LAWMAKERS ENDANGER SEX WORKERS IN THE NAME OF RESCUE

Today’s passage of #SESTA (the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) by the US Senate spells more danger ahead for those who work in the sex industry.

Along with #FOSTA (the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act), passed by the House of Representatives on February 27, this potentially disastrous bill seeks to amend the Communications Decency Act (CDA, which protects Internet companies from prosecution for user-posted content) to exclude anything deemed to facilitate sex trafficking. The result could be a dramatic widening of the crackdown on sex work online that began with last year’s Federal shutdown of Backpage.

Sex workers and allies faced an uphill battle against SESTA/FOSTA, which most members of Congress viewed as an easy bipartisan win on a “no-brainer” issue. Sex work has been barely visible in the national debate around this legislation, which has focused almost entirely on Net neutrality and First Amendment issues. But even some tech giants such as Facebook and IBM reversed their positions on these bills, presumably to avoid appearing to condone sex trafficking. As usual, the most vulnerable people in the equation and those most directly affected have no voice in the passage of legislation that endangers while purporting to protect them.

Yet advocates for sex workers’ rights and anti-trafficking activists agree that SESTA/FOSTA will hurt everyone working in the sex trade, including trafficked individuals. As Freedom Network USA, “the largest network of anti-trafficking service providers and advocates in the United States,” said in a recent statement,

Reforming the CDA to include the threat of civil litigation could deter responsible website administrators from trying to identify and report trafficking. It is important to note that responsible website administration can make trafficking more visible — which can lead to increased identification. …When websites are shut down, the sex trade is pushed underground and sex trafficking victims are forced into even more dangerous circumstances. Street-based sex workers report significantly higher levels of victimization, including physical and sexual violence.

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The ability to advertise and communicate openly online constitutes a major safety net for all sex workers. Take this away and workers are driven back to the danger of the streets and increased vulnerability to predatory clients and procurers. Under SESTA/FOSTA, Internet companies could ban sex workers sharing information about dangerous clients and other harm reduction resources. Only full decriminalization can empower sex workers to control the conditions of our labor.

The struggle continues against the attitudes embodied in this legislation: that people trading in sex-whether by choice, circumstance, or coercion-need rescue; that the consensual sale and purchase of sex by adults enables, or is the same as, human trafficking; that sex workers don’t deserve the same rights and respect as other types of workers. With both government and well-intentioned rescuers failing us yet again, it will now be up to the sex-work community to devise new best practices to keep workers as safe as possible from prosecution and violence, while they continue to work for survival.

#SESTA #FOSTA #LetUsSurvive #SurvivorsAgainstSESTA

Stop SESTA!

Join SWOP-Chicago in opposing dangerous “anti-trafficking” legislation currently before the Senate. A vote is expected Monday, so there’s still time to contact your Senators and urge them to vote NO on SESTA!

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This legislation, along with the similar FOSTA that’s already passed the House, would endanger sex workers by censoring not only online advertising, but also potentially information and resource-sharing between workers and allies.

Excellent analysis here:

http://titsandsass.com/sex-workers-are-not-collateral-damage-kate-dadamo-on-fosta-and-sesta/

And a detailed call to action on the Support Ho(s)e blog:

https://supporthosechi.tumblr.com

#SurvivorsAgainstSESTA #LetUsSurive #StopSESTA #SexWorkersRightsAreHumanRights

My Redbook, Criminalization & Community

On June 25, My Redbook, a west coast adult service review site and discussion forum, was seized in an IRS & FBI joint investigation of money laundering and promoting prostitution.

Like most review sites, My Redbook not only served adult service consumers — it also provided free advertising for sex workers, community for an isolated and marginalized population, and a tool for avoiding dangerous clients.

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My Redbook served as an online business district for thousands of marginalized and isolated workers and a centralized location for welfare, anti-trafficking, and HIV-Prevention services to reach geographically dispersed and hidden target populations. The IRS & FBI action against My Redbook resulted in the sudden loss of a resource thousands of west coast sex workers use to help build community, screen clients, stay safe, and attain economic stability and well-being.

The recent criminal actions against My Redbook’s did nothing to provide alternative economic opportunities for adult workers outside of the sex trade, decrease demand for adult services, or attack the trafficking of labor into the adult industry; they did not help individuals trafficked into the sex trade or individuals desiring to leave it-they they simply eliminated a source of community, safety, security and stability for thousands of vulnerable individuals.

The arrest of My Redbook’s owners and the site’s sudden closure epitomize the disruptive, destabilizing and harmful impact of criminalization on the lives of individuals involved in the sex trade. So long as this industry is criminalized, any marketplaces, networks, and community spaces its’ members work to create are subject to criminal proceedings and can easily disappear overnight…(and even if they grow into durable, trusted community institutions, they will likely be demolished eventually).

