Category: Media Analysis

DOJ Report on Baltimore Police Shows Harms of Criminalization of Commercial Sex

Contact:

Jacqueline Robarge, Power Inside | jrobarge at powerinside.org (410) 889-8333
Darby Hickey, Best Practices Policy Project | darbyhickey at gmail.com (202) 250-4869
Katherine M Koster, SWOP-USA | katherine at swopusa.org (877) 776-2004

DOJ Report on Baltimore Police Shows Harms of Criminalization of Commercial Sex

Statement from Power Inside, Best Practices Policy Project, and Sex Worker Outreach Project-National (SWOP-USA)

The August 10th U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigative findings on the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) reveals police abuse and misconduct that sex workers have documented for years. According to the DOJ findings, BPD officers “fail to meaningfully investigate reports of sexual assault, particularly for assaults involving women with additional vulnerabilities, such as those who are involved in the sex trade.” In addition to ignoring sexual assault reports, the DOJ reports, officers themselves targeted, raped, and sexually assaulted sex workers, noting that such conduct “is not only criminal, it is an abuse of power.”

The DOJ details the BPD’s sweeping racial bias and unconstitutional practices that include racial profiling, degrading strip searches, excessive force, abusive language, and erroneous arrests. According to the report, African American sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are particularly impacted by biased policing and are repeatedly targeted for stops without cause. The DOJ noted that, “BPD’s application of city ordinances banning loitering, trespassing, and failing to obey an officer’s order violates the Fourteenth Amendment.” Once stopped, sex workers of color or those perceived as sex workers are treated with a magnified level of disrespect and abuse.

Unfortunately, this mistreatment is not unique to Baltimore. In 2014 at the United Nations review of the U.S. human rights record, sex worker groups presented documentation of widespread human rights abuses in the U.S. against sex workers and those profiled as engaging in commercial sex, including documentation from Baltimore. The documentation presented in 2014 was a follow-up to a 2010 U.S. human rights record review in 2010, when the U.S. Government agreed to address discrimination against sex workers

Despite this longstanding documentation of police abuse of individuals engaged in the sex trade, particularly African American cisgender and transgender women, the U.S. government has taken no steps to address these pervasive human rights violations. Just as the DOJ documented in Baltimore, throughout the country police officers assault and rape sex workers, ignore sexual assault claims brought by people involved in sex work and deliberately fail to investigate these abuses. Police officers also profile people, particularly transgender and cisgender women, as sex workers, stopping and arresting them on scant evidence. This profiling comes as part of the broader racial and gender profiling of African Americans and other people of color documented extensively by DOJ across the country.

These human rights violations are a direct result of criminalization of marginalized communities in general and the criminalization of sex work more specifically. To address them, states and municipalities should work against criminalization in general and towards the decriminalization of drug use and sex work. The federal government should issue guidance on racial and gender profiling, make state and local funding contingent on an end to such practices, and promote policies and practices which stop human rights abuses against people of color, transgender people, sex workers and those profiled as involved in commercial sex.

The crafting of the Baltimore’s DOJ consent decree, and those in other DOJ investigations, must meaningfully include sex workers, LGBT people, and marginalized survivors of violence that have been most impacted by neglectful and unconstitutional practices. Real reform must include robust reforms that are specific to marginalized communities.

Read the U.S. Department of Justice report:

https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3009376/BPD-Findings-Report-FINAL.pdf

Listen to women in Baltimore describe interactions with the police:
https://soundcloud.com/powerinside/nobody_deserves
https://soundcloud.com/powerinside/favor
https://soundcloud.com/powerinside/culture­of­violence

Read reports submitted to the United Nations regarding human rights abuses of sex
workers by police:
2010 report to the Universal Periodic Review

2014 report to the Universal Periodic Review

For more recent documentation of police misconduct against sex workers, see:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ecyJz8t1f2aVVNLORhbDophNUDrxcEjo4
wbGFvCyLVM/edit?usp=sharing

 

Sex workers mobilize via social media against Prince George’s Police Department

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 10.12.46 PMOn May 1st, the Prince George’s Police Department (in Maryland, bordering D.C.) announced plans to “live tweet” prostitution stings in the coming week. The social media reaction from sex worker twitter was rapid and powerful, denouncing the department’s idea and taking over their proposed hashtag #PGPDVice. The announcement and the backlash resulted in a lot of media coverage, locally and nationally–almost all of it including a critical perspective advocating for sex worker rights and against criminalization.

In a cynical move to silence critics, the police department the next day said they had all along planned to target only clients, not sex workers themselves. This came despite the initial announcement’s accompaniment by a photo of a male cop leading away a woman in handcuffs, which was subsequently removed from the police department’s website.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 10.02.44 PMSex workers and allies kept up the criticism on twitter through the weekend and into the week, when the police department released a statement that they had conducted the stings but not live tweeted. The decision to not live tweet was based in concerns about officer safety, the statement said:

Earlier today, the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Vice Intelligence Unit conducted a planned sting targeting johns. The event took place over several hours in the southern part of the county.  On average, the unit arrests five to 10 johns during similar operations.  Today, no johns were arrested.
“I’ve participated in hundreds of stings, and I’ve never seen what happened today. By advertising this days ago, we wanted to put johns on notice to not come to Prince George’s County. That message was heard loud and clear. We just put a dent in the human trafficking business without making one arrest,” said Sergeant Dave Coleman, the Officer in Charge of the Vice Intelligence Unit.

The department’s effort to spin the conflict was dismissed by most resulting media coverage. As with the recent #myNYPD attempted campaign in NYC, #PGPDVice is a reminder of how social media can be harnessed to highlight social problems.

Local groups like HIPS and DC Trans Coalition contributed to the effort, along with unexpected support from the National Center for Trans Equality and Freedom Network. Even Polaris Project condemned the move.

Twitter conversations and media coverage included not only a condemnation of the live tweet plans, but also of the stings themselves, as well as the regular practice of police publishing mug shots of clients and sex workers online or in other media as a “shaming” tactic. Here’s hoping the whole debacle helped chip away at misconceptions about sex work and policy.

The real criminals are the cops: Superbowl hype questioned

Since the most recent national sex worker rights conference in July 2013, New Jersey advocates for the rights of sex workers have been meeting to begin documenting the human rights abuses faced by sex workers in the Garden State. Representatives of this newly forming network developed this post with Best Practices Policy Project to deconstruct and question the current “sex trafficking panic” over the upcoming “Superbowl” (the annual championship game of the American National Football League). Critiques of Superbowl media coverage have also emerged on the other side of the Hudson River in NYC from anti-trafficking advocates who are also troubled by the presentation of the issues.

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MSNBC Launches New Offensive Program “Slave Hunter”

Reaching new lows in taste and sensationalism, MSNBC is launching a program called “Slave Hunter: Freeing Victims of Trafficking.” Aside from the terrible choice of title–reminiscent of slave patrols, the origins of much of modern law enforcement in the US–the program trafficks (pun intended) in the very exploitation it alleges to decry. Several groups have sent an open letter calling on MSNBC to cancel the show or provide “counter programming.”

Deb Finan

Vice President, Production & Programming MSNBC

December 9, 2013

Dear Ms. Finan,

Below signatories are advocates for survivors of human trafficking and sex workers. We are writing to request a meeting about your troubling series, “Slave Hunter: Freeing Victims of Human Trafficking,” and to insist on counter programming that accurately reflects the reality of sex work and trafficked people in America. While we respect your efforts to tackle a difficult and necessary subject, the tactics of Mr. Cohen and “Abolish Slavery” mislead the public and threaten the rights and safety of sex workers and survivors of human trafficking.

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