Category: Policy Updates

Key Facts About Human Rights Violations & Sex Work ~ For the 2020 UPR of the U.S.A.

Our organizations are members of the US Human Rights Network (USHRN) and so have been offered the opportunity to include some of our key concerns in the network’s report. BPPP, NJRUA, BSWC, Desiree Alliance and the Outlaw Project created the summary to send to the USHRN this last week.

Throughout the U.S., criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers, and those profiled as such, prevents them from exercising their human rights. Violations include: violence perpetrated by law enforcement and ICE; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during incarceration; denial of due process and protection in the justice system; denial of rights to housing, healthcare, reproductive rights, education, income, employment and economic justice. People of color, transgender people, migrants, street based sex workers, homeless, youth, and people living with HIV/AIDS bear a high burden of these violations. U.S. policies undermine the health and rights of sex workers internationally by requiring that organizations seeking funding adopt a policy against sex work. Additionally. in 2018 the U.S. passed rights violating restrictions via the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). This legislation limits the sharing of vital safety information for sex workers online and causes economic harm and social marginalization. The current U.S. administration is violating the rights of immigrants. The intersection of this with anti-prostitution policies has resulted in the death of migrant sex workers at the hands of state agents, the incarceration of migrant sex workers in rights violating detention centers, and deportation. The U.S. government has engaged in a sustained campaign to roll back the rights of transgender people. Transgender people are assumed to be sex workers by the authorities, leading to incarceration and immigration detention, where they are harmed, highly vulnerable to sexual assaults, and killed.

Photo by PJ Starr, September 20, 2019

Previous UN Body Recommendations: In prior UPR process, the U.S. accepted Recommendation 
86, requiring it to “[u]ndertake 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.” The U.S has pursued policies that directly contradict this commitment, putting sex workers at heightened risk of human rights abuses. In 2014, the UN Human Rights Committee challenged the U.S. Justice Department’s claim that arresting people for sex work is a humane or effective way to fight trafficking, and called on the U.S. to align its anti-trafficking initiatives with human rights norms, which reject criminalizing sex workers.

Key Recommendations for inclusion via USHRN: The United States of America should:

  • End the criminalization of sex workers lives by full decriminalization (anti-criminalization) of sex work and eliminate policies, such as “zero tolerance” of prostitution, “prostitution free zones,” and loitering measures, that undermine protection of and respect for human rights of sex workers. Sex workers should also be able to expunge any criminal records relating to these laws.
  • Vigorously investigate and put an end to policing practices targeting transgender people.
  • Repeal SESTA/FOSTA and eliminate other federal policies that conflate sex work and human trafficking and prevent sex workers from accessing services such as healthcare, HIV services and support.
  • Address the atrocities of current immigration and migration border policies in the United States. Migrant and immigrant sex workers are especially affected by these laws as they are under no protections of federal guidelines. 
  • Remove “participation in prostitution” as grounds for removal from the country, from the category of “crimes of moral turpitude” and as grounds for denying visas/legal status to individuals seeking to visit, reside in, or become citizens of the United States.

Monica Jones Speaking Tour

Human rights advocate Monica Jones will be traveling to the NYC area for meetings and events associated with the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking. Ms Jones will be speaking to her experience as transgender leader who was arrested by a misguided anti-trafficking initiative called Project ROSE and about the campaign she lead to raise awareness of the rights violations perpetrated by police, social workers and services providers in the name of ending “sex trafficking.” Her work on these issues sparked global awareness of the rights violations experienced by transgender women of color in the United States as a result of anti-trafficking policies. During her campaign she was joined by leading advocates such as Janet Mock, Laverne Cox and many others. A video of Monica and Laverne Cox at an event at the Herberger Theater Center organized the ACLU and sex worker rights organizations in defense of Ms Jones is available here.

Ms Jones is available for speaking engagements the NY/DC/PA area December 5 to 14, 2016. She is a dynamic speaker who has presented on transgender rights, HIV/AIDS, feminism, sex work, social work, and the law at events during the Commission on the Status of Women in NY, the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, International AIDS Conferences in Melbourne, Australia and Durban, South Africa, and the Association of Women in Development in Brazil. Ms Jones is the recipient of the SPARK! Authentic Life Award in 2015, was honored as one of the Trans 100 in 2015 and received the Diversity Advisory Committee of Phoenix College Award in 2012. Ms Jones is the founder of The Outlaw Project, an organization based on the principles of intersectionality to prioritize the leadership of people of color, transgender women, gender non-binary people and migrants for sex worker rights. She has presented at universities across the United States introducing students of all levels to key issues relating to transgender experience, rights, sex worker rights, workers rights, gender justice, the law and social work. Ms Jones may be contacted by email at monica6022006@gmail and by text/voice to (602) 483-9772.


Concerns about UN Women’s process for developing a policy on the rights of sex workers

The Best Practices Policy Project has submitted a letter of concern to UN Women about their email survey to ostensibly develop an organizational policy position on sex work. The full text of our letter of concern is below and is also available for download.

Sex worker organizations and allies have critiqued this UN process because it uses complex bureaucratic language and is occurring on an extremely short time frame (UN Women’s consultation ends October 16, 2016 October 31 extended deadline). BPPP is also concerned that process is biased towards harmful policies because it is being directed by UN Women Policy Director Purna Sen who has written that prostitution is a form of violence against women and who has dismissed sex worker rights organizing.

