The Sex Worker Project Receives the 2014 Emil Gumpert Award

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The New York City-based Sex Workers Project (a project run out of the Urban Justice Center) which provides legal and social services to both sex workers and victims of human trafficking, has been selected by The American College of Trial Lawyers as the recipient of the 2014 Emil Gumpert Award.

This $100,000 award will support the Sex Workers Project in evaluating and engaging with the newly established New York State Human Trafficking Courts through the Human Trafficking Courts Project of the Urban Justice Center. (As the Sex Workers Project is not a legal entity, the Urban Justice Centeris often the name used by funders).

These 11 new specialised courts, modelled after three pilot projects in New York City and Nassau County, launched late last year and are spread throughout the state of New York, including one in each of New York City’s five boroughs. Functioning as a “diversion” program, the courts are intended to connect those arrested for sex work to social services rather than incarceration. However, in order to go through this new court system and access these services (which are themselves unclear), people must first be arrested and detained, an issue that has compelled local sex worker groups to turn a critical eye to the courts.

The Human Trafficking Courts Project intends to work towards ensuring that those being processed through the new court system receive due process, and appropriate representation and services.

“We plan to look at the new courts through a lens of advancing the rights and wellness of our clients.” Said Sienna Baskin, co-director of the Sex Workers Project, via email. 

“In the next few months, we’ll be undergoing a careful planning process and talking to our partners and allies.  Our initial thoughts include training court personnel, service providers and defenders in these courts, offering direct services from a rights-based perspective for those going through the court system, doing pilot research on the goals and consequences of diversion courts. We anticipate that our interventions will be timely as these courts are likely to be promoted as a solution around the country. “

To celebrate the award, the Sex Workers Project is hosting an evening of stories, celebration and garnering support with the community on Thursday June 5th, which the public is welcome to attend.

In other news, Baskin has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant totake a three-month sabbatical in 2015 to study New Zealand's model of decriminalisation geared towards safeguard the health and rights of sex workers. 

“I’m super thrilled to have been awarded a Fulbright to study the decriminalisation model in New Zealand,” said Baskin. “I will be looking into things have changed for sex workers 12 years after the law passed, finding out what cultural and political realities led to this reform, and finding out how the law addresses minors, migrants and human trafficking. I’ve already started to make contacts and hope to connect with many sex workers while I’m there! New Zealand is an incredibly promising model and I’m excited to bring the lessons back to the US.”