Archive for November 4th, 2010

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark!  Now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.
–  William Shakespeare, The Tempest (I,ii)

Maybe it’s starting at last.  In the past few months I’ve noticed it, a shift in the wind if you will; more and more people are rejecting the spurious arguments of the abolitionists and recognizing that a woman’s right to own and control her body is not merely a euphemism for the right to have an abortion.  Polls conducted by respected websites and media outlets show their readers and viewers overwhelmingly in favor of decriminalization, funds for abolitionist “anti-trafficking” fanatics are starting to dry up (so much so that the website of Citizens Against Trafficking actually went down for a week due to failure to pay its bill), and even major organizations are starting to listen to us.  Perhaps this is the beginning of a “sea change” in American attitudes toward prostitution which will eventually result in sending the abolitionist movement to a watery grave, where it will lie unlamented by all sane people (and particularly by nymphs).

Here’s one example, an article I have reproduced in its entirety from the SWOP website:

This Friday November 5, 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council will review the human rights record of the United States as part of a new process – the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The UPR calls for a review of member nations’ human rights records every four years, and this is the first time the U.S. has participated. The Human Rights Council will base its review on the U.S. government’s own self-assessment, as well as reports submitted from civil society organizations.  U.S. sex worker advocates are engaged in this process, working to highlight the appalling record that the United States has in regards to communities of people engaging in the sex trade.

A comprehensive national report on sex workers’ rights was prepared by the Best Practices Policy Project and the Desiree Alliance earlier this year.  The report draws on the perspectives of networks, such as SWOP USA, and organizations working with sex workers, people in the sex trade and people who are affected by anti-prostitution policies in the United States more generally.  Two representatives from the Best Practices Policy Project are currently in Geneva presenting summary recommendations to delegations and encouraging countries to ask the United States questions about its human rights record in regards to sex workers and to include issues pertaining to sex workers in the recommendations they will raise in Friday’s session.

Key recommendations from the report on sex workers are as follows.

The United States should implement comprehensive criminal justice reform that includes measures to stop human rights abuses committed in the name of anti-sex trade laws.  This would include repealing laws, including laws against prostitution-related offenses, and eliminate policies, such as “prostitution free zones”, that erode legal protections barring law enforcement from detaining individuals on the basis of how they are perceived or the way they are dressed (ie racial and gender profiling).  The application of felony-level charges against sex workers and people living with HIV should be halted as should sex offender registration requirements of those arrested for engaging in prostitution.  Criminal justice reform must also address the frequency of abuse of sex workers, or those perceived as such, by law enforcement and other state actors.  Similarly, reform must ensure that people involved in the sex trade or profiled as such receive appropriate responses from authorities when they are targeted for violence and other crimes.

The United States should ensure health rights for those engaged, or perceived to be engaged, in sex work and the sex trade. In many jurisdictions in the United States condoms are used as evidence of criminal activity in the enforcement of anti-prostitution laws.  Individuals involved in street economies face tremendous stigmatization in health care settings.  Sex workers urgently need access to health care services including harm reduction oriented programs, which often are prohibited from receiving federal funding.

The United Sates should reorient national anti-trafficking policy to a rights-based framework and repeal the US governments “anti-prostitution pledge” requirement on foreign aid. Migrants involved in the sex trade who experience exploitation require services and legal support, but the response to human trafficking in the U.S. currently focuses on law enforcement approaches that alienate and traumatize victims.  U.S. anti-trafficking policies and practices undermine the health and rights of sex workers domestically and internationally, including requiring recipients of HIV and anti-trafficking funding to adopt a stance condemning sex work.  These requirements should be repealed.

