Some youth say they choose to be sex-workers. Others are forced into the $32 billion industry against their will. Prax(us), the only Colorado advocacy organization serving both groups, will shutter its doors this December.
The nonprofit set itself apart from the army of Christian anti-sex-trafficking organizations that demand participants be abstinent and sober, by focusing specifically on homeless youth in exploitative situations and offering individuals support without judgement.
Prax(us) didn’t require youth be sober. It didn’t require them to work with law enforcement. It didn’t stigmatize youth for criminal activities or participating in sex-work.
Prax(us) offered judgement-free emotional support, counseling and job-skills training.
“Through outreach, we go where other people aren’t willing to go. The unique thing about Prax(us) is that we always work with people wherever they’re at. We don’t require people to be in a certain social location,” board member Midori Higa told The Colorado Independent.
Prax(us) is also different from its abstinence-only peers because it didn’t tell people to just quit but rather encouraged clients to reduce harm by learning about and practicing safer drug use and safer sex.
Staff handed out condoms, dental dams and lube, and referred clients to the local syringe exchange where they could trade dirty needles for clean ones.
The work is needed, but finding the money and volunteers to keep the organization open proved too hard.
“Funding for harm reduction is difficult to come by. As a movement, harm reduction is still quite new,” says Higa. “It was also the matter of financial support for organizations who work with sex workers.”
Refusing to turn away active sex workers limited the amount of money Prax(us) could get from government grants. Foundations preferred money that went to clear-cut human trafficking cases — not services for sex workers who don’t feel exploited.
“The human trafficking movement is very muddy — not everyone is trafficked,” said Lisa Raville from the Harm Reduction Action Center. “Some people are doing sex work because they want to, and that can be difficult to suss out. A lot of funders don’t understand that. We could see how Prax(us) struggled over the years. It was just not getting the funding that it needed and deserved.”
In addition to financial troubles, the nonprofit’s board had been dwindling, Higa said. Members were too busy to serve.
Even with a small but mighty staff of one — Director Mary Durant — and devoted volunteers, the financial instability pushed Prax(us) to make the decision to end its run gracefully, closing shop just before Christmas.
Nonprofits like the Harm Reduction Action Center, which works primarily with injection drug users, and Survivors Organizing for Liberation and Buried Seedz of Resistance, which work with the LGBTQ community, will fill some of the gap after Prax(us) is gone.
But some of the youth Prax(us) works with are sure to fall through the cracks.
Mimi Madrid of Survivors Organizing for Liberation and Buried Seedz of Resistance said Prax(us)’s funding issue is a symptom of a larger problem — too many organizations competing for the same funds.
“Colorado has an oversaturation of nonprofits,” Madrid told The Colorado Independent. “Other nonprofits exist and thrive with a lot of public and private funding — but they don’t work with marginalized identities and communities like Prax(us) does.”
Tonight, Prax(us) will be holding a farewell gathering and community forum at 4 p.m. at 1029 Santa Fe Street in Denver. An RSVP is requested. For more information or to RSVP, visit the Prax(us) Community Forum – Farewell on Facebook.
Photo credit: Prax(us)