Writing a letter of concern about the process to the Executive Director of UN Women by email to <> is one of several actions groups can take, including signing this Call for UN Women to Meaningfully Consult Sex Workers as they Develop Policy on Sex Work and engaging with the UN Women email consultation process critically by October 16. The NSWP has sent in a response which is a useful example of how we may engage with this process.

October 11, 2016

H.E. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations
Executive Director, UN Women
c.c.       H.E. Lakshmi Puri
Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations
Deputy Executive Director for Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships, UN Women
c.c        H.E. Yannick Glemarec
Assistant Secretary-General
Deputy Executive Director for Policy and Programmes, UN Women

Dear H.E. Mlambo-Ngcuka,

We write to echo fellow human rights advocates’ concerns about UN Women’s process for developing a policy on the rights of sex workers, and to call for UN Women to support a human rights-based approach to sex work and the sex trades. Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP) supports organizations and advocates working with sex workers, people in the sex trade and related communities in the United States, by producing materials for policy environments, addressing research and academic concerns and providing technical assistance. As other advocates have already pointed out, UN Women has failed to conduct in-person regional and national consultations for its process, opting instead for a brief online comment period that will exclude countless voices of directly impacted people. Prior engagement by relevant UN agencies on this issue has involved meaningful sex worker consultation processes and arrived at policies that uphold human rights protections for sex workers and people engaged in sex trades. These documents should guide UN Women’s further engagement on this issue.
We add that this type of process places enormous stress on sex worker organizations, which generally operate with limited or no funding, in environments marked by stigma and ostracism. Across the globe, these organizations are engaged in local, regional, and international struggles to eliminate discrimination, violence and other abuses their members face at the hands of police and other state and private actors. They struggle for the realization of their and their families’ basic human needs, including adequate health services, housing, food, water, education, and economic wellbeing. While it is critical that sex worker organizations be consulted for a policy that will directly impact their access to human rights, it is also important that agencies like UN Women recognize and accommodate for the obstacles they face. This means UN Women should meaningfully involve sex workers in developing the very process through which they will inform any policy that affects them, in order to ensure its accessibility. The principle of meaningful consultation of those most impacted by an issue at hand is at the heart of a feminist approach to social change, and one which we recommend UN Women adopt.
We are alarmed that UN Women’s process is being directed by Policy Director Purna Sen, who has equated sex work with violence against women, and who has portrayed the movement for sex workers’ human rights as one located in wealthier countries. Someone who has taken such a clear stance against recognizing sex workers’ human rights should not be in a position to direct policy development that will impact sex workers on a global scale. Her perspective fails to recognize the important leadership of extensive sex worker collectives and organizations in developing and global south countries. We are concerned that her views have already shaped UN Women’s current process, which has failed to ensure sex workers in developing countries, and sex workers with limited resources in developed countries, are meaningfully consulted.
We echo the call for UN Women to meaningfully consult sex workers across the globe in developing any policy related to sex work, and to ensure their statements uphold sex workers’ human rights and recognize sex workers’ agency and self-determination. We further ask that UN Women follow and publicize transparent, established research standards to determine both the quality of information it receives, and the amount of consultation with directly impacted communities necessary to inform its policy. At this juncture, we believe that without significant changes, the process UN Women has embarked on is neither legitimate nor helpful to the struggle for human rights.

Best Practices Policy Project


Tiommi Luckett, steps forward for Sharmus Outlaw

The Best Practices Policy Policy is glad to welcome Tiommi Luckett as a consultant on HIV Policy and Advocacy, with the specific goal of continuing the vision of Sharmus Outlaw on HIV policy and bringing her own passion and direction to our work.

Tiommi Luckett is a nationally recognized advocate for the rights of people living with HIV and for trans* rights, focusing on the issues particular to transgender women of color. She was also a close friend and colleague of Sharmus Outlaw, a leading policy advocate at the Best Practices Policy Project who passed away in July 2016.

Tiommi contributed to the report Nothing About Us Without Us last year, she was interviewed by Sharmus Outlaw and brainstormed many key ideas that emerged in the report that focused on the intersections of sex work, HIV policy, and transgender rights. In the report Tiommi advocates for the intertwinned rights of sex workers and trans* people noting that Federal policy makers need to acknowledge both groups in the National HIV Strategy. “They need an indicator for sex workers and transgender women,” she says “Now they mention sex workers just one time in the whole 22 page document. What I am doing is working with a network of people living with HIV… to speak about the issue and how they can correct it.” Today Tiommi has released a blog posting on the ongoing erasure of the issues faced by trans* people in HIV policy. “People often ask me what can they do to help,” she writes, “and my response is always the same: First, there is an entire community of people who are too frequently not at the table, so in our absence, be our voice and advocate. Even better, no one can educate you on my lived experience but me. Help get us a seat at the table – and when we’re there, don’t stifle our voices even when what we say is difficult to hear.”

Tiommi will be attending the Speak Up Conference in September 2016, and among one of the many things she will do at the convening is to honor two trans* leaders who passed away within 9 days of each other (Channing-Celeste and Sharmus). She will be distributing copies of the Nothing About Us Without Us report to the trans* pre-conference convening. She will also be traveling to the US Conference on AIDS.