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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

 

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

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Members of SWOP-Chicago

www.swop-chicago.org

info@swop-chicago.org

@swopchicago

https://www.facebook.com/SwopChicago

 

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

serpent@swop-chicago.org

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