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Second UPR of US: Minimal Talk and No Action on Rec 86

During the first Universal Periodic Review of the United States in 2010, the Human Rights Council at the United Nations made Recommendation 86 to the United States to “…ensure access to public services paying attention to the special vulnerability of sexual workers to violence and human rights abuses.” The Obama Administration accepted the recommendation stating, “we agree that no one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution…” This position was repeated earlier this year in preparations for the 2015 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States. However, now that the United States has made no mention of sex workers rights in its official response to the 2015 UPR, sex worker advocates are frustrated that there is no sign that Recommendation 86 will actually be implemented. Our concern is that the United States is failing to ensure that the human rights of sex workers are protected and that the systematic violations of sex workers–and people profiled as such–that have been documented by our organizations continue with impunity.

While other recommendations are followed up with plans of action, the U.S. government has failed to make any plans on actually implementing Recommendation 86 and ensuring sex workers have access to public services to ensure safety.

Unfortunately, sex workers continue to experience violence and extreme forms of discrimination from state actors across the country. In May of 2013, Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color in Phoenix, was arrested for “manifestation of prostitution” while on her way to a LGBT venue. These kinds of arrest are a common practice in which law enforcement profiles trans feminine people of color as sex workers. In late 2014, the North Jersey Regional Director of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance was unconstitutionally arrested in relation to her prior prostitution charge with claims of an active warrant which were later discovered to be false. These actions were likely taken in retaliation for her efforts to speak out against police violence. In Alaska, anti-trafficking rhetoric has become so radioactive that Amber Batts was found guilty of trafficking herself. This is the reality that sex workers and people profiled as such have to endure.

The continuing human rights violations that sex workers experience are a direct result of the inaction the United States government has taken to address our concerns. The federal government has the capacity to set restrictions on human trafficking funding so they go to people who actually have been coerced in their labor, and not into the hands of law enforcement efforts that are incompatible with addressing these issues or towards forcing people out of the sex trade who do not want to leave. The federal government can end travel restrictions on those who trade sex that are often enforced in ways that reinforce racial stereotypes. Importantly, the federal government has the ability to formally recognize the labor of sex work and allow labor violations to be reported.

If the government is serious about enforcing Recommendation 86, then the sex worker community requires a plan of action, as current policies run contrary to their rhetoric that sex workers should not be discriminated against. This plan should incorporate ways to work with state and local governments to reverse the trend of using laws against prostitution, solicitation, and loitering to harass sex workers and those perceived to be sex workers. Sex workers want the talk about rights to result in meaningful action.

By Derek Demeri, New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance; Penelope Saunders, Best Practices Policy Project; and Cristine Sardina, Desiree Alliance.

Update on the United Nations’ UPR process

Best Practices Policy Project and other groups working for the human rights of sex workers and people in sex trade has been engaging with the latest round of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This is a continuation of excellent grassroots community organizing around the last round of the UPR in 2010/2011. We submitted a shadow report along with our friends at Desiree Alliance and SWOP-NYC.

You can view the United States’ assessment of its own human rights record as reported to the Human Rights Council here. Now that the government has submitted their report, the next steps for grassroots advocacy are to contact the US government about our shadow reports, as well as contact the diplomatic missions of other countries to encourage them to submit recommendations to the US to support the human rights of people in sex trades. We are participating in several upcoming opportunities for these activities

If you would like to contact policy makers in the US or in the diplomatic missions of other countries, this one-page summary may be helpful.

Navigating the References: Part 1

In 2015, Jill McCracken prepared for a TEDx talk on the topic “Selling Sex: Contradicting Violence with Choice” amassing a great deal of the current research on the topic. Later in 2015 Jill joined BPPP’s research advisory committee for the Nothing About Us, Without Us Project, and these references and summaries proved to be an extremely valuable resource as we developed our work on HIV policy and sex worker rights. She has now kindly provided us with a comprehensive blog posting collating key research summaries. We are publishing her post in two parts, the first focusing on the intersections of sex work, HIV and health, and the second part will focus on references referencing trafficking in persons. Jill is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and author of the book Street Sex Workers Discourse.

