Please support us!

Nov. 30, 2011

Dear Friends and Allies:

We are reaching out to ask you to help us raise money to support the important work of Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP). YWEP is run by youth of color in the sex trade and street economies. We are a member based social justice organization that is led by and for our constituency. Our organization is staffed and run by us,  people between the ages of 17-25.

Our mission is to offer safe, respectful, free-of-judgment spaces for girls and young women, including transgender girls and transgender women in the sex trade to recognize their goals, dreams and desires. YWEP is Chicago based project that was founded in 2002 by a radical feminist and harm reduction based collective of women and girls involved in the sex trade and our allies. We were created by women and girls who believe that any young person can be empowered and that we are all priceless, creative, and smart and can be leaders in our communities.

By making a donation, you can know that you are connected with work that advances young people, people of color, LGBTQ youth, and youth who are living and surviving on the street to positions of leadership and decision-making. We are building a movement of self-determination, connecting with each other to create and share resources, and realizing new ways of honoring our rights.

YWEP is my anchor to reality; a needed reminder that I am not the stereotype or statistic the world tells me that I am. YWEP validates me, supports me, encourages me, doesn’t judge me and empowers me to continue to grow into the self sufficient woman I am supposed to be. YWEP provides the necessary safety that my heart needs to grow wings.”

Our first Campaign and our Bad Encounter Line

In 2009, YWEP completed a youth led research study on ways girls and transgender girls in the sex trade & street economy are resistant and resilient to violence. In this research we looked at two categories of violence, individual and institutional.  Although both categories had surprising results, we were most surprised at the amount of girls and transgender girls facing violence from institutions-like police, hospitals, and social services. Out of this research, YWEP created a hotline called the Bad Encounter Line (BEL).  The BEL is a way to report bad experiences street-based youth encounter with institutions and tracks the neighborhood, gender and time of day so YWEP can learn more about how we are being harmed.  Results show that street based young people in Chicago are being harmed and/or denied help from systems set up to serve our needs. Since 2009, 146 Bad Encounters have been filed over the computer, via phone, text and through filling out a paper form.  Of these 146 encounters, law enforcement and health care are the most likely institutions found to deny help or cause violence to youth involved in the sex trade and street economy.

In response, YWEP has created a campaign called Street Youth Rise Up and organized a city wide task force made up of 122 youth from around Chicago. 

Street Youth Bill of Rights

The Chicago Street Youth in Motion Task Force has also drafted a Street Youth Bill of Rights.

This collectively written document seeks to hold institutions accountable by asking them to sign on, display our Bill of Rights posters, offer a clear grievance procedure, and participate in a training series using a curriculum written by us about how to work effectively with our constituency.

Here are some more 2011 events that highlight the way we are working to change the way people THINK  about and SEE homeless, home-free, and street based youth:

In September, YWEP led our first march through Chicago with nearly 100 adults and young people coming together to demand being heard.  In July, We released a hip hop CD that includes spoken word and jazz that we wrote, produced, performed and recorded ourselves. Throughout the year, we learned about herbs, how to make herbal pills, do self exams, use speculums and we have been teaching other young people about this with our zines and outreach so that we know how to take care of ourselves when we are turned away from, can’t afford or unable to get the help that we need.

When everyone in my life judged me and told me I was worthless; when every service provider believed that I couldn’t do anything for myself because I was just another victim—the women at YWEP were the only ones telling me that I could protect myself, that I deserved to take care of me and that I had the power to dream a new life. The women of YWEP were the only ones who really cared about ME.”

We’re a small organization, so every dollar is important. For an idea of where your money will be going:

$10 a month makes it possible for a young person to participate in Girls in Charge, our leadership group that makes all the major decisions at YWEP.

$25 a month makes it possible for a youth outreach worker to provide harm reduction information on reproductive health and drugs, legal rights, responding to violence and reducing harm / increasing safety in the sex trade.

 $50 a month makes it possible for our members to conduct workshops with young people throughout the city of Chicago about the realities of the sex trade, who benefits from the sex trade, and what young people can do to support young women in the sex trade.

 A one-time $500 covers a youth staff person’s salary for a month and $1,000.00 pays 12 youth outreach workers to reach 500 street based young people a year with life saving information and supplies.

ANY AMOUNT makes it possible for YWEP to continue to reach other street based youth, provide learning tools, resources for survival and information about getting involved with our youth-led campaign.