U.S. POLICING REFORM MUST ADDRESS ABUSES AGAINST PEOPLE IN SEX TRADES

This week Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new initiative to address police misconduct and abuse. Days before this announcement, sex workers, people in the sex trades and advocates submitted a report to the United Nations (UN) on human rights violations committed in the U.S. against sex workers, people in the sex trades, and those profiled as such. The abuses documented in the report make clear that no effort to reform policing in the U.S. can be effective without addressing mistreatment by law enforcement of these highly marginalized communities.

In the report to the UN Human Rights Council, Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP), Desiree Alliance and Sex Worker Outreach Project-NYC (SWOP-NYC) documents extensive violations of the right to equal protection before the law, the right to be free of cruel and inhuman punishment, and the right to health. Across the country, anti-prostitution laws and policies, coupled with discriminatory practices, create an environment in which police profiling and mistreatment of communities of color, transgender people, young people and immigrants occurs with impunity. In many U.S. jurisdictions, arrestees face harsh sentencing laws and receive inadequate legal defense. Due process violations are also rampant. Laws that criminalize a person’s HIV status—found to be a cruel and unusual punishment by the UN—are applied to sex workers across the country, while health care and other social service providers routinely mistreat people who have traded sex for money. Policy and funding shifts have undermined the work of important harm reduction and human rights groups working with people involved in sex trade, including forcing some critical organizations to close.

Citing examples from Baltimore to Phoenix, from New Orleans to Chicago, the report draws on the most recent research and media reports on human rights abuses against people in sex trades as well as interviews with sex workers and advocates. The report’s list of recommendations starts by calling on the U.S. government to make good on a commitment it made in 2011 to the UN to address discrimination and violence against sex workers.

As the country grapples with abuses by law enforcement in the aftermath of the high profile events in Ferguson, Missouri, it would be a mistake to leave certain communities out of the discussion on policing and discrimination. The recommendations from the report give Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department plenty of ideas to work on as they move forward with addressing the problems with law enforcement in the U.S.

BPPP, Desiree Alliance and SWOP-NYC submitted the report to the UN as part of the Universal Review Period (UPR), a periodic process by which the UN Human Rights Council examines the human rights record for UN member states. Other countries will make their recommendations to the U.S. about ways to improve human rights during the UPR session in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2015.

Groups representing sex workers and people in sex trades have recently submitted reports to the UN regarding the U.S. obligations under international treaties such as the International Covenant to Eliminate Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UPR report was endorsed by Power Inside (Baltimore), BreakOUT! (New Orleans), Casa Ruby (D.C.), Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (Atlanta), Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) USA and chapters in Phoenix, Tucson, Seattle, and Tampa Bay, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, Monica Jones/Stand with Monica Campaign (Phoenix), Red Umbrella Project (NYC), and St. James Infirmary (San Francisco).

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.

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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.

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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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