Sex Workers' Rights Activists Launch Mobile Billboard Campaign

Nov 2, 2011 8:00 AM PST

LOS ANGELES —  After being rejected by every outdoor billboard company in Los Angeles, the sex workers' rights project SWAAY (Sex Work Activists, Allies, and You) has launched its public awareness campaign with a mobile billboard that began running on Nov. 1.

The group represents all professional sex workers including porn stars and adult industry personnel.

SWAAY's text-only billboard reads, "Sex worker: a person who consensually exchanges their own sexual labor or sexual performance for compensation. Sex work is not the same as forced sex trafficking or sex slavery. Learn about the people and facts behind sex work at"

SWAAY said its message was banned by Clear Channel, CBS, Lamar, Regency, Van Wagner, Avant Outdoor, L.A. Transit Authority, and Outdoor Solutions, but was finally picked up by a mobile billboard company.

The sex workers' rights billboard was paid for by 115 supporters on, a kick starter-like website that allows grassroots activist groups to crowd source the funding of a media campaign.

Previous billboards successfully launched through Epic Step include messages in support of WikiLeaks and accused war crimes whistle-blower Bradley Manning.

SWAAY was founded in June of this year to address what it said is the public's misconceptions due to the lack of factual and accessible information about sex work, and "to fight against the outright lies and 'junk science' statistics pushed by moral and religious crusaders who advocate for further criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers."

The organization describes a sex worker as a person who exchanges their own sexual labor or sexual performance for compensation, such as an escort/prostitute, porn star, stripper, dominatrix, phone sex operator, sensual masseuse, or web cam performer. Sex workers are also part of the larger sex industry — which includes adult movie directors, club owners, webmasters, retail stores, and more — but are distinct because their job involves making money off of their own sexual labor, not writing about, photographing, managing, or selling the sexual labor or performances of others.

SWAAY cited a similar struggle faced by the St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco clinic that provides free healthcare to sex workers. Its billboard was also rejected by Clear Channel and CBS Outdor but was eventually picked up by Muni buses.

"Bad laws and hurtful social stigmas work together in a vicious cycle that makes life more dangerous and difficult for the people who engage in sex work," said Sabrina Melmoth, a volunteer with the group. "SWAAY seeks to chip away at both problems by sharing non-sensationalized, first-person information about life as a sex worker, and advocating for the full decriminalization of sex work."

A press conference is scheduled for later this week.

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