The sex trade is not going anywhere; individuals will continue to be involved in the sex trade, and until criminal laws against the sex trade are uplifted, these individuals will face insecurity, instability, invisibility and extreme vulnerability, and be precluded basic human rights.

 

SWOP-Chicago Response to Operation Cross Country VI

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Beginning on June 21, the FBI and state and local law enforcement agencies conducted a 72-hour sweep called Operation Cross Country VI with the aim of recovering minors in the sex trade. Operation Cross Country VI is part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, a nation-wide FBI initiative launched in 2003 intended to address the problem of underage prostitution.
SWOP-Chicago strongly supports efforts to make contact with and improve services for youth and individuals forced or coerced into sex trade. However, we oppose the strategies used in Operation Cross Country for a number of reasons.

First, the operation broadly targets the sex trade. This means that dozens of sex workers, many of whom entered may have entered the sex trade as minors and may only be a few years over 18, are arrested for every minor recovered. (An operation in 2008 ‘recovered’ 46 juveniles and arrested 518 prostitutes. The most recent Chicago branch of Operation Cross Country ‘recovered’ 3 minors in prostitution, arrested 6 individuals for management-related charges (not necessarily management of minors but likely adults), and arrested 126 other individuals for prostitution offenses).

Second, although the operation is intended to help minors in the sex trade, most of the ‘recovered’ minors are initially arrested, handcuffed, and treated like criminals before being forced into residential treatment centers. (see images from the operation here). Minors are still charged with prostitution in over 40 states; elsewhere, although minors are not formally charged with prostitution, the outreach dynamic is similar.
Youth in the sex trade and street-based economies need access to services, but arrest and mandated services should not serve as the point of entry, especially because many have less than positive experiences with law enforcement officers.

The strategies used in Operation Cross Country have appeal because of stereotypes of underage involvement in the sex trade, and widely circulated narratives of underage sex slaves who were kidnapped and then forced to engage in sexual labor.

However, the majority of youth in the sex trade are runaways and/or homeless/unstably housed youth who enter voluntarily in order to meet basic needs. And most exploitation by third parties relies on emotional coercion of vulnerable, isolated youth, not abduction and forced sexual labor. In other words, outreach to most youth in the sex trade does not require government raids or law enforcement intervention.

Moreover, studies repeatedly show that law enforcement raids are not even an effective strategy strategy for identifying and rescuing individuals forced or coerced into prostitution. See also: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/20/government-trafficking-enquiry-fails; http://www.scribd.com/doc/90809335/Silence-on-Violence-Improving-the-Safety-of-Women-and-the-Policing-of-off-street-sex-work-and-sex-trafficking-in-London

Given the reality of underage prostitution in the United States and the track-record of raid-based rescue initiatives, SWOP-Chicago believes there are other, more effective and empowering ways that national  and local governments can help youth in the sex trade and street-based economies. They can increase funding for transitional housing programs and shelter beds in major cities. They can help runaways and street-based youth help themselves by funding peer support, advocacy and education programs. They can work to build trust between law enforcement officers & service providers AND street-based youth, so youth reach out, get help themselves, and report pimps and other individuals who commit violence against them.
***
For additional commentary, please contact: Kris Morgan - media@swop-chicago.org

SWOP-Chicago and Other NGOs Respond to Attorneys’ General Pillars of Hope Innitiative

The Pillars of Hope Initiative was launched by the National Association of Attorneys’ General(NAAG) in late spring 2012 to deter Sex Trafficking. The initiative emphasizes four ‘pillars’: improving documentation and streamlining policies, increasing detection and prosecution of traffickers, providing resources to trafficking victims, and raising public awareness of human trafficking.

On May 30, Eight non-governmental organizations working with trafficking victims, sex workers, and migrant women, including SWOP-Chicago, sent a letter to Rob MacKenna, NAAG president, responding to the initiative.

While these organizations applaud NAAG’s devotion to detecting and providing resources for trafficking victims, catching and punishing sex traffickers, and raising public awareness of human trafficking, they express concern regarding several aspects of the Pillars’ of Hope approach.

Generally, they express concern regarding initiatives that target prostitution and demand for prostitution broadly rather than concentrating resources on arresting traffickers, providing resources and services to trafficking victims, and working to facilitate information flow from NGOs and communities most likely to have intelligence on human trafficking to law enforcement officials. These initiatives include:

  • Increasing resources for reverse-sting operations and media efforts to increase the stigma associated with paying for sex.
  • Launching a media campaign against demand for sex in conjunction with the Super Bowl.
  • Continuing efforts against online classified sites that host ads for adult entertainment.

