Sex Worker Led Community Care

HIPS, Washington, DC, 2019

HIPS is a community-based harm reduction organization that offers judgement-free direct services to sex workers and drug users in Washington, DC. During the day, HIPS runs a health clinic and case management services out of their office. At night on the weekends, HIPS uses an outreach van to distribute safer sex supplies to people engaging in street-based sex work throughout the District. 


The HIPS overnight outreach program has been around for 25 years and is the organization’s primary way to connect with sex workers in the District. Given the current environment of rapid gentrification, targeted policing, and harmful laws (eg. SESTA-FOSTA), however, HIPS is finding it challenging to meet the current needs of sex workers in DC. For example, a lot of sex exchange occurs at indoor venues throughout DC, yet the HIPS van only travels to popular outdoor locations.


Starting in January 2019, I have been collaborating with a team of HIPS clients, volunteers, and staff to facilitate a sex worker-led process of updating the overnight outreach program so that it can better meet current client needs. I am facilitating the human centered design process with a team of people who make their living doing sex work–and thus know best when and where harm reduction supplies are needed in DC. This process has entailed a series of over 7 community meetings in which a team of about 12 sex workers in DC have collaboratively designed prototypes for an updated HIPS overnight outreach program.

Group norms from our first design team meeting.

I collaborated with HIPS volunteers and staff to raise the funds to ensure that all people with lived expertise as a sex worker in DC are paid a DC living wage of $25/hour for their labor. We also hired a co-facilitator, Lisa, with decades of experience with sex work in DC whom I am working alongside as a co-facilitator.


The SWIRL team developed ideas for two different ways of expanding the impact of the HIPS overnight outreach program. One idea engages peer educators as “Watch Tower Girls” to distribute harm reductions supplies throughout the neighborhoods of DC. The other idea engages the residents and business owners who are nearby popular sex exchange locations and equips them as allies of the Watch Tower Girls. The sex worker design team plans to release their ideas to the public at a “prototyping party” in Spring 2020 where community members from across DC will provide feedback. From there, HIPS will begin the hard work of implementation. 

My co-facilitator, Lisa, and I presented our work at the Social Design Exchange in Baltimore, MD in April 2019.

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