Statement on Craigslist Law Suit

SWOP-Chicago does not condone the actions of the Cook County sheriff towards Craigslist. These actions are meant to persecute adults engaging in consensual sexual acts for money and goods of value. Creating criminal records for sex workers bars them from other forms of employment outside of sex work and may limit their ability to seek housing and other services.

This law suit is also a tremendous waste of tax payer resources during a time of severe economic turmoil in the state of Illinois and the country as a whole. The state of Illinois is currently facing a $9 billion dollar (and growing) deficit. Based on an analysis by Julie Pearl in 1987 and adjusted for inflation, in 2007 alone, the state spent over $14.6 million dollars on prostitution arrests. These figures do not take into account the cost of supporting jailed sex workers and the cost to human services agencies who serve these populations and the children of these individuals.

The resources involved in this law suit and in prostitution stings are much better used elsewhere.  The money and resources would be better spent providing health and human services to sex workers and other citizens of the state of Illinois who should receive services, rather than be prosecuted for lack of other viable options. Or, at a minimum, they should be used to go after the 22,005 unsolved burglaries, 12,424 unsolved aggravated assaults, 71 unsolved murders, 12,535 unsolved robberies, 104,226 unresolved property crimes, and 13,475 unresolved motor vehicle thefts[1],[2].

Suing Craigslist to end the marketing of erotic services will not address the issues. If recent FBI stings are any indication, very few, if any, children and minors involved in forcible, coerced, or trafficked prostitution are found by Craigslist targeting and crack downs. Ending Craigslist’s erotic services section will do nothing to stop the exploitation or forced, coerced, or trafficked people, and will divert valuable time and money away from the effort.

The Cook County sheriff is doing no one a service, not the tax payers, not the sex workers targeted. We at SWOP-Chicago strongly urge residents of Illinois to protest this egregious waste of their taxes and public resources and to consider what is truly best for the health and welfare of individuals who advertise erotic services on Craigslist.

Original Article- Sheriff Tom Dart Sues Craigslist

To contact the Sheriff’s office:

Cook County Sheriff’s Office
50 W. Washington
Chicago, Illinois  60602
(312) 603-6444
sheriff@cookcountysheriff.org

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.

CLEARLY They’re Unhappy

Thanks to Amber L. Rhea for the CNN article link. Crossposted at La Libertine’s Salon.

Wow. I just read this amazing statistic that said nearly half of all respondents in a survey would leave their industry in the next three years if they had an alternative. IF THEY HAD AN ALTERNATIVE!

What horrible industry do these poor dears want to leave? Should we assemble an extraction team? Maybe criminalize the industry so that they can leave via a jail sentence? What does this say about others who DO NOT want to leave this craphole of a job? They must be brainwashed, early childhood trauma surrounding the workings of the industry. Maybe it’s even worse: they’re propping up the status quo of the exploitation of this industry. I mean, how could they think differently if nearly HALF of their colleagues want out? Surely, they must be crazy. SURELY they must be out of their minds to want to continue work that others find less than satisfying, frustrating and dehumanizing. Their clients must be horrendous and demanding, imagine it!

Must be prostitution, right? I mean, that’s what Farley (who would convert 49% to 90% using some sort of unholy radical magic), Dines, Jensen, et. al. have people thinking.

No. It’s the medical industry:

(CNN) — Nearly half the respondents in a survey of U.S. primary care physicians said that they would seriously consider getting out of the medical business within the next three years if they had an alternative.

If you read Farley’s site and the opinions spewed by her other colleagues and by the ignorant public, you’d swear prostitutes were the only ones who ever want to leave their industry and who may, yes, be desperate to. There are a whole bunch of people who feel trapped by their legal professions. They have family or themselves to support and especially for doctors who make a helluva lot more money than most, a lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to. But unlike many, especially, street prostitutes, doctors have:

1. A college education*
2. Investments, if they were smart
3. A clean arrest record (most likely)

Doctors don’t have to worry about, “what do I put on my resume to explain what I’ve been doing for the past x years” the way sex workers do. Their profession isn’t criminalized and despite the criticism of doctors, it is NOT stigmatized. And yet, half but NOT ALL doctors want out.

And the doctors who stay in, who would call them “delusional” or “brainwashed” because they find satisfaction in their jobs? Who may, yes, encourage others who have the talents to be a doctor to become one!

