SWOP Behind Bars is up and running and has a newsletter for sex workers in jail or prison. If you know of a sex worker who is in jail or prison ANYWHERE IN THE UNITED STATES you can sign up here to ensure they get a newsletter from the Sex Workers Outreach Project.
From SWOP Behind Bars:
There are more than one million women currently behind bars in the U.S., and that number is on the rise. In fact, women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the country, and the rate of incarceration for women has been growing nearly twice as fast as that of men since 1985, according to theACLU, and account for about 7% of the total prison population in the U.S. The fastest growing population behind bars is black women. Prostitution is one of the few crimes where women are arrested more frequently than men, but prostitution alone does not explain the growing numbers of Black, Latino, and trans-women behind bars. If we are going to make reforms to crimes based on morality, we need to consider laws that disproportionately affect women, such as the prohibition of sex work.
Sex workers are often subject to the same “revolving door” punitive approach that people convicted of drug offenses receive; women do time, but never receive the resources, social, economic and, psychological support that would enable them to leave the industry if they choose. We don’t often consider that sex work can be an intentional choice. Whether or not it is a symptom of poor economic conditions or volition it is always considered inherently immoral.
In order to address this we need to widen the discussion to include issues that Black, Latino, and trans women are disproportionately affected by. The illegal purchasing of sex is ultimately what sustains the market and forces sex work underground. The stigma has to be removed around the discussion of sex work in order to protect the human rights and, as recently suggested by Amnesty International, the dignity of the women in it who often need access to housing and, health care. By decriminalizing both the buying and selling of sex we can focus our efforts on those who truly need assistance and making other avenues of employment available, especially for trans women.
Laws prohibiting sex work are based on a moral code that doesn’t fully consider the implications. If we are going to reform non-violent crimes like drug use and selling that are founded on societal beliefs, we also need to consider other non-violent crimes, regardless of stigma and moral objections. The question of decriminalization or legalization cannot be limited to marijuana, but needs to be expanded to encompass sex work. We need to rethink the way we currently differentiate and treat between violent and non-violent persons convicted of offenses and push for decriminalization of sex work and the correlation to decreasing crimes against women; these progressive reforms normalize and regulate sex work rather than further stigmatizing and conflating an underground industry with human trafficking. With these efforts we can reduce sexual violence in the US, ameliorate conditions for a marginalized portion of the population, and destigmatize what is a reality for many women.
Join us for a laid-back dinner and training to discuss how to speak publicly about ending violence and stigma against all women – with a focus on women in the sex trade and women who use drugs. Please call 1-866-509-SAFE x 4 for a location (its an West Philly, but we can give you a ride!).
After this training you should feel better prepared to talk to reporters, at conferences and in other public forums about the work of Project SAFE.
THURSDAY, March 17th @ Temple Law, Klein Hall in Room K1D
NLG’s Harm Reduction Committee & Law Students for Reproductive Justice present
DECRIMINALIZATION OF SEX WORK:
A PANEL DISCUSSION
Join us for a discussion on the effects of the criminalization of sex work, the movement towards decriminalization, and harm reduction principles associated with ensuring the human rights of sex workers.
Panelist will include:
Lindsay Roth Director of Project SAFE
Ilza Padua Peer Educator at Project SAFE
Professor Scott Burris Professor of Law and Director of Center for Health Law, Policy, & Practice
LUNCH BY BARBACOA RESTAURANT WILL BE PROVIDED!
Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law; Klein Hall
Greetings Philadelphia-Area Sex Workers and Allies!
We are organizing group registration for the Desiree Alliance Confrence, the largest sex workers rights conference in the US, July 10-15, 2016 in New Orleans, LA.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org ASAP if you would like to join us or would like more information. This conference is a tremendous opportunity to learn from and connect with sex workers from around the world.
So you met a hooker and at first you were cool with it. You didn’t freak out when they first told you about their job and you didn’t freak them out with your response. You started seeing each other and maybe you had some reservations but figured you would work through them with time (read: talk them into your way of thinking). Or you figured whatever you had with them wasn’t so serious so it didn’t need to be a big deal. Or perhaps you even found their job a bit of a turn on. Or maybe you were never ok with it but you wanted to try to make it work anyway. And you probably realised that it wasn’t your place to say anything anyway… well not yet….
But that was then and this is now. Things are different now.. right? Now that…
“Safe Harbor” laws are developed by states to rectify the inconsistences between state laws on prostitution and statutory rape laws and human trafficking laws. Sen. Greenleaf has introduced Safe Harbor legislation in the form of SB 851[ii]. It effectively decriminalizes sex work for youth in the trade -however in its current form SB 851 reinforces and formalizes the relationship between the child welfare system, youth engaged in the sex trade, and the criminal justice system. By mandating youth to receive DHS services, this legislation will serve to re-cycle sexually exploited youth through the very systems which have already failed to protect them and meet their needs.
