We Want Our Voices Heard! Seeking information for the National UPR Report to the U.N.

SWOP-NYC & SWANK action to "86 the violence"

SWOP-NYC and SWANK public action in NYC in support of UPR Recommendation 86 in 2011

The Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP), Desiree Alliance, and SWOP NYC are calling on sex workers rights advocates and allies to join us in reporting the human rights abuses experienced by sex workers, people in the sex trades, people profiled as sex workers or impacted by anti-sex work policing and policies, and related communities. The U.S. will soon be reviewed by the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council on its human rights record in a process referred to as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). We are submitting a report to the U.N. and the U.N. needs to hear from you. Through this process, we create awareness before the international community, media outlets, other government officials, U.N. Human Rights Council members, and other stakeholders on the pressing issues facing the community.  This is an important tool for pressuring the government to make changes.

To write this report, we need to hear from those who have directly experienced human rights violations and we are reaching out to folks until August 20, 2014.  We hope to collect testimony and data from sex workers and related communities that we can include in our report.  If there are specific instances of rights violations, you wish to share with us, we will incorporate these into the report. First-hand accounts of violations people have experienced are what the UN needs to hear most. Also know that these accounts can be anonymous in the report and that we will share a draft of the report with you so you can check that no identifying details are included.

If you are interested in participating, please email us at BPPP (bestpracticespolicyproject “at” gmail.com) or directly to one of our team including J.Kirby, Kat Thomas, Penelope Saunders, Darby Hickey, Cris Sardina and Kate D’Adamo. We are happy to help people and groups understand what the UPR is and how the process works, and we would value learning about your experience working to advocate for rights at the U.N. to increase our collective knowledge.  We can also assist with drafting testimony and organizing data. We will draft the report and send it to you or your organization’s representative before submitting to ensure that we correctly documented your experiences.

The Human Rights background: The U.S. is obligated to uphold everyone’s human rights, including the rights to housing, education and healthcare; the right to be free from arbitrary arrest, due process violations, and invasions of privacy; the right to be free from torture and inhumane treatment; as well as rights related to the US obligation to eliminate racial discrimination.

It is well documented that the U.S. violates these rights on a routine basis when it comes to sex workers, or people that police, social workers or service providers profile as sex workers. The UPR provides a space for the world to hear about how the has U.S. violated human rights over the past four years.

In 2010, BPPP and Desiree Alliance submitted its first shadow report to the U.N. Human Rights Council outlining human rights violations, e.g., police abuse and targeting, institutionalized discrimination, lack of legal protection, and violence ignored by the local governments.  As a result of the report and advocates speaking out in Geneva before the U.N. Human Rights Council, the US adopted Recommendation 86, which states that the US agrees to:

“Undertake awareness-raising campaigns for combating stereotypes and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, and ensure access to public services paying attention to the special vulnerability of sexual workers to violence and human rights abuses.”

 This was the first time the U.S. agreed to address sex workers’ rights violations directly at the U.N. However, we have seen very little change since the adoption of the recommendation.  Sex workers continue to experience violence, stigma, discrimination, and targeting, especially at the hands of the police. We want to hold the U.S. Government responsible for not fulfilling its obligations in accordance with Recommendation 86.  We want to further highlight issues that have risen in the last four years that continue to go unreported.


Sex workers voices at AIDS2014 (and absent)

This week a small but feisty contingent of sex worker rights activists from the United States travel to Melbourne, Australia for the International AIDS Conference (AIDS2014). They will be joining sex workers converging at the conference at the Sex Worker Networking Zone in the Global Village and numerous other events to ensure that sex workers voices are heard. Jules Kim, the manager of Scarlet Alliance’s Migration Project who has been central in coordinating actions in Australia, has described the zone as a, “vibrant hub for everything by and for sex workers at the conference… if you are coming to the conference look for the red umbrellas- the symbol of our fight against stigma and discrimination and towards sex worker rights.” A schedule of events is available online. Best Practices Policy Project and A Kiss for Gabriela will be covering events on Twitter.

To the best of our knowledge, no sex worker representative from the United States received a complete scholarship to attend. A number of the key presenters from the United States addressing the concerns of women of color, sex worker health initiatives and youth were not given space to present at all. In order to address the shortfall, US sex workers have come together to fundraise and have pooled resources. The team has also worked with the local host committee to have space at the Sex Worker Networking Zone for presentations that were not accepted, organizing that the presenters will show videos of their work and be available online to respond to the audience. One of the United States most eloquent representatives on the issue of sex work and HIV/AIDS, Sharmus Outlaw a co-coordinator of the Desiree Alliance, who was unable to travel to the conference will be posting her comments online and via video presentations.

Some key events showcasing US Sex Worker rights organizing include the Not Your Rescue Project Sex Worker Mini Film Fest (July 21, 12.40 pm to 2.10, Global Village Film Screening, Clarendon Room C), the Sex Workers Rights and HIV Global Village Scavenger Hunt (Wednesday 23 July from 12noon – 2:30 in the Global Village); Pretty Woman REdux: REmixing, REviving and REclaiming Mainstream Perceptions of Sex Work! (Live Performance in the Community Dialogue Space, Tuesday 22 July 2014, 1:30pm – 2:15pm);  “In My Skin” (short documentary), Thursday 24 July 2014, 4:45pm – 5:05pm (Level 2, Clarendon Room 2). The Best Practices Policy Project, Desiree Alliance and SWOP-USA  together will be hosting a booth in the Global Village, US Sex Workers United! (booth number 608, quite far from the Sex Worker Networking Zone… but see if you can find the team there or in the zone).

