Sex Workers and Survivors Working Together

By May Jeong   |   May 20, 2024
Co-Directors of New Moon Network at Feminist Funded ’23: Rising. (photo by Savannah Sly, 2023)

For decades, feminists have debated over whether sex work is a viable profession or inherently exploitative. The result of this debate has been conflict amongst impacted individuals, the fragmentation of feminist movements, and policy gridlock. Enter New Moon Network, an organization moving beyond the debate to serve the interests of all people in the sex trade. Through capacity-building programs, technical assistance, and regranting, New Moon supports sex worker- and survivor-led efforts around the country, and uplifts projects poised for impact to philanthropists.

New Moon is led by the people it serves. The project is co-directed by Melodie Garcia and Savannah Sly, who have a combined 20-plus years of experience in direct services provision and policy advocacy. Both Sly and Garcia have lived and studied experience in the sex trade, which equips them with necessary perspectives for supporting grassroots leaders in impacted communities. “We want to melt the political divide between survivors and workers,” states Garcia, “and to build the tools we wish we had as new activists.”

Educating Funders on a Rapidly Accelerating Movement

At the heart of New Moon’s mission is the promotion of self-determination and stability for individuals, which Sly and Garcia believe are central to addressing exploitation. “People are less likely to be exploited in the sex trade or other industries if they have access to basic resources such as housing, healthcare, education, and unrestricted income,” explains Garcia. “People in the sex trade understand this, and New Moon is committed to uplifting their leadership.”

New Moon pursues its mission in three ways: by educating donors; by offering capacity-building support to grassroots leaders; and by serving as an intermediary funder. New Moon consults with philanthropists and donor networks to connect the dots between movements. “Due to discrimination in philanthropy, many sex worker-led groups don’t disclose their identities to funders,” explains Garcia. “These groups might present as LGBTQ+, POC, or women-led instead of sex worker-led. They might promote their work as criminal reform, HIV/AIDS prevention, or anti-trafficking focused. While all of these descriptors are accurate, it’s unfortunate that sex workers feel the need to obscure their expertise due to stigma.” Sly expands, “New Moon maintains a list of 230-plus sex worker-led organizations in the U.S. In 2015, there were only about 20 such groups. That’s a 1000% increase in eight years! Our goal is to educate philanthropy on why this movement is accelerating, who is leading it, and why their work is relevant to women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigrant and disability justice, to name a few connected issue areas.”

Overcoming Discrimination to Get Vital Programs Funded

The reception to New Moon has been positive, with the organization receiving matching support from feminist programs such as the Matching Program to Unlock Giving to Expand Women’s Power & Influence, the Abortion Bridge Collaborative Fund at Women Donors Network, and Mama Cash, and criminal reform funds such as Vital Projects. However, New Moon has faced systemic barriers because of its centering of sex workers’ rights. “We were denied fiscal sponsorship by a major progressive foundation because we support sex workers’ rights,” remarks Sly. “That stung, but it’s exactly the kind of discrimination we’re here to address.”

Since its inception in July of 2022, New Moon has brokered over $1,200,000 to sex worker- and survivor-led organizations in the U.S. The organization has
invested deeply into the Community Support Line hosted by SWOP Behind Bars, which is the only national direct service supporting both survivors of exploitation in the sex trade and sex workers. “Receiving flexible core funding and technical support from New Moon has been a game changer,” says Blair Hopkins, the executive director of SWOP Behind Bars. “We’ve used the funding from New Moon to expand the line into key regions and develop a comprehensive database for direct service referrals.”

New Moon offers monthly open calls for microgrants of $1,000 and employs a panel of community advisors to decide on applications. “We want to decrease competition and increase opportunity,” Garcia says of the microgranting program. “We’re excited to see these groups using microgrants as springboards to secure bigger funding opportunities.” One such group is Ishtar Collective, a survivor- and sex worker-led group in Vermont. “New Moon publicly supported our food justice program, which encouraged other funders to take us seriously,” says Ishtar Collective Co-Founder Henri Bynx. “They also helped us get a fiscal sponsor. Now we’re getting ready to open a drop-in health clinic for people in the sex trade, right here in Vermont.”

Small infusions of cash provided by New Moon can be instrumental to harm reduction and mutual aid collectives such as SWAID in Las Vegas, which does street-based outreach distributing reproductive health supplies, as well as Narcan and Fentanyl strips, or to MO Ho Justice in Missouri, which creates community spaces for POC and LGBTQ+ individuals in a deeply red state. New Moon also funds direct services programs such as Kylexus Kitchen, which distributes hot meals to people in the sex trade at community events in New York.

New Moon knows it will take more than money to help grassroots organizations succeed, which is why they also offer capacity-building tools. New Moon has partnered with Woodhull Freedom Foundation to host a free online leadership academy called Spokes Hub, which offers training, group discussions, and even financial incentives for advocates with lived experience in the sex trade. “Spokes Hub helped me tell my story on my own terms,” shares Melissa Griffin, a survivor of sex trafficking who was arrested and put on a sex offender registry. “They’ve been supportive emotionally and financially when I’ve chosen to educate parole officers or the media about sex trafficking. Now I’m preparing to teach my first class for Spokes Hub as a peer educator.” To date, the successful pilot program has paid out over $10,000 to a pool of 20-plus graduates, and engaged over 130 unique participants. “There’s a huge demand for this kind of program,” Sly observes.

Leadership at New Moon has a clear vision for the future. The team is working to bridge feminist and social justice movements to collectively build a society where people have freedom, rights, and access to the building blocks necessary for determining their own futures. “I envision a world where young LGBTQ+ kids aren’t kicked out of their homes and left with no other option than to trade sex,” says Garcia. “This world is also one where women of color have meaningful job opportunities, and where everyone has access to education, housing, and healthcare.” Sly takes it a step further: “If we’re successful, adults will have the agency to choose sex work or avoid it completely. People who choose sex work will be protected from violence, banking discrimination, loss of child custody, eviction, or other societal hazards.” When asked where the name New Moon came from, Sly smiles and explains, “The moon is always in the sky, but you can’t always see it. People in the sex trade are similar. … You can’t always see us, but we’re always here. Like the waxing moon, we are emerging from darkness into bright, brilliant fullness.”


New Moon Network

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(202) 599-6212
Founder & Co-Director: Savannah Sly


The mission of New Moon Network is to secure rights and opportunity for people in the sex trade by building capacity in the field and organizing philanthropy to channel critical resources into grassroots movements.

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