Navigating the References Connecting Sex Work, Criminalization, and Violence

By Jill McCracken, PhD

You may not learn a great deal of new information in this blog. I say that truthfully and also to acknowledge the incredible work that has and continues to be done and shared within the sex worker rights movement and beyond. As I was compiling these sources and writing the blog, explained more fully below, I was continually hearing myself say, “Well, this is nothing new. This is what we have been saying all along”. And yet, because sources are making this information known through case studies, sites of analysis, research methodologies, and community organizations and perspectives, it becomes extremely helpful to reiterate this information and put it in one place for easy reference; at least it has been helpful for me.

When I found out I was going to give a TEDx talk at the University of South Florida, I was instantly terrified. My terror is usually linked to not only my high expectations for myself, but also my fear of disappointing my audience. And when I considered my fear in relationship to this project (working through my fear has become my new way of being of late), I realized the audience I was most afraid of disappointing was my sex worker and sex worker rights colleagues and organizations. I also knew that in order to give a talk that was worthy of the subject matter: A World Beyond Ourselves, I would need to, once again, rely on my sex worker and sex worker rights colleagues and friends. I therefore went to my many online lists and organizations and asked for help. I also did a great deal of research. Ironically, most, if not all, of this research did not actually make it into the talk, because I later found out that TEDx talks were not meant to include lots of statistics and facts, but rather stories and information the audience can relate to. But what I did find in doing all of that research was that I became even more convinced of my (and many others’) central idea for this talk: that sex work must be decriminalized if we are to reduce violence against sex workers, sex workers must be at the forefront of any discussions about these policies, and that we must focus on a rights-based approach rather than a prosecution or criminal-based approach.

Continue reading »

2014 Year in Review

Each year we take a moment to reflect on our actions and to consider how movements for rights in the United States are developing. Here is 2014 in review.

New beginnings and some goodbyes: We rarely celebrate the leaving of a person or the end of an era, but in October 2014 BPPP was most pleased to farewell the “prostitution free zone” legislation in the District of Columbia. The legislation was struck down after almost a decade of united advocacy by transgender and sex worker rights leaders. We were also pleased to welcome the birth of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance and supported the development of this new local organizing with technical support and more. BPPP was pleased to support NJRUA by the first blog post of the nascent group decoding the “Superbowl” hype of early 2014. Screenshot 2015-12-01 10.00.41

Stand with Monica Jones Campaign: Many across the nation were made acutely aware of the impact of policing of anti-prostitution statutes on transgender women when Monica Jones (a transgender rights activist and student of social work) was arrested in May 2013 after protesting Project ROSE (a collaboration between Phoenix police and Arizona State University School of Social work that has lead to numerous arrests in the city of Phoenix). BPPP has provided ongoing support to Phoenix organizers, standing in solidarity with them, linking them to resources available to defend human rights defenders like Monica Jones, connecting to social workers concerned about the arrest and the ethics of Project ROSE, and providing information and commentary. November 26, 2014, after several court appearances in which she was supported by the ACLU-AZ, Monica Jones learned that that Project ROSE has been cancelled. Screenshot 2015-12-01 09.58.34

Online presence, commentary and publications:

Conferences: BPPP publicized HIV/AIDS policy concerns through participation in the AIDS2014 (the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne Australia) and ensured community reporting and participation. This material was provided in English and Spanish. We provided technical assistance to ten advocates applying to attend the International AIDS conference and reported globally on the conference via Twitter and other forms of social media.

Fundraising: BPPP helped make organizations and individuals aware of the ways they can support rights based organizing through presentations at funders convenings and direct action. In 2014 BPPP developed a successful online direct donation campaign to support advocates planning to attend the International AIDS Conference in Australia.

Reports: BPPP worked with the Desiree Alliance and SWOP-NYC/SWANK and groups from around the United States to produce the second national UPR report to the United Nations. 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.

United Nations Advocacy: In March 2014, advocates from the Best Practices Policy Project and SWOP Phoenix traveled to the United Nations to raise concerns about the arrest of Monica Jones and the abuses caused by policing and Project ROSE to the Human Rights Committee during the review of the United States under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). We were pleased to note that “Concluding Observations” from the Committee included important points on racial profiling, police abuse, and immigrants’ rights. The Committee also called on the U.S. to re-align its anti-human trafficking efforts with human rights norms, which reject criminalizing people who are trafficked. Importantly, the Committee’s report placed the problem of forced labor within a larger framework of economics and immigration policies, and noted its concern “about the insufficient identification and investigation of cases of trafficking for labor purposes.” A report detailing this advocacy is available at our website.