Monthly Archives: September 2013

Jabour, Anya (2013): Prostitution Politics and Feminist Activism in Modern America- Sophonisba Breckinridge and the Morals Court in Prohibition-Era Chicago, Journal of Women’s History, Volume 25, Number 3, Fall 2013, pp. 141-164.

In 1930, Sophonisba Breckinridge, a feminist social work professor at the University of Chicago, initiated a campaign to reform the branch of Chicago’s Municipal Court system that dealt with prostitutes. A product of an international anti-prostitution movement, the Morals Court was considered a model reform at the time of its inception in 1913. Yet as scholars have observed, reformers’ efforts to abolish prostitution resulted in repressive policies that sanctioned state control and police harassment of sex workers. Although most studies note feminist critiques of prostitution policies on civil libertarian grounds, few have explored this phenomenon, particularly after 1920. Breckinridge’s crusade to secure civil rights for accused prostitutes in Prohibition-era Chicago offers a new perspective on the politics of prostitution, prompts a reexamination of American feminism after the achievement of suffrage, and sheds light on current debates about the international traffic in women.


“Chicago’s Morals Court was the product of a major reform movement in early twentieth-century America in which a coalition of evangelicals, feminists, business leaders, and medical experts demanded immediate and unrelenting repression of prostitution. Nationwide, city-appointed vice commissions prompted raids on brothels and advocated new laws suppressing commercialized sex. At the federal level, the Mann Act of 1910 prohibited the international or interstate transportation of women for immoral purposes.14

The anti-prostitution movement was international in scope. Beginning in the 1870s, feminists, moralists, and civil libertarians on both sides of the Atlantic attacked the so-called “European plan” of regulated brothels and medical inspection of prostitutes. Decrying the sexual double standard, governmental sanction for commercialized sex, misguided public health policy, corruption in law enforcement, and infringements on women’s constitutional rights, self-styled “abolitionists” in Europe, Latin America, and the United States sought to abolish or prevent state-sponsored prostitution and eradicate both domestic prostitution and the international sex trade. Cooperation among denominational, national, and international groups resulted in international treaties to suppress sex trafficking in 1904 and 1910.1

Author: Kamala Kempadoo, 1998

Citation (APA): Kempadoo, K. (1998). Globalizing Sex Workers’ Rights. Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme, 22(3/4), 143-150.


Kempadoo examines the trajectories of workers’ participation in sex work and in sex workers’ rights movements in different times and places. In particular, she addresses the specificity of experience as it relates to nation and region, and the effect of economic globalization (WTO, NAFTA) on the sex industries.

Read the full article here:

Empower Foundation (2012) Hit and Run: Sex Workers’ Research on Anti trafficking in Thailand (The impact of anti trafficking policy and practice on Sex Workers’ Human Rights in Thailand)


We travel for days up the mountains, across rivers, through dense forest. We follow the paths that others have taken. Small winding paths of dust or mud depending on the season.

I carry my bag of clothes and all the hopes of my family on my back. I carry this with pride; it’s a precious bundle not a burden. As for the border, for the most part, it does not exist. There is no line drawn on the forest floor. There is no line in the swirling river. I simply put my foot where thousands of other women have stepped before me. My step is excited, weary, hopeful, fearful and defiant. Behind me lies the world I know. It’s the world of my grandmothers and their grandmothers. Ahead is the world of my sisters who have gone before me, to build the dreams that keep our families alive. This step is Burma. This step is Thailand. That is the border.

If this was a story of man setting out on an adventure to find a treasure and slay a dragon to make his family rich and safe, he would be the hero. But I am not a man. I am a woman and so the story
changes. I cannot be the family provider. I cannot be setting out on an adventure. I am not brave and daring. I am not resourceful and strong. Instead I am called illegal, disease spreader, prostitute, criminal or trafficking victim.

Why is the world so afraid to have young, working class, non-English speaking, and predominately non-white women moving around? It’s not us that are frequently found to be pedophiles, serial killers or rapists. We have never started a war, directed crimes against humanity or planned and carried out genocide. It’s not us that fill the violent offender’s cells of prisons around the world. Exactly what risk does our freedom of movement pose? Why is keeping us in certain geographical areas so important that governments are willing to spend so much money and political energy? Why do we feel like sheep or cattle, only allowed by the farmer to graze where and when he chooses? Why do other women who have already crossed over into so many other worlds, fight to keep us from following them? Nothing in our experiences provides us with an answer to these questions.

