by Maya Menlo and Patricia Kane, SWAN
On Oct. 25, 2016, the New Haven Police Department (NHPD) arrested 14 sex workers in a sting. News media outlets published mug shots of the arrestees. The Sex Worker Allies Network (SWAN) formed in response to this archaic and unjust behavior. SWAN is comprised of a diverse group of New Haven residents, and is headed up by Beatrice Codianni, longtime community activist, and Brett Davidson, Connecticut Bail Fund co-founder.
One of SWAN’s first steps was to organize a rally at City Hall to protest the arrests as well as the public shaming of sex workers in New Haven. Mayor Toni Harp expressed doubts about the wisdom of the NHPD’s approach in an interview with WNNH shortly after the rally.
Members of SWAN met with Interim Police Chief Camp-bell to voice opposition to the sting. Chief Campbell suspended future sting operations in order to allow time to evaluate alternate approaches suggested by SWAN.
SWAN is tracking the arrestees’ criminal cases and has made free legal representation available to those who are interested.
SWAN volunteers have also been walking the streets to reach out to local sex workers, distributing bags of winter apparel and personal care items. Although SWAN’s work has just begun, the response from local sex workers has been overwhelmingly positive. SWAN is committed to lifting up the voices of sex workers in our community.
Studies show that many sex workers are victims of child-hood sexual and psychological abuse. They continue to be targets of violence, including by police, who trade sex for no arrest, or pressure them to become snitches – which endangers their lives.
Many of the sex workers to whom SWAN has spoken have multiple health issues. Some are homeless. SWAN is currently applying for a grant to fund its outreach expenses, and to cover the salary of one or more caseworkers to attend to the needs of local sex workers. In addition, SWAN is also working to raise funds to provide supportive housing to sex workers and women returning from prison. Please contact Patricia Kane (203) 559-1974 to get involved in SWAN’s efforts.