Kate D’Adamo, a national sex worker rights activist, spoke about the laws that impact sex workers’ lives in an interview with the Daily Lobo.

D’Adamo is based out of Washington, D.C. and is a sex worker and sex worker advocate.

She works with Reframe Health and Justice, a queer, transgender and people of color consulting collective which takes on a variety of issues including harm reduction, healing, justice, and criminal and legal reform.



According to the The Sun, a news outlet based in the United Kingdom, of the 70,000 students they surveyed about sex work, 18% had sold intimate photos, 16% had sold used underwear (or some other item of clothing), 14% had engaged in sugar dating (receiving payment for dating someone), 14% had engaged in dates and/or served as an escort, 10% had engaged in webcamming, 9% had participated in phone sex, 7% had been paid for sex, 5% had done nude modeling and 2% had made porn.

There is little data on college students who are engaged in sex work in the U.S. However, over the last decade there have been documented cases of members of the UNM community engaging in sex work (former University President F. Chris Garcia and English Professor Lisa D. Chavez).

Daily Lobo: What laws would improve health and safety for sex workers?

D’Adamo: "When you are talking about folks who are engaged in what is traditionally known as sex work, the most pressing law that folks are talking about is really decriminalization."

"It is about protection, but more importantly, it is actually about empowerment. No one is protected when you are throwing people in prison for basic survival needs, when you're turning people into criminals for just living their lives and keeping themselves housed and fed. That's really what criminalization does."

"It creates a target population for victimization, first and foremost. If you're going to target someone, you're going to target the person who is economically vulnerable, who can't go to the police if they're being victimized, and when you do this you're really preying on vulnerabilities that are created through criminalization."

"The U.S. is the most criminalized country in the Global North. We criminalize everything —  the buying, the selling, the advertising, the space where sex work is in and every single person around sex workers."

"Yet we find higher levels of violence, we find higher levels of STI and HIV transmission in part because your negotiations for things like condoms can be used against you as evidence of a crime. We find that people are avoidant of law enforcement, and so when you are operating in more isolated ways, away from peer support, away from harm reduction tools, away from outreach and service providers and when people are physically in more isolated locations, they are more vulnerable to violence."

"It's incredibly hard to provide harm reduction information sometimes, because you're talking about making transactions safer and that’s considered the facilitation of prostitution. And now because of the passage of SESTA/FOSTA when you're doing it online, that is a federal felony."

"Whether it's the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women and a host of other international labor organizations, you see a culture of decriminalization because they come from a place of centering the health and safety of people that trade sex."

Daily Lobo: Why do you think college students become sex workers?

D’Adamo: "It only makes sense: The nontraditional labor is where college students go. If you think about the way that we structure college, you are talking about nontraditional working hours, you are talking about not that many available working hours, and so the idea that college students could get a living wage job, not to mention paying ridiculously high fees at completely random times in the year, seems unreasonable at best."

Daily Lobo: Is there a difference between sex trafficking and sex work, and could you talk more about how anti-trafficking laws can be detrimental?

D’Adamo: "Trafficking in the sex trade is just like every other industry — it is exploitation through forced broader coercion, and we know that it definitely does occur. However, it’s important to remember that trafficking and sex work are not the same thing."

"Trafficking occurs not only in commercial sex: (It) also occurs in agriculture, and it also occurs in factory labor. There is this false idea that the majority of people who have been trafficked feel that the most important thing to them is prosecution or that they really want to participate in that prosecution. That's false, and we know that from interviews with service providers, with trafficking victims and with law enforcement. We are completely underfunding services for survivors, and we are prioritizing money that's going to cops to do things that we know are not best practices and are very often retraumatizing."

"We know that when we're talking about prevention, prevention isn't posters in airports. Prevention is investing in the vulnerabilities that get exploited by third parties. If you know that someone is homeless and housing unstable, stable housing is something that a trafficker can offer someone in exchange for an exploitative work situation, whether that’s domestic work, whether that is commercial sex or whether that is panhandling."

Daily Lobo: Are there any pending policy proposals that students should be specifically aware of, to be able to contact their legislators about?

D’Adamo: "Not everyone is going to go out and be a sex worker activist. If you are a sex worker who wants to be a sex worker activist and work on issues that help you and your people, go for it."

"Sex work is part of a larger campaign about anti-policing, about anti-racism: It’s about ending structural violence against especially communities of color and especially queer communities of color. It's about reentry work. It's about making sure that we have paid family leave and caregivers can get access to living wage jobs and also be able to raise their kids and not have to send their entire salary to daycare."

"When people are criminalized for trading sex, when they are stigmatized for trading sex, make sure they're still part of our movement and they're still part of the the end fight. But if your passion is reproductive justice, is housing, whatever it is... Sex work has a facet in there, and the work that you do is probably still important to people who are trading sex."

For the complete interview, click here.

Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @lissaknudsen