Though the US does have the tendency to ignore UN resolutions, a negative human rights report from the Council would kick the soapbox out from under abolitionists who try to drape themselves in the white garment of “concern for women”.  It would almost certainly provoke a major shift in abolitionist rhetoric to the “Nordic Model”, and indeed many neofeminist and bluenosed rats, perhaps sensing their anti-whore ship about to sink, have deserted it for the Nordic propaganda in the hopes of winning more women (including a few misguided sex workers) to their cause.  But many will rightfully perceive this as a retreat, and that will put the anti-sex forces off-balance.  It won’t have much effect on the behavior of sadistic cops or politicians out to make a name for themselves on the backs of whores, but SWOP is on the attack on that front as well, as demonstrated by this press release from last week:

New York City, NY, October 28, 2010 – SWOP-NYC in collaboration with SWOP-USA strongly opposes the misguided campaign against Backpage.com.  This campaign is part of a trend of actions against adult services sections online including a recent action against Craigslist.

The campaign against Backpage.com has been framed as a way to “protect innocent women and children” (as per State Attorneys General, Letter to Attorneys for Backpage.com, September 21, 2010, available at: http://ago.mo.gov/pdf/Backpage.pdf ).  However, the forced closure of this site will not diminish the prevalence of trafficking and, worse, will substantially harm victims of trafficking and people in consensual sex work.

“This campaign purports to protect people, but it actually has the opposite effect,” explained Liz Coplen, Board Chair of SWOP-USA.  “Criminalization and repression of consensual sex work drives sex workers underground, creating the conditions which lead to the exploitation and abuses of trafficking.”  The models that have been internationally accepted as best practice for addressing sex trafficking center around working with sex workers to end exploitation and abuse, not further criminalizing and marginalizing the work.

SWOP-NYC, a group of sex workers and allies, adamantly opposes all forms of coerced and forced labor.  We strongly support effective efforts to end abuses in the sex industry.  “Unfortunately,” states sex workers’ rights activist and attorney Melissa Broudo, “the current discussion seems to perpetuate the false notion that prostitution and trafficking are the same thing.  All forms of sex work are perceived as violence against women, which does not reflect the different realities of individuals who advertise on these sites.  Heightened criminalization, which stems from this conflation, causes significant harm to sex workers and survivors of trafficking.”

“The Internet provides a venue for communication and commerce for a range of industries,” says Sarah Jenny Bleviss, a new media professional and SWOP-NYC organizer.  “These repressive campaigns, forcing the closure of adult venues and communications, undermine first amendment rights and freedom of communication on the Internet as well as the safety of sex workers.  Sex workers are in the forefront as targets in a repressive campaign which challenges basic concepts of free speech on the Internet.”

Sex workers are united in their analysis that the closure of adult services pages undermines their safety.  “Most people who advertise on these sites are engaged in consensual adult activities,” said Dylan Wolfe of SWOP NYC “But these campaigns assume that all sex workers need to be rescued.  They say they are doing us a favor by closing down our advertising options, by removing our freedoms in order to protect us from exploitation.  However, the Internet offers a venue in which we can find and screen clients so that we can protect ourselves.  These closures undermine our safety.”

“First they complain when they see us on the street, then when we are off the street they try to shut our work down by closing the advertising venues.  And they claim it’s to protect us!  It’s hypocritical, discriminatory and ultimately makes sex workers more vulnerable to the violence they are supposedly so concerned about,” said Michael Bottoms.

Sex worker activist, Jill Brenneman agrees.  “This will result in moving it someplace else or out onto the street, where it can be more dangerous.  I noticed this firsthand.  If the money’s not coming from one stream, it’s going to come from another.  The street for me was always where I would end up working if somebody had shut down the main form of advertising.”

“When these websites close it means more potential for violence, more exploitation, less money to feed and house ourselves, and life circumstances that are less safe for consensual sex workers.  Trafficked/exploited people are also placed at greater risk,“ says Robin Dunn of SWOP-NYC and SWOP-CO.  “Sites such as Craigslist and Backpage are well-positioned to do more for trafficking victims, by providing training for their employees to help them act appropriately when contacted by someone who has been exploited using their website.  Such training (as well as effective and appropriate training for police) would be far more helpful for exploited and trafficked people than shutting down an advertising service and forcing sex workers and trafficking victims into situations that are even less safe.”

We’ve discussed in recent columns (especially September 28th and October 14th), how public opinion is beginning to shift in our favor, and columns like this one and this one are becoming far more common.  I’ll be quite pleased if I can continue to report such news every few weeks!

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