Ohio sex worker murdered by cops

Yet another life has been cut short by a murderous cop, anti-sex worker bias, and the ongoing criminalization of sex work.


Donna Dalton Castleberry, a 23-year-old mother of two, was shot eight times at point-blank range on August 23 by Columbus, Ohio undercover vice cop Andrew Mitchell. Castleberry was inside an unmarked police vehicle when she was killed by Mitchell, who alleged that she attempted to stab him in the hand with a knife. Two days earlier, a judge had issued a warrant for Dalton’s arrest for failing to appear for sentencing on a misdemeanor soliciting charge.

Two days later, over 100 friends, family members, and supporters held a memorial vigil for Donna.


“The family is crying out for justice and answers,” said the victim’s older sister, Bobbi McCalla, on her GoFundMe campaign to cover Castleberry’s final expenses. According to McCalla, enough has already been raised for the funeral, and all additional contributions will go toward a potential legal fight against the city of Columbus and its police department.

“If I were in that position, I might lunge at someone if I feared for my life,” said Castleberrry’s cousin, Mary Laile, about Donna’s last moments.

According to a police spokesperson, other cops on the scene claimed a conversation took place inside Mitchell’s car before he opened fire. While no further information is available concerning the circumstances of Castleberry’s death, we can easily imagine that she may have gotten into the unmarked vehicle believing Mitchell to be a client, then acted in self-defense when she discovered otherwise. Just such situations are all too familiar to sex workers, who face on-the-job violence every day at the hands of both cops and clients. Due to the criminalization of our profession, sex workers are denied redress for this violence. Meanwhile, recent legislation such as SESTA/FOSTA, which targets online discourse concerning sex work, has forced more sex workers on to the street and into more dangerous working conditions. While these conditions prevail, we can expect to see an increase in murders such as Castleberry’s, and other instances of violence against sex workers.

Donna Dalton Castleberry fell victim to intersecting forces of oppression: the ability of police to kill with impunity, and the stigma that says sex workers’ lives are disposable.

SWOP-Chicago stands in mourning, rage, and solidarity with the family of Donna Dalton Castleberry, and Ohio’s sex worker community.

#sexworkersrightsarehumanrights #sexworkiswork #LetUsSurvive #nokillercops

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.


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.


Stand with SWOP-Chicago in Supporting Amnesty International’s Proposal on Decriminalization of Sex Work

April 3, 2014

For Immediate Release


The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP)-Chicago supports the proposal put forth by Amnesty International to decriminalize prostitution.  We believe that the criminalization of actors participating in the sex trade contributes to a host of negative effects for both sellers and buyers of sexual services: it alienates them from communities that support their health and human rights, precludes the development of social services that can help them address issues of concern, undermines their ability to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and other STIs, and eliminates the agency of individual sex workers.  In countries where sex work is decriminalized, violence against sex workers is reduced and access to health and human services is increased.

The removal of punitive laws and policies targeting sex workers is crucial.  SWOP-Chicago is not alone in this belief.  International agencies such as The Global Commission on HIV and the Law, UNAIDS , the World Health Organization, the Global Alliance Against the Trafficking in Women (GAATW) and the Human Rights Watch have called for or support the decriminalization of sex work. Contrary to what some may have you believe, decriminalization is NOT an attempt to legalize ‘pimps’, nor does it increase exploitation of sex workers. Such arguments are made with a limited understanding of the sex trade, a limited understanding of global capitalism, and undermines the struggle for sex workers to live healthy, safe, stigma-free lives.  

Decriminalization will help sex workers address all forms of exploitation, including abusive or sub-standard working conditions instituted by both state and non-state actors. In countries such as the United States where sex work is criminalized, sex workers are often afraid to come forth   Criminalization of buyers of sex will not eliminate this concern, but would instead drive the industry further underground. Clients will be more likely to withhold personal information that sex workers need to keep them safe in order to prevent the police from using this information.  

Finally, SWOP-Chicago is committed to ending human trafficking within the sex trade.  Criminalization of prostitution hampers the anti-trafficking efforts of organizations working with people in the sex trade and makes it easier for sex workers to be wrongly categorized as trafficked persons.  Moreover, under criminalization, there is a reduced chance that those who are trafficked into the sex trade will come forward against their traffickers.  Criminalizing the buyers of sex is tantamount to eliminating the agency of individual sex workers, and creates an environment conducive to the proliferation of human trafficking.

SWOP-Chicago and other members of the sex worker rights movement are in agreement with with other human rights movements in condemning the abuse and violation of the rights of all individuals, including sex workers.  Thus, we stand in solidarity with Amnesty International in calling for the full decriminalization of prostitution.  

