Date of Award


First Advisor

Asma Abbas

Second Advisor

Francisca Oyogoa

Third Advisor

Anne O'Dwyer


This thesis envisions how the principles of harm reduction may be applied to political struggles that seek to end the unjust criminalization of sex workers and drug users, eliminate moral and legal barriers to resources that improve their health and safety, and recognize and advance the right of individuals to have power over their own bodies—power that is not conditional upon positionality or exposure to harm. Current prostitution and drug policies in the United States function to escalate, rather than minimize, harm in the sex and drug trades, and the punitive effects of those policies are experienced unequally along racial, economic, and gender lines. My critique of criminalization and the abstinence approach rests upon recognition of the broad range of motivations that individuals may have for engaging in sex work in drug use, and the diversity of relationships to both voluntary and involuntary harm that they experience. Drawing upon empirical research that investigates the effectiveness of harm reduction strategies for improving public health, and tending to discourses regarding the morality and ethics of sex work and drug use, this thesis considers how U.S. political structures might be reformed and transformed toward decriminalization and the minimization of involuntary harm—understood as a multidimensional and subjective experience—to people involved in the sex and drug industries.