There is a lack of research around many elements of “Safe Harbor” laws, including the effects of connecting youth to DHS services.[iii] Thus, it has not been proven that mandating sexually exploited youth be connected to DHS is effective or beneficial in any way for these youth.
“Safe Harbor” laws blur the line between social services and the criminal justice system via the arguably unethical tactic of using arrests to forcibly engage youth in services.
While “Safe Harbor” laws provide immense benefit in the form of prosecutorial immunity from prostitution-related charges for sexually exploited youth, these laws do not provide immunity for offenses not directly related to prostitution, despite the well-documented facts that sexually exploited youth are more often arrested on charges unrelated to prostitution and are frequently harassed and targeted by law enforcement for a myriad of reasons.[iv]
The Child Welfare & Criminal Justice Systems
Child welfare and criminal justice systems too often fail in their purported mission of providing vulnerable youth with support, safety, and critical services, such as stable housing, education, food security, health care, and protection. For many youth, this failure contributes to entry into survival sex work and makes youth more vulnerable to future exploitation. It is thus illogical, unethical, and counterproductive to force youth to receive DHS services in connection with a prostitution-related arrest. Furthermore, youths’ experience of sexual exploitation within the criminal justice system and by law enforcement officers indicate that legislation making law enforcement personnel responsible for sexually exploited youths’ protection and safety will prove ineffective in serving these youth.
85% of youth in the sex trade are estimated to have prior involvement with the child welfare system.[v] This indicates that the child welfare system has already failed to provide many sexually exploited youth with economic stability and a safe living environment.
Youth who have involvement with the child welfare system disproportionately experience the following (as compared to the general population): mental health problems as children and adults; physical health problems as adults; poor educational and employment outcomes; homelessness; engagement in sex work; and contact with the criminal justice system.[vi]
Many youth, particularly LGBTQ youth and youth of color, experience violence, exploitation, and harassment from the child welfare and criminal justice systems.[vii]
Sexually exploited youth commonly report suffering sexual exploitation at the hands of law enforcement officers, including being forced to perform sex acts on officers and officers ignoring or accusing of lying youth who report sexual exploitation.[viii]
Sexually exploited boys and young men are more likely than sexually exploited girls and young women to face criminal charges when arrested on prostitution-related charges.[ix]
The criminal justice system often portrays sexually exploited young women and girls as victims[x] rather than recognizing their resilience in their given environment, which disempowers these youth, reinforces their vulnerability, and makes them more susceptible to further exploitation.
Recommendations to Respond to the Sexual Exploitation of Youth in PA:
Safe Harbor Legislation:
Pass “Safe Harbor” legislation which provides prosecutorial immunity from prostitution-related crimes for sexually exploited youth but does not mandate child welfare intervention
Expand prosecutorial immunity in “Safe Harbor” legislation to include other crimes with which youth in the sex trade are routinely charged
Include a non-discrimination clause targeted at service providers that will help ensure LGBTQ youth not only have access to critical services, but that those services are safe, welcoming, and tailored to meet the needs of all youth.
Employ youth with experience in the sex trade to help develop and present law-enforcement training
Restrict use of funding to meet the material needs of youth, as determined by empirical research, data collection, and youths’ reports of what their experiences and needs are
Clarify and specify what “reasonable detention” means when youth arrested on prostitution-related charges are in police custody
Address the institutionalized violence in the child welfare and criminal justice systems, namely the disproportionate representation of families of color and low-income families; as well as the lack of appropriate services for queer and transgender youth.
Fund voluntary, trauma-informed group therapy interventions for sexually exploited youth
Provide funding for programs and homeless shelters specifically for LGBTQ youth
Provide funding for programs which work with youth and their families to prevent foster care placement
Employ people with experience in the sex trade as youth to develop and implement programming.
Fund peer-education programming, developed and led by youth with experience in the sex trade
Support peer-led outreach in communities where sex work takes place
Involve youth who engage(d) in the sex trade in policy discussions
Youth-led trainings for peers and service providers
Compensate youth for their role in the above recommendations
[i] “Commercially sexually exploited youth” refers to youth who trade sex by choice, circumstance, or coercion (i.e., human or sex trafficking) and is used interchangeably with “youth in the sex trade” by authors of this document.
[iii] Shields, R. T. & Letourneau, E. J. (2015). Commercial sexual exploitation of children and the emergence of Safe Harbor legislation: Implication for policy and practice. Curr Psychiatry Rep 17(11).
[iv] Dank, M. et al. (2015). Surviving the Streets of New York: Experiences of LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Engaged in Survival Sex.
[v] Gragg, F. et al. (2007). New York prevalence study of commercially sexually exploited children. New York: New York State Office of Children and Family Services.