Please join us in posting this statement and spreading the word via social media using the hashtags on Friday, April 4 in support of Amnesty International’s consultation of the decriminalization of sex work.

#YESamnestyDECRIM #Amnesty2014

#NotYourRescueProject #Amnesty2014

#StandWithYouthWhoTrade #Amnesty2014

Tumblr- http://endcriminalizationnow.tumblr.com/


Members of SWOP-Chicago






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.

SWOP-Chicago Response to Murder of Sex Worker at Chicago Hotel

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, October 14, 2011

Contact: Serpent, (312) 252-3880


CHICAGO – Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-Chicago) were saddened by the recent tragedy in a Chicago hotel which resulted in the senseless violence against and murder of Sarai Michaels, of Wisconsin. As fellow sex workers and allies, SWOP-Chicago extends its sympathies to the family of Sarai Michaels.

The Chicago Police Department are to be commended for their quick work in catching the perpetrator so that he can be brought to justice. Additionally, the high bail set by the Cook County Prosecutor’s office and the presiding judge appropriately express that violence against sex-workers should not be, nor will be, tolerated.

When prostitution is criminalized, sex workers become alienated from law enforcement and as a result, vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, assault, and murder. Because sex workers fear entrapment and arrest by law enforcement, they come to fear law enforcement representatives and also, perhaps, to feel that while engaging in sex work, they do not have the same right to police and law enforcement protection and support as all American citizens.” says Hannah Talos-Roddam, an organizer with SWOP-Chicago. “Thus, when a sex worker feels threatened by a client, when confronted with violence or threats of violence, sex workers often weigh these perceived threats against the threat of legal repercussions, and, as a result, do not seek aid from police or other law enforcement representatives.”

“We believe that recognizing the legitimacy of sex work and working to building alliances between particularly vulnerable populations in sex work and law enforcement officials would greatly reduce the amount of violence against sex workers, as has been sufficiently demonstrated in areas where such efforts have been made.” adds Jeffery Walsh, SWOP-Chicago member. “Decriminalization would create a safer environment for sex workers, free from stigma and discrimination.”

It is important to remember that sex workers are human. They are someone’s daughter, son, parent, sister, brother, wife or husband. Like most working Americans, many sex workers are trying to survive these tough economic conditions and provide for themselves and, often, families as well. Criminalization of prostitution dehumanizes the sex worker and makes them unprotected targets of violence.

Sex workers are not targeted because sex work is inherently dangerous. Sex workers are targeted because perpetrators know prostitutes are afraid of law enforcement and won’t seek the aid of law enforcement until it’s too late. They are targeted because of the stigma surrounding sex work. This stigma is constantly regenerated in the way politicians, end-demand advocates, and media representatives talk about prostitution.

On December 17, 2011, SWOP-Chicago will be participating in the annual “International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.” Sarai Michaels will be remembered in this year’s events.

For more information on this event, please contact SWOP-Chicago at sexworkchicago@gmail.com

US Sex Workers Celebrate Canadian Victory

US Sex Workers Celebrate Canadian Victory:
Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA and other US groups join in celebration with Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) and all Canadian Sex Workers

This week Canadian sex workers won a constitutional challenge when an Ontario court struck down key Canadian anti-prostitution laws, saying that they contribute to the danger faced by sex-trade workers.

Three sex trade workers asked Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to declare legal restrictions on their activities a violation of charter rights of security of the person and freedom of expression.  On Monday, the Court struck down the three sections challenged by members of the group Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), Sections 210 (prohibiting bawdy houses), 212 (1j) (living off the avails of Prostitution), and Section 213 (prohibiting communication in public view for the purpose of prostitution).

The invalidation of Section 210 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits “bawdy houses”– that is brothels and indoor sex work venues–will mean that sex workers “can ensure [their] safety by working together indoors,” according to SPOC. Section 212 (1j) of the Criminal Code prohibits living wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution. Although the Code was developed to protect sex workers from third parties involved in prostitution SPOC commented that,  “[i]n practice, it makes us and our live-in partners, and even elderly parents we support, susceptible to being charged, and serving up to ten years in jail. The invalidation of Section 212 (1j), will allow our families to finally stop fearing arrest. Our employees, such as receptionists, drivers, etc. will no longer fear criminal prosecution.”

Rights Based Organizations in the United States Support the Reforms

Laws against “living off the earnings” of sex workers, solicitation and indoor sex work are common in many countries around the world. Sex workers’ legal victory in Canada gives hope to workers in other countries that these laws can be invalidated and their safety and welfare improved. Organizations working with and defending the rights of sex workers in the United States joined their voices with SPOC to celebrate this victory.

