Category: Press Release

Impact of cancellations due to COVID-19

In 2020, our organizations in various coalitions have been planning to host the following events and engage in the following human rights processes:

  • a sex worker led parallel session and a fundraiser at the Commission on the Status of Women,
  • the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States including writing a collective report, advocating for key issues with permanent missions, hosting a working group on sex work at the USHRN, planning to attend pre-sessions at the UN in Geneva and the UPR itself that should be held in May 2020,
  • a sex worker rights networking session at the Allied Media Conference in June 2020,
  • AIDS2020 in San Francisco and HIV2020 in Mexico City (both planned for July 2020).

The United Nations cancellation of almost all of the Commission on the Status of Women in the afternoon/evening of March 2, 2020 dismantled the work of our sex worker and trans led organizations stretching back to October 2019. On Friday March 6, 2020 our two representatives who had been scheduled to attend vital UPR pre-meetings planned by UPR-Info in Geneva were told that they were part of a cohort that had been locked out of the UN itself while other pre-selected groups (the selected speakers from larger NGOs such as the Human Rights Campaign) will still be allowed in. Work that sex worker and trans led groups has been preparing for since March 2019 to raise key issues about sex worker rights and intersections with migration, trans justice, and economic justice is now derailed.

We have been asked to retool and reschedule by having events at other times and in other formats, and working around UN restrictions. We will do all that we can but we want to place the actions that we can and cannot take in a political context.

  1. Most of our organizations have no paid staff at all and only one of us has recently brought on a part time administrator. Re-planning events places tremendous strain on us.
  2. We have expended all of our extremely limited resources and there are no more resources to pay for events to happen at another time or to make up for changes that multi-million dollar global agencies make. Our organizations and our members live week to week and day to day.
  3. Our exclusion is systematic. The fact that our representatives had their UN accreditation cancelled is a result of being denied speaker slots and forced into the audience (while more privileged groups were given the space to speak). A public health crisis is not an excuse for cancelling the access of those who already had the least access. 
  4. Every epidemic has led to the blaming and exclusion of sex workers, drug users, LGBT communities and immigrants. The history of HIV/AIDS is so present for us. Hysteria about coronavirus makes all in our communities vulnerable and deflects from the failures of States that know full well how to address respiratory infections but have not been doing so. Our right to health includes acknowledgement that we the marginalized are not the risk but that governments should have strengthened public health systems long ago, worked with us to provide trainings for frontline health workers, provided testing to those who wish to have it for coronavirus, and making sure that senior living centers were safe and clean.
  5. As sex workers, we stand with all the cleaners who are our heroes in ensuring public health. Sex workers need rights and so should domestic workers and cleaners be uplifted and paid more. The stigma of doing societies’ “dirty work” must be challenged.

In solidarity,

The Best Practices Policy Project, Desiree Alliance, New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance, Moral High Ground Productions, the Outlaw Project and the Black Sex Worker Collective

US Sex Worker representation at AWID

The 2016 forum for the Association of Women in Development will be held in Costa do Sauípe, Bahia, Brazil, September 8 to 11. The forum’s theme is Feminist Futures: Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice.

The Best Practices Policy Project is supporting two sessions. The first will extend our human rights work on the Universal Screenshot 2016-08-31 03.05.21Periodic Review (UPR) beyond our borders to inspire similar campaigns by sex workers and allies in Brazil.  The session “Working the Universal Periodic Review: Advocating at the United Nations for sex worker and trans rights” will describe how community groups can engage with the Universal Periodic Review and how this process allows the issues central to the rights of sex workers and transgender people to attention globally and to bring change in country. This is a vital training giving the forthcoming UPR of Brazil in 2017 (shadow reports are due in February 2017 to the Human Rights Council). This session will take place at Ala Mar – Vera Cruz 1-2  on September 9th, at 4.30 pm. Speakers include Penelope Saunders, Monica Jones, Laura Murray and Brazilian colleagues.

