Dear Emily Shugerman,
We are disappointed in your editorial choice to focus on Rob Kampia in your February 3rd, 2019 article titled, Rob Kampia Weed Activist With #MeToo Past, Is Now Pushing Sex Work Reform.” By focusing on Rob’s past instead of our efforts to decriminalize sex work, you reduced a rich and vibrant movement to one man’s conduct. You have also diminished the contributions of the women on our team, who have devoted decades to this cause in order to center the only man among our directors. You minimized our accomplishments and our mission by publishing a piece that misrepresents not only our organization but the entire sex worker rights movement.
Crystal DeBoise is a licensed psychotherapist, a non-profit manager, and a lifelong community activist. Melissa Sontag Broudo, JD, MPH, is an attorney who has been part of the sex-workers’ rights and harm-reduction movements for over 15 years. Crystal and Melissa are the co-founders and co-directors of the Sharmus Outlaw Advocacy and Rights (SOAR) Institute in Brooklyn, New York, an organization focused on legislative policy and advocacy changes for sex workers and related communities. Both women were with the Sex Workers Project (SWP) of the Urban Justice Center for over 7 years, with Crystal as Co Director and Melissa as a Senior Staff Attorney. Both Crystal and Melissa are pioneers in their fields, with Crystal founding one of the first human trafficking service programs in the nation, and Melissa filing and winning the first ever motion to vacate convictions for survivors of human trafficking in the country. They feel the urgent need to decriminalize sex work to provide life-saving relief for sex workers, whose voices are historically absent from all media reporting. Yet, you wrote about Rob.
As for me, I’ve been out as a sex worker since 2015 when I debuted my one-woman show Cuntagious at The Tank Theater to sold-out audiences. I’ve written about my experience in the sex industry for The Honest Courtesan, Vice & other publications. I started and host a podcast The Oldest Profession which has become a resource for sex workers, activists and their allies all over the world. Yet, you wrote about Rob.
To call our life’s work a “vanity project” (the quote you end the piece with) is an insult and a willful misrepresentation of who we are, what we’ve accomplished, and what we’re trying to do. To suggest that allowing Rob Kampia to use his extensive network of donors and political resources to further our work is a betrayal of the sex worker rights movement is to minimize the diversity and breadth of this work, and to minimize the need for change. We can focus on Rob, or we can talk about the immense harms of criminalization. The perspective you present ignores the reality of those who are most marginalized, and loses sight of our shared goal, which is decriminalization.
Melissa and I were at the San Francisco summit. We know that there was not consensus among the sex worker activists gathered there about Rob’s involvement. The people who chose not to work with him, didn’t. Since that summit, we have spoken with several activists who participated and understand our decision to continue fighting for decriminalization. They continue to collaborate with us on substantive policy work.
“Cancel/outrage culture,” is the idea that anyone who “sins” by transgressing against a shifting progressive ideology ought to be banned from participating in public life. We believe that such a belief is a toxic trend that mimics the moralistic, punitive ideology we seek to counter. Finger-pointing and prosecutorial tactics undermine all of our compassion and pursuit of justice.
To throw out our life’s work of dismantling whorephobia with the sin of association is not only irresponsible, but dangerous.
-Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications for Decriminalize Sex Work