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Harm Reduction, Abolition and Social Work

Harm reduction is a critical movement tool used for generations to create change, build long-term relationships, and support healing while working to reduce harm in our community.

Shira Hassan, a long-time harm reduction and transformative justice practitioner, shares her own experiences with harm reduction as a young person in the sex trade to her recent adventures as an instructor of one of social work's most sought after courses (University of Chicago and University of Washington, Seattle).

This instructional and participatory session will provide an overview of harm reduction principles, values and practice - and how it intersects with transformative justice work within a social work context. There is no justice that leaves out people in the sex trade & street economy, drug users and street based young people.

Shira offers her reflections, cautions and thoughts about the possibilities for the future of harm reduction as an abolitionist strategy. Sheila Vakharia, Deputy Director of the Department of Research and Academic Engagement for the Drug Policy Alliance, will introduce the webinar and moderate an interactive audience discussion at the close of the evening.

Social work, historically and today, has been deeply embedded in systems of carceral control. With social work's legacy of ties to policing and oppressive family regulation through the child welfare system, the social work community is actively imagining and working towards a social work rooted in abolition, turning to traditions of resistance that also characterize its history. This webinar is a 2nd in a series on Abolitionist Social Work organized by the Network to Advance Abolitionist Social Work (NAAASW) in partnership with Haymarket Book, challenging carceral social work through the development and practice of an abolitionist social work. This series opened on February 25, 2021 with "Abolitionist Social Work: Possibilities, Paradox and Praxis."

The Network to Advance Abolitionist Social Work (NAAASW) is a group of social workers from different parts of the U.S. building a year-long initiative to support abolitionist work in the field of social work. The initiative includes ongoing political education, research, knowledge generation around carceral and abolition social work, developing an online hub of abolitionist social work resources, and broader organizing and advocacy efforts to build abolitionist ideas and practices into social work.



Shira Hassan is an organizer with nearly 25 years of experience. She is the former Director of the Young Women’s Empowerment Project where the participatory evaluation that she co-designed and implemented was recognized by the United Nations as part of its Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. treatment of people in the sex trade (2009). Shira has focused on the experiences of girls, boys, transgender and queer youth involved in the sex trade and street economy and has stabled 4 syringe exchanges expressively for young people in the sex trade and transgender people. She has trained and spoken nationally on transformative justice, harm reduction and leadership development of young people of color. Shira’s work has been discussed on National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Nation, In These Times, Bill Moyers, Scarleteen, Everyday Feminism, Bitch Media, TruthOut and Colorlines. Along with Mariame Kaba, she is the co-author of Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators. Shira currently teaches in the graduate school of Social Work at both the University of Chicago and the University of Washington. She received her Masters in Social Work from New York University in 2002.

Sheila P Vakharia is Deputy Director of the Department of Research and Academic Engagement for the Drug Policy Alliance. In that role, she helps DPA staff and others understand a range of drug policy issues while also responding to new studies with critiques and analysis. She plans conferences and convenings on cutting edge issues in the area of drugs, drug research, and harm reduction. Additionally, she is responsible for cultivating relationships with researchers from a wide range of disciplines aligned with DPA’s policy interests and working to mobilize academics in service of DPA policy campaigns. Prior to joining DPA, Dr. Vakharia was an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Long Island University, and had also worked as a clinical social worker in both abstinence-only and harm reduction settings. Her research interests include harm reduction therapy, drug policy reform, drug user stigma, overdose prevention, and social work education. She earned her doctorate at Florida International University’s School of Social Work. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Binghamton University and a Post-Master’s Certificate in the Addictions from New York University.