But it’s only those poor, poor sex workers who hate their jobs, want out or are crazy if they don’t.

*EDIT: Yes, many people, including prostitutes have college educations but most people stop at a baccalaureate. And it’s getting more expensive. Docs, on the other hand, have advanced, professional degrees. BIG difference!

Spread the word About Prop K in San Francisco

Proposition K in San Francisco calls for the city to end the harmful practice of arrest-based approaches to sex work. Sex workers and supporters are the major driving force behind this ballot initiative and the ‘Yes on K‘ team is working hard to ensure that sex workers’ voices are heard during the election. We need your help to continue the momentum and to raise even more support from allies and endorsers! The city of San Francisco is in general extremely supportive of sex workers’ rights. Our opposition is working to put spin on this measure to imply that supporting sex workers means supporting violence and traffickers. We know that’s not true! We need your support to spread the word and inform the progressive people of San Francisco that by supporting our rights, they’re supporting a more effective approach to ending abuses in the sex industry.

Tell people to visit the website and donate to the cause-

YesOnPropK

Sex Worker Rights Are Human Rights

This is a good representation of what Human Rights should look like in my humble opinion. I believe this is what we should all be fighting for and insisting on.
XOXOX- Pussy Willow

Sex Worker Rights Are Human Rights

By Juhu Thukral, On The Issues Magazine
Posted on August 28, 2008, Printed on August 30, 2008

Link-View this story online

The idea of sex workers fighting for their human rights is a foreign concept to most people, even those who identify politically as progressives or feminists. Sex workers have lived on the margins of society through most of human history, and despite the prevalence of this work all over the world, sex workers are often treated as less than human, both in cultural attitudes and public policy. In fact, it cannot be said enough: sex workers are people — friends, neighbors, family members, wage earners, and parents — and they deserve the same human rights as everyone else.

What Human Rights?

Feminists and advocates of all stripes have argued that they want to work for the human rights of sex workers, often without an analysis of what human rights for sex workers might look like.

While many people would agree that access to human rights includes the right to be free from harm, to have access to health care and housing, and to seek safe employment that pays a living wage, there is fierce debate as to what any of this actually means. Some feminists argue that sex work is inherently harmful and that the very act of trading sex for money is a violation of a person’s sanctity or dignity, and is, in and of itself, an act of violence. For these feminists, the story ends there, even when sex workers all over the world speak out, not to ask to be pulled out of sex work, but to demand that their rights be protected as they work.

Others, like the Sex Workers Project, believe that a human rights framework includes active participation of sex workers from different backgrounds and experiences; efforts to combat violence, whether it is at the hands of customers or of the police; advocate for public health programs that promote the autonomy of sex workers, and work to empower sex workers so that they can make the best choices for themselves and their families, assessing their life circumstances as best as they can. These elements are key to any effort to respect the human rights and health needs of sex workers; to properly assist those who want to leave sex work for other work, and to protect the rights and safety of those who continue in sex work.

Another key issue that gets less attention is the fight over the role of the criminal justice system. Some feminists view prosecution and punishment through the criminal justice system as the cornerstone for helping victims of violence. Others view rule of law as one of many important keys toward guaranteeing human rights, but argue that an excessive focus on the criminal justice system is detrimental to many marginalized groups, including sex workers, who have been victimized by the police. There are fundamental clashes between the needs of a criminal justice prosecution, and the needs of a human being who would most benefit from a rights-based approach.

Feminists Line Up Differently on Law Revision

These debates, often centered on agency and autonomy, might seem theoretical and unimportant in the realm of people’s daily lives. However, the debate often plays itself out in concrete policy terms, especially around the issue of human trafficking.

While human trafficking involves the experience of force, fraud, or coercion in any type of labor, such as domestic work, agricultural labor or sex work, it has been salaciously painted as being synonymous with prostitution. The idea that prostitution equals trafficking has been burned into the public mind by lurid headlines that scream of victims rescued from their captors, often without follow-up news items that might explain that the reality is more complicated, and that any number of prostitutes decided to go into that work because it was a way to make enough money to live on and also support their families, who are often in other countries.

Feminists who wish to abolish prostitution entirely have found strong allies in the Christian right and in the Bush administration. The efforts to incorrectly equate prostitution and trafficking as the same have culminated in recent efforts around the federal anti-trafficking law that Congress has been considering for reauthorization in 2008 (final vote still pending in early July).

