On February 20, 2015 Janet Duran–a representative of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance and a network of organizations using international human rights strategies to bring attention to rights abuses faced by sex workers–traveled to the District of Columbia to present a statement during a meeting organized by the US State Department. This “civil society consultation” was held in advance of the Second Universal Periodic Review of the United States, that is scheduled for May 11 at the United Nations in Geneva, and included representatives from various United States government agencies. In its prior Universal Periodic Review process, the US accepted Recommendation 86, requiring it to “undertake awareness raising campaigns for combating stereotypes and violence against [LGBT people], and ensure access to public services, paying attention to the special vulnerability of sex workers to violence and human rights abuses.” Even though Recommendation 86 is considered a very important step forward in global acknowledgement that the United States should improve its policies and actions to protect the rights of sex workers, the US government has taken no action since that time to do so. Janet Duran addressed the State Department and other government agencies to make clear the reality of the rights violations faced by sex workers across the United States:
I stand before you today to bring to your attention to the numerous ways in which sex workers’ human rights continue to be violated due to criminalization. The biggest problem is that most of the violence which they fall victim to is at the hands of the very people who should be protecting them.
I have been a witness to law enforcement and people in positions of security and power allowing fellow law enforcement brethren to engage in said illegal activities with no recourse for their actions.
This is where criminalization makes things even more dangerous because at any time we can become victims of sexual assault or other violence and know full well if an attempt is made to report any act of violence during the alleged commission of an “illegal sex act,” we become vulnerable to retaliation and even more violence and even death.
If we do try and report it’s not only the police that further makes us victims but also at the hands of attorneys on both ends. We will not go report if we know that prosecutors will question our motives and yell at us when we question the corruption and misconduct the arises from trying to report.
The constant harassment of repeated and constitutional rights violations further make us distrust police. Misconduct manifesting itself as lost statements and police reports falsified to protect the accused by their law enforcement comrades. The prosecutorial misconduct we face when we are treated as criminals when we are victims.
When that pertinent fact, according to the attorney general’s office, is left out of the report but it’s not important enough to be investigated because according to various victim rights attorneys, who were also former prosecutors, no prosecutor will ever prosecute a case involving sex workers because no real crime is committed because they say we don’t matter.
But our lives do matter.In this spirit, I call on you all to implement Recommendation 86 to ensure the human rights of sex workers including the rights to healthcare, education and housing; and the right to be free from violence by government and non-government actors. I call on you to take measures to decrease violence towards my community by implementing campaigns to end the harms of stigmatization and criminalization.