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Tamika Spellman Busts Stigma: Sex Workers are People Too

Tamika Spellman has worked with HIPS since June 2017, where she is currently the policy and advocacy associate. Tamika is originally from Buffalo New York but has lived in Washington D.C. on and off since 1988. Tamika knows first-hand what the war on drugs has done to the community. She is dedicated to helping others and working to create positive policies and laws to help those involved in sex work and drug use.

We were honored to have Tamika take time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved in this work?

I am a 51-year old trans woman of color who has been a sex worker for 30+ years. I began advocating in the harm reduction arena in 2007 around safer sex, how HIV is contracted and spread, and a syphilis eradication program. To date I have been working on the Decrim campaign for sex work and for personal use paraphernalia. I came upon this line of work because I intersect on both issues, and as a long-term sex worker, I have experienced plenty violence in the commission of survival sex work.

What are your advocacy goals at HIPS? How are you working to achieve them?

My goal is to bust stigma, show sex work is normal. That regardless of the fact I sex work, I am still a constituent, a taxpayer and most of all an ordinary human being who lives and works in the District of Columbia. I am making it happen by print and video media campaigns, canvassing in all wards including door to door, advocating in city council, and even speaking with representatives/senate staff on Capitol Hill.

What should the HIV community know about International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers? Why is this day important?

When violence against Sex Workers is on the forefront of conversations, we can talk about all safety aspects of sex work, including curbing HIV and other STD transmission freely without stigma or shame. As with all things related to public health and public safety, stigma plays a significant part in accessing safety and healthy options.

Is HIPS doing anything to recognize this day?

Yes, we have an event planned on the 17th, set up by my coworker, Sharese Mone. It will feature speakers, testing, performances, and gift bags for sex workers. Here’s the link to our event.

Is the movement for sex worker rights connected to the movements for racial justice and transgender rights? Can you speak more on this?

Racial Justice and transgender rights are smack dab in the middle of this argument on the viability of survival sex work. As a Black trans woman, having repeatedly struggled with homelessness, arrest, drug use and violence, it's a no brainer to free the oppressed and to protect all citizens regardless of bodily autonomy issues like sex work and drug use. Black trans women tend to be on the forefront of all these issues.

How have things like PrEP and U=U affected the lives of HIPS clients? What barriers do you see to people being able to access PrEP or achieve and undetectable viral load?

PrEP has been going well, but the barrier is cost and access for those who don’t have insurance coverage, which is a monumental issue. As far as U=U, the issue with remaining undetectable is multifaceted. Insurance and cost are tied for #1 issue, then homelessness being second which makes it nearly impossible to keep medications safe, at the proper temperature and maintain some level of privacy around their individual medical needs.

There is so much stigma and misinformation surrounding sex work. What is one misconception or myth about sex work that you want to dispel?

The stigma I bust includes showing the fact that we are human, everyday people who have families to take care of, that we are more than sex workers, that we aren’t nasty people, seeing as damn near every living soul has sex. The biggest hurdle I see is on the decrim front is that people think decriminalization will lead to more sex workers, which isn’t realistic. The effort in place is to stop criminalizing people for exercising body autonomy. Criminalization traps people in a never-ending cycle of arrest and jail for trying to survive in a world that is uber sexual but also using moral compass for self on others.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Yes. I have been raped, robbed, beaten, shot and assaulted, a couple times by law enforcement. Violence among women and Sex workers is too common, and often crimes go unsolved because Police would rather arrest me than to investigate crimes against me. Of these crimes against me, NONE have been solved.

Thank you Tamika for sharing your story and your advocacy!

Posted By: Sarah Hashmall, Communications Manager - Friday, December 14, 2018

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