Changing Dominant Narratives on Sex Work

The Open Society Public Health Program calls for letters of intent from organizations, informal groups, and networks in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom to apply for funding to change dominant narratives about sex workers.

Over the past several years, the problematic conflation of consensual sex work with human trafficking has led a number of European states and institutions to adopt, consider, or endorse legal and policy approaches that worsen the situation of sex workers by policing migration and mobility, and by promoting the “end demand” model, also known as the Swedish or Nordic model, of criminalization.

Criminalization of buying sex and of activities related to sex work, including soliciting in a public space or renting an apartment with another sex worker, exposes sex workers to police violence and human rights violations and leaves them without adequate recourse to justice. Sex work is often misrepresented in the media and popular culture, and this further perpetuates the marginalization and stigmatization of sex workers. Everyday experiences of sex workers have been traditionally absent from mainstream debates. Depictions of sex work tend to be sensational and lacking in nuance: They stereotype sex workers and perpetuate the myth of “white slavery” in order to delegitimize sex workers’ perspectives and demands. 

Eligibility Criteria

Projects should fulfill all of the following criteria in order to be eligible for funding:

  • The project makes the issue of sex work more salient; it provides a new framing of the issue of sex work, or enables new actors to enter the debate about sex work.
  • Strategic and policy-relevant: While we do not expect narrative change to occur quickly, the proposed project must be designed with the aim of changing public discourse over the long term.
  • Sex worker–centered: Applicants must demonstrate sex worker leadership or partnership on an equal footing in all phases of the project.
  • The project must be implemented in one of the following countries: France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Purpose and Priorities

With the overall goal of changing dominant narratives about sex work, we will consider funding requests specifically for creative interventions that provide counter-narratives to the sensational representation of sex work and promote structural change for the benefit of sex workers by:

  • raising awareness about the rights of sex workers and the consequences of criminalization of sex work;
  • amplifying the voices of sex workers, empowering sex workers to tell their own stories, and documenting their everyday experiences;
  • creating space for dialogue about sex work and the manifold issues affecting sex workers, including poverty, stigma, precarious working conditions, violence, the deportation of undocumented migrants, and more; and
  • highlighting a multiplicity of perspectives on sex work and contributing to critical debates on the decriminalization of sex work.

Interested applicants should upload their letters of intent by June 23, 2017, through the Open Society Foundations Grant Portal. Applicants can apply for a maximum of U.S.$50,000 for a period of no more than 24 months. Letters of intent should be no longer than two pages, and include a budget with primary line items as well as proposed start and end dates.

Successful applicants will be contacted by July 1, 2017, and will have until July 16, 2017, to submit full proposals for consideration.