SWOP-Chicago Responds to Backpage Shutdown

Please join SWOP-Chicago and Support Ho(s)e in protest.

Noon on Wednesday, January 18th

Picasso Sculpture, 50 W Washington Blvd.

Details are here on the Facebook event page.

The Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Chicago protests the United States government pressure that caused Backpage.com to censor its Adult content section on January 9th.  Many members of our community will no longer be able to pay their rent, purchase food, or afford medical bills because a crucial source of their income has been eliminated.  This Wednesday, we will be sharing our shock and dismay with Sheriff Tom Dart, who has been an integral part of this dangerous drive to force the sex industry underground.

Backpage was a low-cost and low-barrier means through which many sex workers advertise.  Because it did not discriminate based on gender, race, or class, it was an especially important place of advertising for the most marginalized members of our community: LGBTQ sex workers, sex workers of color, and unstably housed sex workers.  These individuals may now have to rely on third parties or on street-based venues to work.  With Backpage no longer an option to advertise, they may be working on the Chicago winter streets during the writing of this press release.

SWOP understands the need to address sex trafficking.  But Tom Dart and the United States government have made it clear that pressuring Backpage is not really about trafficking.  Their narrow focus on sex has too often eclipsed other forms of human trafficking, such as trafficking in the agriculture, domestic labor, or garment industries.  Moreover, as sex workers, some of us may be able to recognize victims of trafficking and get them the help they need.  The government should be working with us to target trafficking, not working against us as we attempt to make a living with our work.

Though disappointed by the recent government actions, we are not surprised by them.  In Chicago, Tom Dart has long declared an all-out war on Backpage, without any consideration of how this may affect how and where people work. Tom Dart’s efforts to criminalize johns and shutter advertising for sex workers are misguided.  They will only serve to push the sex trade further underground, distancing workers from human, legal, and economic services.  His actions may also ramp up secretive efforts by organized crime.

Sex workers are nothing if not resourceful.  We will find new advertising venues and new resources.  But in the meantime, many members of our community are sadly struggling just to survive.

This Saturday 2pm ~09/05! Sex Worker Solidarity Action in Boystown!

In light of the recent raid on RentBoy and in solidarity across the country, sex workers and allies here in Chicago say; ENOUGH!

We are tired of being marginalized and criminalized and having our choices taken from us. It is time to make our voices heard, and our points clear. Decriminalize sex work and sex workers. May the string of recent events (Rentboy raid, Backpage Credit Card Scandal, closure of MyRedBook) bring the community together in a supportive, cohesive way.

Join us this Saturday! We’ll be meeting at the Center on Halsted (3656 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60613) @ 2pm to make signs (in the community area right inside). We’re marching from there @ 3pm up and down the historic stretch of Halsted St in Boystown to Belmont Ave, distributing literature & info & showing our support of all sex workers.

Please share & repost & invite your friends! All workers, allies, friends, & family of all ages are most welcome.

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Facebook Link: http://on.fb.me/1LWkEeF

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.

raid

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

www.swop-chicago.org

info@swop-chicago.org

@swopchicago

https://www.facebook.com/SwopChicago

 

SWOP-Chicago Response to Operation Cross Country VI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the letter, the authors argue that:

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

The authors proceed to suggest that NAAG should:

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

The letter can be found here.

Editorial Published in the Elgin Courier

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

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

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