The House version of the legislation includes a dangerous and unnecessary change to the Mann Act, a federal law that prohibits interstate travel for the purpose of prostitution. This change has nothing to do with human trafficking, and thus far, the Senate has bravely withstood pressure from some feminists and have not included this expansion in their version of the bill, SB 3061.

The federal anti-trafficking law, enacted in 2000, already defines anyone under 18 who is involved in commercial sex acts, and anyone in prostitution who experiences force, fraud or coercion as a victim of human trafficking. Changing the definition of trafficking so that law enforcement does not need to look at a person’s age or experience of coercion (the heart of the trafficking crime) will put the focus squarely on prostitution, rather than on labor and prostitution situations in which people are living under a climate of fear and experiencing genuine human rights abuses.

Are We Listening?

As law enforcement look for more victims, they will inevitably arrest more sex workers, and will lessen their focus on people who are trafficked into sectors other than prostitution. This will lead to untold harms to people who have been trafficked into other labor sectors and who cannot receive the help and attention they deserve; and to those who work in prostitution for reasons as diverse and complicated as any that go into deciding how to make money and build a life. At the Sex Workers Project, we find that most of our clients go into sex work because they can make more money and work more flexible hours than in other industries. In our 2005 study, 67 percent of the sex workers we interviewed did not make a living wage in other jobs such as waitressing, administrative work, or retail. For many, sex work was not their only form of work — 46 percent supplemented their income from mainstream jobs with sex work.

The people we see every day at the Sex Workers Project are just like everyone else — they want to know that if they are a victim of a crime, that they will receive the same attention as anyone else. What they do not want is to be classified as a victim of human trafficking as they go about the complicated business of living their lives and supporting their families as best as they can.

All feminists need to agree that when we hear the voices of sex workers advocating for their human rights, we need to really listen, rather than impose our own views of what life decisions we might deem acceptable.

Juhu Thukral, Esq., is the director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City. She has been an advocate for the rights of immigrant women in the areas of health, work, and sexuality for fifteen years.

© 2008 On The Issues Magazine All rights reserved.
Link-View this story online

Kill Liberals– The TN Unitarian Church Murderer’s Motive

OpEdNews

Original Content at;
Kill Liberals – The TN Unitarian Church Murderer’s Motive

July 28, 2008

Kill Liberals– The TN Unitarian Church Murderer’s Motive

By Rob Kall

The 58 year old killer who entered a Unitarian Church in Tennessee was set on killing liberals.

He’d learned the Tennessee Valley Universalist Unity Church was a liberal organization that supported Gays and liberal issues. He hated liberals.

The Sheriff who reported on The message the killer, Jim D. Adkisson, left behind, stated the murders were motivated by “hatred for the liberal movement.”

The killer intentionally chose the Universalist United church intentionally, coming prepared to engage in a massacre, with over 70 shotgun shells, ready to keep on shooting people until the police arrived to kill him.

He does not appear to a member of any organized group, but the episode is being investigated as a hate crime.

Adkisson does not have a prior record other than two previous DUIs.

Those are the facts. Now we have to ask some questions.

Was Adkisson a member of any groups, or a church that might have fomented his hateful views?

Was this a terrorist act? Joe Lauria says so;
Even if this man hopefully acted alone it is chilling to all progressive people and groups, like the Unitarians. Are we free to express our views, indeed to allow our children to perform in a church play?

Adkisson must be tried on terrorism charges and the White House and Congressional leaders must speak out against this form of domestic terrorism too, not just the inflated threat from Islamic extremists that threaten American political and economic interests abroad and help drum up defense contracts at home.”

Did he listen to talk radio that espoused ideas or actions that could have inspired his murderous actions? One commenter on the ABC website commented,
Day after day so-called “conservative” radio talk show hosts go on the air and blame the “liberals” for everything that has ever gone wrong in the world often times outright lying about something to bolster the point. The target audience of these shows is the not-too-bright crowd to begin with but a certain percent of any group is going to be mentally or emotionally unstable, this particular group moreso than others perhaps? So day after day these not-too-bright, emotionally unstable folks listen to Lush Rimjaughbe and his ilk tell them that the liberal, god-hating, gay boy, gun grabbers are responsible for making their lives miserable and eventually some of them snap. When this happens lets not pretend that the right wing vitriol that they have been exposing themselves to played no role in the snapping or at the very least the choice of victims.

