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English 212

2002 Third Paper

On Serendip

The Redlight Project

Sarah Mendell

The Redlight Project is currently a concept, a project in the true sense of the word. It is rooted quite basically in the desire to support people who are providing service in the sex industry in Philadelphia. The idea was first discussed amongst a group of women from the newly formed Sex Workers Action Team (SWAT), including a Bryn Mawr College alumna, Genny Fulco. Genny has invited four current BMC students, Michelle McGrath, LH, Katherine McMahon and myself to help direct this project and do some of the necessary work. After our first meeting as a group we decided that the most effective and most immediately accessible work we could do would be to do research and write a guide (or guides) concerning various topics related specifically to this audience.

Topics chosen to research include general safety, the law, mental health, drugs/alcohol and sexual health, the latter of which we've already begun working. Information to do with sexual health for the general public exists in plenty but is inappropriate for sex workers because it, knowingly or not, discourages the tendencies that sex work inherently promotes. For instance, the number one listed suggestion for preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections is abstinence which the sex worker obviously cannot practice. The pamphlets we'll distribute will therefore do more than outline tips on sexual safety; they will address the issue of sexual safety as it applies specifically to this group and in doing so increase their safety dramatically.

Pamphlets to do with sex worker safety must be written in a language the sex worker will understand and feel comfortable reading. Since we do not judge these workers by either discouraging them from their work or promoting it, the language we will use to write these pamphlets must reflect our lack of bias. Our concern rests in the safety of the workers not in the existence of a system we wish to eliminate. In the hopes of increasing safety, we'll present the facts in the language most comfortable to the sex workers, one that they will benefit from on account of clearly understanding the information communicated through the words. Words used must be representative of those used on the street (as of now, we get that kind of information from Genny), for example "vaginal discharge" should be referred to as a "juice." Terminology must also respectful in terms of using less derogatory synonyms for words, for instance, by respecting the profession of a "street dater" as opposed to a "hooker." Articles, pamphlets and books published with the intent of increasing a sex worker's safety serve no purpose if they offend the worker. No worker in any industry would accept the advice of someone who does not respect them or their field.

In participating in this project, our challenge is to make decisions concerning what we believe to be most important, to distill the essentials concerning those chosen topics and then to organize them in such a way that promotes understanding and further reading. Though the language we employ is essentially our own, our research includes writing to do with the technical aspects (medical, legal, etc. information) and to uncover possibilities in how to convey these aspects effectively. We intend to use the languages used in past publications directed at sex workers as models for our work but to build upon them by working as a group (increasing diversity in perspectives), getting out into the field (possibly conducting interviews), doing book based research for more formal input and web-based research for current organization and government information.
Perhaps the largest challenge is the redefining of sex in my own language—to no longer describe sex acts as necessarily intimate or desired but as considered a routine part of getting the job done. I must consciously make the effort to distinguish pleasure and profession when I talk about sex and in doing so, readily accept the new language that accompanies that idea.

The Redlight Project: Initial Bibliography

Boston Women's Health Book Collective. "Our Bodies, Ourselves."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The Role of Condoms in Preventing HIV Infection and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases." HIV/AIDS Prevention Training Bulletin. February 1993.

Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. "Sexually Transmitted Diseases." July 2002. "Safer Oral Sex." 1999 Dynamic Media Resource.

Meretrix, Magdalene. "Turning Pro."

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). "An Introduction to Sexually Transmitted Diseases." July 1999.

Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). "Making Sex Work Safe."

"Safety at Work." Issue 7: December 12, 2000. (magazine)

Semans, Anne and Winks, Cathy. "The New Good Vibrations Guide to Sex." 2nd edition.

Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver (SWAV)."The ABC's of Hepatitis." March 1997.

Society for Human Sexuality. "Guide to Safer Sex." 1998.

The Center, L.A. Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. "Lesbian Safer Sex." July 1995.

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