Our colleagues in Brazil at Davida and A Kiss for Gabriela were not granted an official spot to screen “A Kiss For Gabriela” and to host a “minute of noise” to honor Gabriela Leite (a sex worker rights leader who died in 2013). BUT, the film will now be shown in the sex worker networking zone, followed by discussion and twitter presence, Friday 25th July, 10-11am. Tweet #akissforGabi and #umbeijoparaGabi on the day of the screening to add to the online “noise” honoring all of her works and how they have inspired real change. Similarly WHORE LOGIC with Incredible, Edible, Akynos will screen Wednesday 23rd of July, 12.30-1pm. In order to ensure that sex workers unable to attend AIDS2014 can see Akynos video-taped performance, filmmaker PJ Starr will stream the video for the day.
Most conference events and activities will be held at the International AIDS Conference at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, 1 Convention Center place, South Wharf, Melbourne, VIC.

Project ROSE faces growing controversy

Yesterday community members carrying information and harm reduction supplies were threatened with arrest and were not allowed to communicate with sex workers (and people profiled as sex workers) who had been detained by police and forcibly transported to Project ROSE.  Project ROSE is run twice a year and is a collaboration between the Phoenix Police, the ASU School of Social Work, and local social service agencies.  Project ROSE and policing of sex workers in Phoenix in general have come under intense scrutiny because of a long list of rights violations documented by local community representatives. In March 2014, advocates from the Best Practices Policy Project and SWOP Phoenix traveled to the United Nations to raise concerns about these abuses to the Human Rights Committee during the review of the United States under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Organizations in Arizona are continuing to sound alarm bells about the rights violating detentions carried out by Project ROSE. Yesterday, protesters chanted “Rights! Not rescue, rights!” at the entrance to Bethany Bible Church where people caught up in the raids are forcibly transported in handcuffs to “diversion services.” Jaclyn Dairman-Moskal of SWOP Phoenix explained yesterday in a statement released by SWOP Phoenix that there appears to be nothing voluntary about the “services” at the Project ROSE location. “Project ROSE coordinators claim this program offers voluntary diversion,” noted Ms Dairman-Mosal, “[But] … the program creates a coercive environment, using jail as a threat to intimidate people into participation.” She further explained that, “Over 30% of people picked up in Project ROSE are not even eligible for diversion, and face accumulating criminal charges as a result of these raids. This program is a way to fill jails, not to help our community.” Local organizations are continuing to seek support for comprehensive, rights-based programs for sex workers, and an end to criminalization. Nationally a group of social workers, Social Workers United for Justice, is petitioning the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) to “demand an end to Arizona State University School of Social Work’s involvement with Project Rose” because it violates socials work’s core professional principles. Last year two social workers described in an editorial in Afilia–a journal of women and social work--how Project ROSE violates the ethical and professional standards of both the NASW and CSWE.

SWOP Phoenix’s full press release of May 15, 2014 is available below.

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Partial victory in NYC as police chief limits use of condoms as evidence

Sex workers and allies in New York advocating for human rights had a significant victory today as the Police Commissioner announced a partial elimination of the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution or related activities. Read the statement from the Access to Condoms Coalition here:

The policy announced by Commissioner Bratton today barring confiscation of condoms as arrest evidence in prostitution, prostitution in a school zone, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution cases represents a welcome and important step in the direction of protecting the public health and reproductive rights of New Yorkers. Unfortunately, it does not go far enough, and creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through:  police can still continue to use the possession of condoms to justify an arrest, confiscate condoms from sex workers and survivors as “investigatory evidence” where promoting or trafficking is suspected, and confiscate condoms as evidence in promoting and trafficking cases.

As long as possession or presence of condoms on the premises of a business can be used as evidence of intent to engage in any prostitution-related offense, including over thirteen more serious New York Penal Law offenses and civil proceedings not covered by this policy, we are concerned that cops will continue to take them out of the hands of people who are the most vulnerable to exploitation – youth and trafficking victims. We are also concerned that the people who are exploiting them will deny access to condoms in the hopes of avoiding prosecution, and that businesses and individuals will be discouraged from carrying and distributing them. Also, we are concerned that under this policy, police can still use the fact that a sex worker has condoms in their possession as a basis for arrest for prostitution, even if they don’t physically voucher them as evidence. This continues to send a message that it is unsafe to carry condoms.

We hope that the NYPD will continue to move in the direction of a comprehensive ban on the use of condoms as evidence of all prostitution-related offenses, and protect the rights of all New Yorkers, including victims of trafficking and young people in the sex trades, to protect themselves and the health and safety of their communities.

We will be monitoring implementation of this policy closely, and are looking forward to working with the NYPD to expand the policy.

It is critical to remember that this effort has been led by sex workers in New York City, as Audacia Ray of the Red Umbrella Project reminds us:

“Sex workers have been at the front of the fight in this campaign since 2009,” said Audacia Ray, founder and executive director of the peer-led group Red Umbrella Project. “We are excited that the NYPD has finally responded to our concerns, though it is an imperfect solution. We will continue to fight for justice and to ensure that the experiences of people in the sex trades are centered in this work.”