“We recognize the long time work of Sex Professionals of Canada and the contributions of the many sex worker rights organizations, activists and allies around Canada. We are also grateful to Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Alan Young and the students at Osgoode who worked on this case,” says Liz Coplen, SWOP USA Board Chair. “We hope that the US will learn from our Canadian neighbors,” added  SWOP USA Founder, Robyn Few as she celebrated the victory in her home in California.

“Over 30 years of dedication brought Val Scott, along with Amy Lebovitch, Terri-Jean Bedford and SPOC (Sex Professionals of Canada) to this pivotal moment in our history,” says long time sex worker activist Carol Leigh and director of the BAYSWAN, California. “We respect their hard work and dedication to make a change for rights.”

“Although there is a long road ahead, we are pleased that there is a high court recognition of what sex workers have been experiencing and explaining, that these laws that purport to protect women actually serve to drive sex workers of all genders further underground, hinder us from accessing services, and allow abuses to be perpetuated against us without recourse,” commented Dylan Wolfe of SWOP-NYC.

“We welcome the reforms in Ontario,” commented Penelope Saunders, Coordinator of the Best Practices Policy Project. “These changes will help defend the safety and security of sex workers and others in the sex trade, and will benefit their families and loved ones. Furthermore, striking down section 213 means that the police will have less cause to harass others in the community such as the homeless, youth, transgenders, and minorities.”

Canadian Judge’s decision based on facts, not misinformation

Justice Susan Himel, the deciding judge in the case, concluded that policy reform can increase safety for sex workers and people in the sex trade, writing that there are “ways of conducting prostitution that reduce the risk of violence towards prostitutes.” Judge Himel discounted misguided arguments from prostitution prohibitionists that sex work is inherently harmful and affirmed critiques of research carried out by leading prostitution prohibitionists describing it as not meeting the “standards set by Canadian courts for the admission of expert evidence.” Justice Himel also found that many of these individuals “were more like advocates than experts offering independent opinions to the court” who “at times…made bold, sweeping statements that were not reflected in their research.”

Academics in the United States concur with the judges view. “As scientists we already know that there are certain ways to conduct prostitution that reduces the risk of violence, disease, coercion and increases the safety to workers and the public at large. This ruling at last cuts through the misinformation spread by those ignoring the science,” says Professor Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Cris Sardina, a SWOP USA board member and co-coordinator of the Desiree Alliance praised the judge for using facts, not misinformation. “Around the world sex workers struggle against violence, campaigns of misinformation, manipulated statistics, sensationalistic campaigns and plain untruths by the some of the same experts who testified in opposition to the SPOC,” she said. “I’m very pleased Judge Himel based this decision on evidence, not hysteria.”

This week’s ruling represents a significant and historic victory in the international struggle for Sex Worker’s right to live and work with safety, dignity and without violence.

Erotic Dancers Deny Prostitution Charges

Erotic Dancers Deny Prostitution Charges
Reporting: Mike Puccinelli

Two suburban women accused of prostitution are defending themselves. They say they were not selling sex. The studio was raided on Tuesday, and the women were charged. But they tell CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli they committed no crime.

New Dance Expressions: It’s a business where, according to their Youtube ad, “you and a gorgeous instructor come together.”

But Prospect Heights police say what’s on sale here 24/7 isn’t instruction –but sex.

“That’s a lie,” dancer and manager Marisol Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and her co-worker, Veronica Rodriguez, were both busted Tuesday night for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover Cook County Sheriff’s deputy. The two women are not related and say their business isn’t involved in illegal sex. They say it involves erotic dance in private rooms.

“An erotic dance might be a striptease,” dancer Veronica Rodriguez said. “I mean, none of the girls are required to go naked.”

Both women say they have no criminal records and are being wrongly accused.

Veronica Rodriguez said. “I’m completely mortified. … I feel ruined.”

Police say in a back room Veronica Rodriguez offered sex for $1,200. The officer said he wanted to get another girl in on the action.

Rodriguez denied she tried to broker a deal. “I never said that,” she said.

“We offered an erotic dance,” Marisol Rodriguez said. “We offered to do a dance together. But we did not agree to anything illegal.”

She is a mother of four. She says she’s talking now to prove to her children and others that she was unfairly targeted by publicity-hungry police.

“They’ve ruined my life and they’ve ruined the lives of my children, and they’ve just dragged us through the mud,” Marisol Rodriguez said. “We may never bounce back from this.”

She says after crying for two days, she’s now ready to fight to turn this week’s tribulation into what she says will be vindication in open court.

Both women say they have actually called police when customers offered to pay for sex. Police say they know people who claim they were offered sex for a price at the studio, but not Veronica or Marisol Rodriguez.

(© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)