Did he talk to anyone who could have persuaded him not to take the steps he took? Or did he speak to people who encouraged him to think this way?

R.J. Eskow writes, on the Huffingtonpost.,
Who really killed those Unitarians? Was it the preachers who spread hatred and intolerance? The politicians who court and flatter them instead of condemning their hate speech? The media machine that attacks liberals, calls them “traitors” and suggests you speak to them “with a baseball bat”? The economic system that batters people like Jim Adkinson until they snap, then tells them their real enemies are gays and liberals and secular humanists?

If you ask me, it was all of the above.

You killed them, Pat Robertson. You killed them, Pastor Hagee. You killed them, Ann Coulter. You killed them, Dick Morris and Sean Hannity and the rest of you at Fox News.

How’d I hear about this last quote. I tuned in to Sean Hannity. He was chastising Arianna Huffington for publishing Eskow’s article. He now calls the liberal media the “obama media.” Sean just doesn’t get it that when he villifies liberals, when he characterizes liberals as causing the problems in society, he actually DOES influence unstable individuals like Jim Adkisson.

This is a horror story. A man walks into a church where children are performing a version of the musical, Annie, on the stage. He’s carrying a guitar case, but pulls a shotgun out of the case and starts shooting.

UU churches are probably the largest denomination of reliably liberal church in the USA. The very thought that they are now endangered by psycho right wing haters is a terrifying one. We’ve seen people like Adkisson shoot or kill people who work in abortion clinics and in pregnancy counseling facilities. What’s next, drive-by shootings at Obama campaign headquarters?

Naah. That’s not necessary. Greg Palast reports that already, in many key states, blacks and other left leaning voters have already been inappropriately, possibly even illegally purged from voter rolls. Why bother killing when you can mass purge?

Poll
Did Right Wing Hate Radio Influence the Tennessee Unitarian Church Killer?

Did the hate spewed by toxic right wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Glen Beck plant the seed of the idea to kill liberal Unitarian church members?

Spare Us Paternalism Say Organizing Chicago Sex Workers

Spare Us Paternalism Say Organizing Chicago Sex Workers

by Martha Rosenberg

http://www.opednews.com

Nicholas Kristof was baffled.

A year after the New York Times columnist rescued teenaged Cambodian prostitute Srey Mom from a Poipet brothel by purchasing her freedom for $203, she was back in the brothel.Voluntarily.

In fact, she wouldn’t even be rescued initially without her cell phone and jewelry which Kristof had to buy back for her.

Didn’t she want to be saved?

Not necessary said organizers from Sex Worker Outreach Project-Chicago (SWOP) at a Chicago presentation in June, sponsored by the Open University of the Left and the Chicago Socialist Party

The right wing-backed human trafficking movement, part of the “anti-prostitution industrial complex,” deliberately blurs the line between sex work and sex slavery to further its moralistic agenda and line its pockets said Jasmine, a SWOP organizer at the presentation called Sex Workers, Criminalization and Human Rights.

It has duped many, including the media, into seeing “sex slavery” where labor, immigration, gender and human rights abuses exist and occluded the plight of both consensual sex workers and women trafficked into household, farm and sweatshop work which is more common, charged Jasmine.

Sorry Nick.

The flip side of the missionary imperative to save–the zeal to glorify the downtrodden– also infects sex work perspectives said SWOP spokespeople.

Regardless of Heidi Fleiss’ escapades, movies like Pretty Woman and college boys’ tales of their Cool Trip to Nevada, sex work is not noble, salt of the earth employment that just needs legalization.

As long as sex workers are morally quarantined by illegality and stigma, they risk being robbed, cheated, raped, knifed, shot, beaten up, strangled, abducted, arrested and given diseases said “out” sex worker and SWOP organizer Pussy Willow, 47.

Not only are sex workers devoid of human rights, they can’t even recruit community advocates because of the opprobrium, Willow added.

“How many of you admit to having bought the services of a sex worker,” she asked the audience to a show of two timid hands. “When you’re a sex worker, everyone wants to be your friend–until it jeopardizes their family or standing in the community.”

While SWOP-Chicago is only a year and a half old, it inherits a bloody sex worker history.

Thirty nine sex workers were killed during the 1990’s in Chicago by four different mass murderers.

Sex workers in Chicago’s marginal neighborhoods were terrorized by Gregory Clepper– alleged to have confessed to killing 40 more prostitutes– Geoffrey Griffin aka the Roseland Killer, Hubert Geralds and Andrew Crawford but often had to keep working because of pimps and addictions.

China, a cousin of Kizzy Macon,17, who was murdered by Gregory Clepper, told the Chicago Tribune in 1996, “Kizzy would get high with anybody,” and admitted she too had partied with the killer before he was arrested. “I didn’t know he would kill her,” she added. Street prostitute Pam Bolton, killed in 1995, told the Chicago Sun-Times days before her death, “This street life is more addictive than cocaine. More addictive than heroin.”

Like other johns, Clepper, Griffin, Geralds and Crawford knew they could gain access to a sex worker for a few dollars, harm her with no police intervention and dispose of her body with impunity because no one would miss her.

A 2007 study by bestselling Freakonomics author and University of Chicago economics professor Steven D. Levitt with Alladi Venkatesh, found Chicago sex workers were victims of violence from pimps or clients once a month and forced into extorted sex with law enforcement officers or gang members in one out of 20 transactions.

“Condom use is shocking low,” says Levitt in “An Empirical Analysis of Street Level Prostitution” and sex workers “absorb enormous risk for a small pecuniary reward.”

Nor are public health programs working, said SWOP members.

“They train workers to train workers to train workers to then go out and try to find ‘victims,'” said Willow. “Meanwhile who is handing out a bag of condoms to the outdoor sex workers on Belmont avenue? Who is protecting women who are getting beat up?”

The true needs of the sex worker community are subverted by asinine “studies” full of social scientist babble said Willow, citing a recent, highly publicized report which “didn’t even interview sex workers, just occasional johns called ‘hobbyists.’ Hello?”

Especially ridiculous said Willow is a $1000 “john school” where arrested clients of sex workers are remanded in California to “learn how to not buy sex.”

“I’ll teach them that for $250.”

Martha Rosenberg is staff cartoonist for the Evanston Roundtable.

Sex Work vs. Trafficking: Understanding the Difference

 

Sex Work vs. Trafficking: Understanding the Difference

By Melissa Ditmore, RH Reality Check
http://www.alternet.org/story/84987/

Originally posted at RH Reality Check.

Even those who mean well sometimes confuse the human rights abuse of trafficking in persons with the human occupation of prostitution, or sex work. It’s understandable because of the history of the two fields, but it creates rather than solves problems. Let me try to sort it out here.

The tendency to treat trafficking and prostitution as if they were the same thing has a long and problematic history. Legislation and social discussion have often blurred or denied any difference, but that has always made things worse rather than better for those involved.

The trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery is undeniably a gross abuse of human rights. Like all trafficking, it involves coercion or trickery or both. Sex trafficking is an odious forms of trafficking, but it is far from the only one. Men, women and children are also — and more commonly — trafficked routinely for purposes of household and farm labor as well as sweatshop manufacturing. Their lives may be less media-genic than those of sex trafficking victims, but they are no less brutal, dangerous and degraded.

A narrow focus on the single aspect of sex trafficking is often fueled by sensationalist and sometimes salacious accounts of sexual abuse. It leads us to ignore these other forms of trafficking, and so denies help and protection to all the men, women and children forced into and trapped in abusive working situations in other industries.

By the same token, treating sex work as if it is the same as sex trafficking both ignores the realities of sex work and endangers those engaged in it. Sex workers include men and women and transgender persons who offer sexual services in exchange for money. The services may include prostitution (sexual intercourse) and other services such as phone sex. Sex workers engage in this for many reasons, but the key distinction here is that they do it voluntarily. They are not coerced or tricked into staying in the business but have chosen this from among the options available to them.

A key goal of sex worker activists is to improve sex-working conditions, but self-organization is impossible when sex work is regarded as merely another form of slavery. Then authorities and laws trying to stop true slavery — trafficking — get misapplied to sex workers, clients and others involved in the sex industry. Law enforcement raids in the U.S. and abroad, for example, have led to little success identifying trafficked persons but instead have driven sex work underground. This exposes sex workers to an increased risk of violence and denies them any protection of laws against assault or access to medical, legal and educational services. It denies them their human rights.

A national anti-trafficking law enacted in 2000 recognizes “severe forms of trafficking” as a modern form of slavery that involves a broad spectrum of workers and industries. In this interpretation, trafficking is clearly distinguished from voluntary sex work and thus avoids the absurdity of equating the fear and suffering of a trafficked person with the typical working conditions of voluntary sex workers. These conditions are often far from ideal, but nevertheless they are far removed from debt bondage or enslavement.

It is regrettable that despite the obvious reality of this perspective, the popular imagination of sex work tends to return to images of young girls forced into sexual slavery. Perhaps people would rather read such stories than hear about more prosaic struggles for workers’ rights — to organize, to be free from harassment, to get decent health care. But their preferences should not be allowed to dictate policy about either human trafficking or sex work.

Traditional standards of morality have been a major influence on legislation aimed at trafficking, and on the ways that trafficking legislation changes the legal treatment of prostitution. But the ‘moral’ position opposing sex work is actually a specific political and ideological position, and its net effect is typically to limit women’s autonomy.

Sex law is often a front for ideology that constrains rather than liberates women. What most appalls me about the recent conflation of trafficking and sex work in law and policy is that some feminists support the confusion. These women would normally never dream of telling other women how to behave, because they have fought against imposed constraints in their own lives. Yet they seem to think it is acceptable to tell sex workers what is best for them, and they are prepared to use dubious political alliances to advance their moral agenda.

Women’s studies professor Donna Hughes even told the National Review that George W. Bush is the president who has done the most for women on the strength of his policies aimed against sex work. The fact that these policies do nothing to halt human trafficking and in fact may be counter-productive seems to be irrelevant. So does the worse fact that President Bush has presided over a deliberate reduction in access to reproductive health care for women in the United States and around the world.

Women are not the only victims when trafficking is conflated with sex work. The confusion squanders opportunities to address real victimization and to assist people in real situations of abuse. Resources, time and energy that might actually help trafficking victims are wasted in sensational “rescues” that are also ineffective and often counterproductive.

There is a clear need to formulate public policy that is less emotionally driven and better able to recognize the real causes, nature and effects of trafficking in persons. People concerned about the health and rights of migrants should choose to talk in terms of migration and mobility and workers’ rights — including sex workers’ rights — rather than confusing matters by using the term “trafficking” with all its attendant baggage. That should help clear the debating field for useful and separate discussions of both.

Melissa Ditmore, Ph.D., was the inaugural Chair of the Advisory Board of the Sex Workers Project and is a research consultant on issues of sex work, mobility and migration, HIV and sexual health. She edited the Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work (Greenwood Press, 2006) and edits Research for Sex Work, the journal of the Network of Sex Work Projects.

© 2008 RH Reality Check All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/84987/

Satisfied Sex Worker or Domestic Trafficking Victim?

 

By Kari Lydersen, AlterNet
Posted on May 8, 2008, Printed on May 18, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/84748/

A teenage girl from Chicago is being sexually abused by her mother’s string of boyfriends. So she flees home with a boyfriend of her own. They hit the road but run out of money, so the boyfriend shows her how to work the truck stops, and she becomes a prostitute. Several years later, she is working for a pimp who forces her to serve 10 or more customers a night, driving her to different locations in the city and suburbs, and keeps almost all the money himself. She wants to leave prostitution, but is emotionally and financially dependent on the pimp and afraid he will physically harm her if she tries to leave.

This story is a composite of very common situations, according to a groundbreaking study of 100 young prostitutes and their relationships with pimps released by DePaul University’s College of Law and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority on May 7.

Public and governmental attention has been increasingly focused on victims of international sex trafficking over the past few years, with immigration visas and social services offered to victims. By current legal and social definitions, the girl described above has not been trafficked. But advocates argue the DePaul study shows U.S.-born prostitutes working in the United States should, in many cases, be defined as trafficking victims, exploited and trapped in situations beyond their control. The House version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA, also HR 3887), passed overwhelming in December 2007, redefines trafficking to include many domestic prostitutes. If a similar bill is passed in the Senate and becomes law, it will mean that women — and some men — in this situation would be treated as crime victims deserving of resources and institutional support, rather than as criminals. And their pimps and traffickers would face increased criminal penalties.

Among other things, the legislation widens the U.S. Department of Justice’s definition of trafficking, which currently hinges on the presence of “force, fraud or coercion.” The House bill designates trafficking involving force, fraud or coercion as “aggravated trafficking” and expands simple trafficking to include other forms of deceit, manipulation and control including threats, verbal abuse and withholding of support. It also makes sexual tourism to foreign countries a crime akin to importing people to the U.S. for sexual servitude.

In coming weeks, Sen. Joe Biden is expected to introduce the Senate version of the TVPRA, which also includes provisions on slavery and child soldiers. Some advocates of HR 3887 are afraid the Senate version will be introduced without the expanded definition of trafficking, based on internal conversations with politicians. (Policy staff for Biden’s office were not available to comment for this story.)

Samir Goswami, outreach and policy director of the legal advocacy firm Justice Partners Against Sexual Harm, said the DOJ is likely loathe to expand the trafficking definition because it would give them the responsibility to investigate and prosecute many more trafficking situations in the U.S. And it would bring more attention to the extent of commercial sexual exploitation in the U.S. even as the country is gaining accolades for its fight against global sex trafficking. Goswami said HR 3887 mirrors the treatment of trafficking in the United Nations’ Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, which was ratified by the United States.

“This federal bill just catches us up with the rest of the world,” he said.

The federal Mann Act of 1910, which received attention during the Eliot Spitzer scandal, does criminalize interstate trafficking. But it is rarely used; it was left out of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA); and it is associated with politically and racially motivated prosecutions such as that of boxer Jack Johnson for “transporting” his white girlfriend across state lines.

In Illinois, state legislation addressing domestic trafficking passed in 2005 but has not resulted in any prosecutions. If the language in HR 3887 becomes law, prostitutes arrested on city streets or in Internet sting operations would be questioned by law enforcement to determine whether they are trafficked or being forced to work against their will. “That’s what they do for cases of international trafficking now,” said Goswami. “Say someone goes to a Greyhound station, sees a 14-year old girl who has been abused and run away, he offers her a ride, shelter, affection and attention and she falls for him. He then sometimes uses force and the threat of rape to prostitute her, and even transports her to clients — that’s trafficking.”

The DePaul study found that, in general, the vast majority of young women in prostitution are controlled by pimps and suffer worse conditions in terms of violence, number of clients and lack of autonomy the longer they stay in the trade. Sixty-four percent of women reported wanting to leave sex work, but 43 percent reported they could not leave without physical harm. Sixty-four percent of women also have a romantic relationship (usually an abusive one) with their pimp, adding extra layers of emotional vulnerability and manipulation to the situation.

The study found that 58 percent of women were transported to different locations for prostitution (26 percent out of state), 53 percent could not keep any of the money they made, and many were watched or guarded when not working — hallmarks of trafficking situations.

“This is a highly organized sex trade,” said Jody Raphael, co-author of the DePaul study. “They take these women to where they know there is demand” — including Las Vegas or the state capitol when the legislature is in session. “To me, transportation and control equals trafficking.”

The study also confirmed that a majority (57 percent) of women were deceived as to the conditions or terms of their work when they were recruited into prostitution.

For example: “He told me I would never get hurt. I get hurt on a regular basis.” And, “He promised we would get rich, and we didn’t. He promised no violence; there is violence.”

Some sex workers and women’s rights groups do not support the expanded legal definition of trafficking. Though the new definition does decriminalize prostitution for many women, since it increases criminalization of the pimps involved, it signifies that prostitution itself is a crime, even if the woman is not treated as the criminal.

The Young Women’s Empowerment Project, a Chicago group of youth in sex work, said their experiences with police — who often demand sexual favors — and the court system give them no faith that abuses can be addressed through the justice system.

“Making more laws and hoops to jump through will not change this situation,” the group said in a collective statement. “If adults really want to support young women who trade sex for money, they will keep us away from the criminal legal system — away from cops and courts and social workers. They will ensure that we have the documentation and the skills that we need to achieve our goals, and they will offer us concrete assistance (jobs, housing, transportation — where we set the terms of the assistance) rather than roping us in to a larger system that hurts us.”

Raphael said that while she supports the expanded legislation, she doesn’t think law enforcement is the key to ending domestic trafficking.

“Communities themselves have to say this is not acceptable,” she said. “This has been normalized in many communities; that needs to change. Change has to come from the bottom up.”

Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist writing for publications including The Washington Post, In These Times and ColorLines, and is the author of two books.www.karilydersen.com.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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