Instead of respect for our basic human rights under the United Nations Human Rights Council we are given “protection” under the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. We are forced to live with
the modern lie that border controls and anti-trafficking policies are for our protection. None of us believe that lie or want that kind of protection. We have been spied on, arrested, cut off from our families, had our savings confiscated, interrogated, imprisoned and placed into the hands of the men with guns, in order for them to send us home… all in the name of “protection against trafficking”. It’s rubbing salt into the wound that this is called helping us. We are grateful for those who are genuinely concerned with our welfare … but we ask you to listen to us and think in new ways.

After “raid or rescue” we will walk the same path again, facing the same dangers at the same border crossings. Just like the women fighting to be educated, fighting to vote, fighting to participate in politics, fighting to be independent, fighting to work, to love, to live safely… we will not stay in the cage society has made for us, we will dare to keep crossing the lines.

Full text available.

Authors: Young Women’s Empowerment Project, 2012

Citation (MLA): Young Women’s Empowerment Project. Denied Help! How Youth in the Sex Trade & Street Economy are Turned Away From Systems Meant to Help Us & What We Are Doing to Fight Back. Bad Encounter Line 2012: A Participatory Action Research Project. Chicago, 2012.


We wanted to show how girls bounce back and heal from individual and institutional violence. We wanted this information so that we can collectively build a social justice campaign to respond to broad systemic harm. From this, YWEP’s first youth developed, led, and analyzed research project was born.

Our research questions were:

1. What individual and institutional violence do girls in the sex trade experience?

2. How do we heal/bounce back from this violence?

3. How do we resist/fight back against this violence?

4. How can we unite and collectively fight back?

We answered these questions using 4 tools: we did focus groups with our membership and outreach workers, we created a fill in the blank zine so that girls could document the ways they heal and fight back, we used ethnographic observation by paying attention and writing down the experiences of our outreach contacts, and we asked new questions in our workshops about how girls take care of themselves and avoid violence.

Read the full report here:

Authors: Young Women’s Empowerment Project, 2009

Citation (MLA): Young Women’s Empowerment Project. Girls Do What They Have to Do to Survive: Illuminating Methods Used by Girls in the Sex Trade and Street Economy to Fight Back and Heal. Chicago, 2009.

Youth activist summary:

This research is for US. It’s for YOU and for all girls, including transgender girls, and young women, including trans women involved in the sex trade and street economy.

This research study was created by girls, collected by girls, and analyzed by girls.

We did this because this is OUR LIVES. Who knows us better than us?

We did this to prove that we care–that we are capable of resisting violence in a multitude of ways.

We take care of ourselves and heal in whatever way feels best for us—whether society approves of it or not.

This research study honors all of the ways we fight back (resistance) and our healing (resilience) methods.

We proved that we do face violence but we are not purely victims. We are survivors. We can take care of ourselves and we know what we need.

This research is a response to all of those researchers, doctors, government officials, social workers, therapists, journalists, foster care workers and every other adult who said we were too messed up or that we needed to be saved from ourselves.

The next time someone tells you that you don’t know what’s best for you, look towards our tool kit for inspiration. We wrote the tool kit with the intent of giving you ideas about how girls have survived this life—not to tell you what to do.

We did this. We did the research. And now we are sharing it with you so that you know that girls do what they have to do to survive.

Summary (from “Our Research”):

YWEP began our first experience with Participatory Evaluation Research in 2006. With a grant through the Cricket Island Foundation’s Capacity Building Initiative, we met Catlin Fullwood, an activist, researcher, and trainer. Catlin taught us a research method in which all members of the community could be involved in the development, data collection, and analysis of the research.

Our 2006 research project had three learning questions. We wanted to find out (1) what effect harm reduction was having on our outreach contacts. We also wanted to find out (2) who our allies were and weren’t as a harm reduction based, youth-led social justice project. Lastly, (3) we wanted to learn more about how girls respond to other girls in positions of leadership. For this research project, we did a literature review, several focus groups with YWEP leadership and membership, and we collected over 300 surveys from our outreach contacts across Chicago and Illinois.

Read the full report here: