Noah Berlatsky continues to be a real ally here, giving space to and amplifying the voices of actual sex workers and their research.
As always, embedded links that you really need to read if you’re interested in sex work activism/being an ally to sex workers, at the link! ESPECIALLY read Tara’s work. And remember that Portland is a part of the latest suits agains backpage, while Seattle is just one of several cities currently experimenting with implementing End Demand. Talk to your friends and family, write letters to the editor and op-eds, I can help you with the latter and with sources if you need. Please don’t stand silently by and watch as it happens.
Terra Burns, the author of a report on sex work in Alaska, says that closing outlets like Backpage.com puts women more at risk. “I don’t think that getting rid of advertising mediums is helpful to anybody,” Burns says. “It’s harmful to people who are doing sex work at the most survival level, who can’t afford more expensive advertising venues and are forced out on the street. And it’s harmful for sex trafficking victims who are also potentially forced out onto the street.”“Those are the people who are affected the most by this kind of thing,” Burns added. “It’s not some evil sex trafficker, because he … can deal with changes in the market.”
Backpage is currently being sued by some trafficking victims for contributing to their exploitation. Yet many law enforcement officials admit, reluctantly, that Backpage is actually very helpful in their work catching sex traffickers. Clearwater, Florida, Police Chief Anthony Holloway, for example, declared that Backpage “needs to be shut down” while contradictorily acknowledging that “it’s a good investigative tool for us right now for trafficking.” He also admitted that, if the site were shut down, advertisers would simply move to other, less regulated venues.
Mistress Matisse, a Seattle dominatrix and sex-worker rights advocate, agrees that Kirk’s bill would neither stop traffickers nor help victims. “To the extent that they actually exist, actual traffickers will just advertise elsewhere, or put people on the street,” Matisse says. “And people just trying to get money for food and shelter will have to resort to even more dangerous means as well.” Matisse argues that “if Kirk really wants to help people, he should be fighting for more anti-poverty programs and homeless shelters, especially teenage homeless programs.”
Burns suggests that lawmakers look at “coercion by police officers” and discrimination in accessing public services. “In my survey a lot of [sex workers] were discriminated against in accessing shelter,” she said, “but of the people who were sex trafficking victims, 100 percent of them were denied emergency shelter.”
The survey didn’t provide detailed information about why victims had trouble with the shelters, but some respondents did tell Burns that they were turned away because of where they met the people they were seeking shelter from (presumably, while selling sexual services). Burns comments, “when someone’s a sex-trafficking victim and they’re seeking emergency shelter, and you deny them that shelter, you’re most likely causing them to continue to be sex trafficked.”
It’s notable that both Burns and Matisse offer solutions aimed at empowering victims, rather than a villain to scapegoat. If you want to help marginalized people, you need to stop marginalizing them, not talk of rescue while driving victims—and their abusers—further underground.
Decent treatment for stigmatized populations does’t fit easily into a heroic narrative, however. So instead, Kirk bravely goes after Backpage. It’s almost like the real crime here is not trafficking, but visibility. Sex workers who can’t advertise are sex workers you can’t see—which makes it easier to portray them all as victims in need of heroes.
Oregon politicians take note.
In the open discussion that followed Ms Steinem’s presentation, there were several participants who agreed with her positions. However, others pointed out that there were certain simplistic assumptions involved. For instance, Ms Steinem and Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap refuse to recognize that unionized sex workers are voicing their own opinions—these women are dismissed as puppets of pimps and brothel owners—a gross simplification in view of the sheer numbers of women across the country who have unionised in a bid to claim human rights and dignity.
Other voices of dissent pointed out to the need to look at issues of poverty and labour in general, and locate sex work within that context, and/ or within a larger context of violence rather than homogenise all prostitutes/ sex workers. While side-stepping rather than engaging with these questions, one of Ms Steinem’s responses was that she would not mind if prostitutes, as she chooses to designate all sex workers, paid income tax—at the same time she advocated a strategy of penalizing but not criminalizing the client—how these were to be achieved remained unclear.
Dr Kumkum Roy is Director of the Women’s Studies Programme at the JNU
…The daughter of missionaries, Annie Dieselberg founded NightLight in 2005 to help women who have been trafficked into sex — or women, like Mint, who worked as prostitutes.
“Any woman who is either at high risk of being exploited in the sex industry or is exploited in the sex industry, is our target,” says Dieselberg. “For me, it’s more the issue of meeting the need of the wounded, the vulnerable, exploited, hurting, and trying to do it as holistically as possible.”
…Currently, NightLight employs about 50 women. But it is constantly reaching out to more in Bangkok’s sex districts, offering them the promise of a better life. There are dozens of evangelical-minded groups, large and small, doing similar work throughout Thailand.
Dieselberg says there is a huge need for NightLight’s services. Every other week, she says, news headlines announce a new raid at a Bangkok bar employing scores of underage girls.
The headquarters of the Royal Thai Police Anti-Trafficking Division is where those raids are planned out. Sitting at his desk, General Chavalit Sawaengpuech looks rigid as he responds to the latest US State Department Trafficking in Persons report, which criticizes Thailand for not doing enough to target all kinds of human trafficking. The US government has threatened Thailand with trade sanctions if it doesn’t improve its record on human trafficking.
“This current government has given priority to anti-human trafficking issues,” Sawaengpuech says. “We are always calling on all the agencies to take action against it — from the police, to the shelters and the NGOs helping victims. And last year, the Royal Thai Police ordered all police units to spend at least 10 days each month doing anti-trafficking work.”
In other words, law enforcement here is trying to meet a quota — largely by staging rescues at brothels instead of going after the traffickers — even where there isn’t data or evidence indicating the sex workers they are rescuing are victims after all.
“As good as their intentions may be, I think there are a number of potential problems with attempting to rescue someone from their plight, in particular, rescue a sex worker,” says Dina Haynes, a law professor at the New England School of Law, in Boston. “I understand that there is an argument, a feminist argument even, that sex work can’t be consensual. It puts people in the victim role, but it also doesn’t allow conversation about how to solve or resolve; why people choose this course.
Haynes says many American Evangelical groups working abroad often impose their abolitionist agenda, focusing only on sex workers and sex trafficking — instead of other more common forms of human trafficking such as those found in the fishing, farming or construction industries. It’s an uncomfortable topic, she says, but some of these women have chosen sex work as the best paid job they can find. Trafficking isn’t the issue here, she says; it’s poverty and lack of opportunity, and the evangelical emphasis on rescue doesn’t really address that.
…Mai, 28, is originally from Burma. She’s worked as a maid, a dishwasher, baker and street food vendor. But none of these jobs allowed her to make as much money as she now makes as a prostitute in Chiang Mai.
“There are good and bad things to any job, but when I came to do sex work, I realized this is a job that gives me enough income to really look after my family and move ahead in life,” she explains. “I was not tricked into it, and I don’t see myself as a victim.”
Mai says a friend introduced her to sex work — a friend who was among many rescued in a police raid at a brothel a couple of years ago.
She’s since gone back to prostitution.
Sex worker turned author David Henry Sterry interviews Heidi Hoefinger on her new book about sex, love and money in Cambodia.
“”If Westerners have a burning desire to spend their money philanthropically in Cambodia, I would suggest they donate to projects like the Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), which is the sex worker union I mentioned above, or to other community-run projects that are led by the women or workers themselves, so that the community members actually have a say in what their needs are and where the resources should be spent. I would not suggest throwing money at the hundreds of anti-trafficking groups that have wasted millions (probably billions) of donor dollars in unrealistically trying to ‘abolish slavery’ by forcefully ‘rescuing’ women from the bars, detaining them against their will in ‘shelters,’ and shoving sewing machines in their hands because that is supposedly a more ‘dignified’ form of work.”
Instead of catering to mainstream rhetoric, Griffin could be using her platform to talk about the dire lack of social services for sex workers outside of prison, due to criminalisation and social stigma – and use her spotlight to bring the public a far more nuanced look at the sex trade.
There are many unhappy workers in the sex industry, just as there are many unhappy workers in many other kinds of work, and criminalisation only serves to exacerbate the level of exploitation and violence in this market; nevertheless, sex workers demand the same human rights and labour rights as all other people. Moral reform lectures, delivered to prison inmates, are not the best use of state resources when many other preventative social services are direly needed.
Sex workers have many reasons for offering sexual services. True, some may not be happy with sex work, but they may be even less satisfied with other job opportunities that are open to them in their own countries. Similarly, human trafficking may be fueled by migration and labor regimes that make the lives of migrants vulnerable, rather than by actual violence.
Second, abolitionism does not solve the problem of violence which, more often than not, stems from the criminalization of sex workers and migrants, and the lack of rights that goes with it. In fact, research has shown that criminalization of sex workers makes them more vulnerable to instances of abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking.
Treated as criminals, victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation risk remaining undetected and even further victimized by prison sentences. This has been the case in the recent FBI sting operation in the US where minors were arrested for prostitution. In the name of abolition, feminist and abolitionist organizations have supported police raids and police action in the fight against human trafficking. This is true even for those countries where the police is infamously corrupt and prone to abuse and sexually assaulting vulnerable populations such as sex workers, without ever being punished. Such policies hurt sex workers and victims of human trafficking alike. And, most certainly, they should not be called “feminist.”
By contrast, countries that treat sex work as legal labor have lower incidences of violence against sex workers. In these countries, sex workers’ working and living conditions have generally improved. The best example is New Zealand, where even migrant sex workers areprotected by law and where a liberal approach has neither increased the number of sex workers or victims of human trafficking. With the recognition of sex work as labor come many rights, such as access to health services, the social system and, in New Zealand, access to residence permits for migrant sex workers. Most importantly, decriminalization grants access to the legal system in case of rape or abuse by clients or the police.
(however, as Wendy Lyon points out on fb re: New Zealand
“All participants, excluding the NZ Immigration Service representative, stressed that existing legislation treats migrant sex workers inequitably. Most notably, under the Prostitution Reform Act, 2003 (PRA), migrants who require visas to work in New Zealand are prohibited from working in the sex industry. As such, under the PRA those on student and working visa are excluded from working as sex workers.
While the current law was lauded as having greatly improved conditions for sex workers in New Zealand the same privileges have not been awarded to migrants.
Participants challenged the law on the basis that:
§ it places migrant sex workers in an inequitable provision under the law
§ there is no evidence of migrant sex workers having been trafficked to New Zealand
§ legislation places migrant workers in an untenable position.” )
Government leaders and police often fail to acknowledge their own complicity in further stigmatizing girls engaged in survival sex. The FBI’s multi-city raid involved officers enforcing standard laws related to prostitution or solicitation, meaning that many of these so-called “rescues” involved little more than “rounding up the usual suspects.”
Periodic law enforcement raids change none of these realities. Nor do they change the fact that crucial local, state, and federal dollars that used to fund services for girls on the run from abusive families have been devastated by draconian budget cuts. Federal sequestration alone is predicted to bring a 56 percent cumulative reduction in juvenile justice funds that once provided states with vital, community-based services for troubled families and alternative care.
“They (girls) usually get into this because they are running away from something else,” Oakland, California, police Lt. Kevin Wiley declared. “It goes way beyond law enforcement to solve this epidemic.”
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its re-authorizations define commercially-sold girls as victims, but most state laws allow for girls under 18 to be charged as prostitutes. Advocacy groups have tried to pass Safe Harbor laws, which mandate that any girl under 18 who has been sexually exploited be treated as a victim, not a criminal and placed in safe treatment facilities that provide medical and mental health services. Only 25% of states have passed such legislation. Even then, “victims” in these states often find their “rescue” home is a shelter or detention facility.
With no system for helping teens put their lives on track, putting handcuffed girls in patrol cars is far from a rescue. It’s more like a roundtrip ticket to a visit with a broken detention system, followed by a return to the street.