In the letter, the authors argue that:

  • Further criminalizing clients and stigmatizing sex workers will not stop human trafficking or child sexual exploitation.
  • There is no evidence demonstrating that trafficking into prostitution is caused by client demand for trafficking victims.
  • There is no evidence that increases in john arrests reduces prostitution or trafficking.
  • Increased prosecution of clients may decrease reliable reporting of human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, and abuses against adult sex workers, making it more difficult for law enforcement to detect and access victims in the sex trade.
  • Closing websites like backpage.com will not eliminate web-based prostitution markets but rather only relocate them to other sites or offline. This will make it more difficult for law enforcement to detect trafficking victims and successfully prosecute cases against traffickers.

The authors proceed to suggest that NAAG should:

  • Develop working relationships with internet adult services malls to gain access to information that will improve detection and help prosecutors build cases against traffickers.
  • Support law enforcement cooperation with service providers and advocacy organizations
    that are rooted in communities affected by human trafficking, particularly organizations supporting sex workers, undocumented immigrants, low-wage workers, and other marginalized communities.
  • Support organizations that assist survivors of human trafficking.
  • Support uniform training of law enforcement on human trafficking and prostitution issues.
  • Provide accurate information and support to trafficking victims by referring victims to local organizations.

The letter can be found here.

Editorial Published in the Elgin Courier

SWOP-Chicago is happy to announce that the Elgin Courier has published an editorial written by Kris Morgan of SWOP, criticizing the way in which a victim of physical assault in the sex trade was treated by local law enforcement, and asking for systematic change to eliminate similar incidents in the future. The editorial can be accessed here.

SWOP-Chicago would also like to note that between the date this press release was issued and publication, the community of advocates and NGOs have responded to the incident and provided invaluable support around the issue and interest in working to prevent similar incidents in the future.

We hope that attention to this individual incident will increase awareness of systematic discrimination against sex workers, lead law enforcement agencies to reexamine the way in which they deal with victims of physical and sexual assault in this industry, and ensure that state agencies make sex worker clients they come in contact with aware of victim and advocacy resources available to them.

Sex Workers Stop Traffick


For Immediate Release
####

Contact:
Sex Workers Outreach Project

http://www.SWOPUSA.org

877-776-2004 x 2
info@swopusa.org

Sex Workers Stop Traffick

Sex Workers Outreach Project USA, a social justice and anti-violence project by and for sex workers, decries trafficking and demands protections for workers.
In the debate regarding the coercive shutdown of the Craigslist adult services sections the voices of sex workers have been conspicuously overlooked. Trafficking is not sex work. Real traffickers and child abusers must be stopped. Sex workers are in a unique position to help end trafficking, if our perspectives are taken into account.

Based on our extensive knowledge and experience with the sex industry, SWOP calls on elected officials and members of law enforcement to pursue a sane and effective approach to ending trafficking.

The conflation of consensual sex work with rape is a disservice to both victims of trafficking and to sex workers. Persecuting consenting adults for exchanging sex for money is a waste of precious resources that could better be used providing services and legal protections for minors and others who have been abused.

Trafficking and child sexual abuse are not sex work. Real traffickers must be stopped. Sex workers need health and labor protections to keep them safe while working and the ability to report crimes to the police if they are violated.

Sex workers and our clients are part of the solution- not the problem- to identify and root out real abuses. Sex workers and our clients are best situated to recognize suspicious or illegitimate activity on the Internet. The criminal status of some sex work is a barrier to helping law enforcement tap into this vital resource.

Since sex workers are not afforded equal legal protection from sexual assault and theft, we self-police by monitoring and identifying predators, work cooperatively to create safe workspaces and advise each other in safety methods that are critical to survival. Nobody is better situated to speak to the real problems and respective solutions for this community than sex workers.

SWOP demands that the voices of sex workers be included in all discussions of issues related to the commercial sex industry, particularly when the venues in which we communicate and keep each other safe are concerned. Purported rights groups, such as Change.org, have ignored sex worker voices while wrongfully vilifying Craigslist as a cause of- rather than an ally in stopping- trafficking. The continued silencing of sex workers, the trend to shut down the spaces where we communicate and the disregard of our expert knowledge demonstrate clearly that these efforts are more about stomping out sex for sale in general than in protecting those who are actually abused.

####

Photo by Xtalk in April 2009 in cooperation with ECP and Sex worker Open University- London


44 arrested in FBI sting

For your daily dose of fucked up, I give you Operation Cross Country. SWOP-LV on Bound, not Gagged posted about this. When I wrote about this on my personal blog, I didn’t realize it had happened in Chicago. Basically, you have FBI agents arresting sex workers solicited on Craigslist. Ostensibly, they’re targeting child prostitution and trafficking.

