“our lives do matter”: pressuring the State Dept to end rights abuses faced by US Sex Workers

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.
Preparing to enter the State Department Civil Society Consultation in D.C.

Preparing to enter the State Department Civil Society Consultation in D.C.