Welcome to We Move Forward: Diverse Perspectives on Sex Work. The idea for this conference originated from work the conference team has done with individuals who have experiences with transactional sex. In this work, we saw that the common narratives around these individuals failed to capture the breadth of experiences of those who engaged in transactional sex. We were concerned that this gap impeded the production of knowledge about how service organizations could best address the varied needs of individuals engaged in transactional sex, and led to a lack of policies that reduced barriers to services. This gap also excluded certain subpopulations, such as individuals engaging in transactional sex out of necessity, neither coerced nor empowered by sex work, and created divisions among researchers, service providers, and community leaders that then further limited the production of knowledge and services.
We felt therefore, that there was a critical need to bring together these diverse perspectives and resources, across alliances and tensions within the field, to identify best practices for addressing this population’s needs and for reducing systemic barriers to services. We very intentionally centered the conference on the lives, experiences and voices of those with lived experience. We formed a Community Advisory Board at the earliest stages of conference planning and they were instrumental in every aspect of developing this conference – from the name “We Move Forward” to the speaker selection to the topics we chose to focus on. We have also ensured that their voices were front and center by having each panel have at least one speaker with lived experience.
But because each person’s experience is unique, it is very likely that you will hear perspectives that are different from yours and hear opinions that you disagree with. But that is the whole point of this conference – to challenge us, educate us and broaden our understanding of the issues by listening to a diverse group of individuals – all of whom are here because they care about what happens to this community. And we would be remiss if we did not address the pain this community has historically felt and still feels today – pain that has come in many forms and from many sources. For some in the community, this pain has come from trauma related to their experiences of engaging in transactional sex. For others, this pain came not from sex work itself but from the punitive response they faced. And for others, the pain has come from having their own experiences ignored or not believed. Still, for others, the pain will come from experiences not directly related to sex work but through socioeconomic need. But whatever the source, I hope we can agree pain is pain and everyone’s story has value and deserves being listened to regardless of whether it is a story of pain or resilience and strength.
So in the spirit of this idea, on day one, we will be listening and learning - hearing our panels of experts talk about health and violence, support and services, policy and intersecting identities. We will finish with a panel exclusively of individuals with lived experience as they describe how they envision an ideal world for this community. The next day we will be focusing on action and next steps. We will have concurrent breakout sessions focusing on creating a harm reduction packet, formulating inclusive and thoughtful policies, and imagining the services needed for an ideal program to serve this population.
We are so glad you have decided to join us.