stripping, etc.? The most problematic aspects are the definitions of commercial sex and sex trafficking. If sex trafficking is commercial sex and commercial sex is "any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person," then, in this context, all sex workers are victims of sex trafficking, and the partner who trades for domestic survival (or a new washer) is a victim of trafficking. This construct defines Nevada brothel owners and, potentially, clients as traffickers.

The definition of trafficking, in fact, has been the central issue in this conflict. Fundamentalist church groups and anti-prostitution feminists sought a definition of trafficking, which would include and emphasize all commercial sex and the US TVPA ultimately reflects this perspective. Following this reasoning, the Bush administration has been issuing policy statements that declare policies such as “…organizations advocating prostitution as an employment choice or which advocate or support the legalization of prostitution are not appropriate partners for ISAID anti-trafficking grants and contracts, or subgrants and subcontracts.” Collin Powell cable, sent to USAID contractors January 15, 2003.

This presentation examines the political process through which US policy and law was developed, alliances between ‘progressives’ and right wing fundamentalists, and the national and international repercussions of these repressive policies.


Contact: 415-751-1659