The numbers say otherwise. Forty-seven children have been rescued, whereas five hundred eighteen adult sex workers have been rested. That’s over ten times the number of adults arrested as children rescued. These adult sex workers, as SWOP-LV points out, are lured into stings from Craigslist and other such sting tactics. These are presumably not people related to the crimes of trafficking, given this information. Seventy-three pimps have been arrested, presumably the people responsible for the trafficking.

So what you have is the FBI arresting sex workers on felony charges for what actually is a state-level misdemeanor. In the story SWOP-LV links in Boston, seventeen FBI agents arrested two sex workers. That’s right, two. Five total for the night. In Chicago, five people who run services were arrested, five were customers, and thirty-four were sex workers. Adult sex workers. No children were found.

Excuse me just one moment. You have got to be fucking kidding me!

To target child prostitution and trafficking is one thing. To scapegoat sex workers and crackdown on prostitution in the name of preventing trafficking is a horse of a different color. It’s a waste of money and it’s a waste of tax-payer resources. And if you really care about “rescuing” sex workers, why the fuck are you giving them felony records?

Operation Cross Country is not about ending the exploitation of children and those who are trafficked against their will. It’s using this exploitation as a smokescreen for persecuting sex workers on the altar of sex panic.

If you are a sex worker, escort, prostitute, or other person arrested in this sting, I encourage you to contact SWOP-Chicago by phone or on our hotline. We have a number of legal resources and moreover would be glad just to talk to you.

Morality and Prop K

From LaLibertine’s Salon. While this concerns the proposition to decriminalize sex work in San Francisco, this possibly historical vote affects sex workers all over the country. That’s why I posted this here as well:

Whenever morals are trotted out within the public sphere, especially within politics, it is inevitably about controlling sexual behavior of adults. The very people who wring their hands in fear over the sexual expression of consenting adults for “morality’s sake” rarely seem to be the same people worrying over the prevalence of lying, cheating and hatred in our society. They’ll scream that gays are corrupting their children and encouraging them to adopt the “homosexual lifestyle” but they remain conspicuously silent about the examples of public figures caught lying about the causes of war or where all the funding for public schools went.

Isn’t lying, cheating and bald-faced hatred much more corrupting of morals than two adults consenting to sex, paid or not, straight or not? Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m much more impacted by a public official lying with regard to the spending of my hard-earned tax money than what is going on in the private bedrooms of consenting adults. I am much more concerned with how a public official views people based on their race or gender, than if Sally makes Steve pay $50 for a blow job.

The anti-Prop K argument that the ordinance will ignore abusive pimps and allow organized crime to gain a stronger hold on prostitution is absolutely ridiculous. The latter was used to try and keep the prohibition of alcohol going as well and similarly, this argument can be easily stripped. Legalizing the sale, production and consumption of alcohol didn’t put breweries, bars and saloons into the hands of the Mob; but the criminalization of alcohol most certainly did. Exactly where in the proposition does it say that offenses such as rape, kidnapping, slavery, coercion, theft, blackmail, murder or assault will be legal? Nowhere it does. In fact, because of the criminalization of prostitution, the law has implicitly made such actions legal by the simple fact that when a prostitute suffers violence the police and the courts look the other way. They do not investigate or prosecute violent offenders against prostitutes, therefore they essentially say to said offenders (and anyone thinking about it), “Oh, that’s okay. Carry on.”

This is where true morality comes in. Not the false morality that I described earlier. No, it is the morality that says, “It is WRONG to violate another person’s being simply because of their job or perceived sexuality”. The morality that says murder, rape, kidnapping, slavery, coercion, theft, assault and blackmail are simply wrong. The morality that says when violent offenses are reported (when possible) by the survivor, the offenders are tracked down and brought to justice. The morality that truly does worry about what examples we are setting for children: that some people can be mistreated by society and at best we all ignore it. The morality that is concerned with human rights.

The voter pamphlet Peridot Ash posted breaks down the ‘yes’ ‘no’ vote as such:

A “YES” VOTE MEANS: If you vote “yes,” you want the City to:

stop enforcing laws against prostitution,

stop funding or supporting the First Offender Prostitution Program or any similar anti-prostitution program,

enforce existing criminal laws that prohibit crimes such as battery, extortion and rape, regardless of the victim’s status as a sex worker, and

• fully disclose the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against sex workers.

A “NO” VOTE MEANS: If you vote “no,” you do not want to make these changes. [emphasis mine]


Oh yeah, the pimps and traffickers and violent johns are gonna LOVE that! Who can honestly vote “NO”, if they’re truly concerned about the health and safety of prostitutes?