We are also proud to support “Not Your Rescue Project: film and performance from the sex worker rights revolution-our reality, visions and collective power.” The purpose of this session is to use community materials, film, performance and presentations celebrating the activism of sex workers to engage in lively discussion with a diverse audience. The session will be introduced by PJ Starr with a special guest appearance by The Incredible, Edible Akynos and Brazilian colleagues. Session will take place at Ala Terra – Sao Tome 1-2  on September 10 at 2.30 pm.

In addition to these sessions Monica Jones has been invited to participate in the Black Feminist pre-conference, Penelope Saunders will visit Rio to work on a collaborative project with Brazil’s Prostitution Policy Watch and Brazilian sex worker groups, and Akynos will present a burlesque workshop in Rio on September 3rd.

AkynosBrazil

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

 

Sharmus Outlaw: humanist, transgender leader for sex worker rights has passed

SharmusOutlaw_byPJStarrSharmus Outlaw our colleague and friend has passed away this morning remaining strong and powerful in her beliefs through her last days.

At the time of her death Sharmus was a national policy advocate at the Best Practices Policy Project, with her work focusing on the rights of transgender communities and health care access. Sharmus was also the US representative for the Programme Advisory Committee of the Red Umbrella Fund, a global fund specifically for sex worker-led organizations and was part of numerous other networks. Sharmus was an advocate for health and rights for more than 25 years with experience working in the District of Columbia, Maryland and her beloved North Carolina, where she was born. An internationally known activist, she spoke out against injustice in all settings, from interactions with police in the streets to meetings with the U.S. government to high-level U.N. gatherings.

Sharmus has left us much too soon but she has achieved so much. In 2001 she was a founding member of Different Avenues, a grassroots organization working with people in street and other informal economies in the District of Columbia. Sharmus designed the outreach programs at Different Avenues drawing on her years of experience at other organizations such as HIPS where she had been a member of the DIVA program and an outreach worker. Ensuring that young people, especially transgender youth, could access services without discrimination at times that worked for them was an essential part of Sharmus’ vision. In addition to her work at Different Avenues and HIPS, Sharmus volunteered and worked at numerous organizations in the District of Columbia including the Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL), Casa Ruby, and Us Helping Us. She never stopped doing outreach and would carry condoms and literature with her on her travels home to see her family in North Carolina to make sure that she could pass out materials to folks she met. She was passionately concerned that rural communities all across the United States did not have access to information about gender, sexuality, rights and HIV/AIDS.

Sharmus had a great ability to unite communities locally, nationally, regionally and globally, and through these alliances to advocate for change. She was an integral part of the community-based research team that collected data on police interactions with people profiled as sex workers in the District of Columbia, which was published as the seminal report “Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, D.C.” in 2008. Drawing on that experience and her extensive knowledge of the ways in which laws and practices negatively affected members of marginalized communities, Sharmus was co-author of another first of its kind report, published in 2015, “Nothing About Us, Without Us: HIV/AIDS-Related Community and Policy Organizing by U.S. Sex Workers,” which had an explicit focus on transgender people living with HIV who engage in sex work. After helping to lead a disruption of a panel of U.S. lawmakers speaking about HIV policy, to highlight the U.S. government’s harmful stance against sex workers’ rights, at the 2012 International AIDS Conference, Sharmus told reporters, “Before I’m transgender, before I’m a sex worker, before I am anything, I’m human. I have rights just like anyone else.”
An iconic grassroots human rights defender, Sharmus Outlaw will be remembered by friends, colleagues, and fans in Washington, D.C., and around the world. Her work continues through all of us who advocate for the humanity of transgender people, sex workers, people living with HIV and youth, especially trans youth. An era dedicated to implementing the vision of Sharmus Outlaw is just beginning, in her name.

Email bestpracticespolicyproject@gmail.com in order to be connected to ongoing work planned by Sharmus and donate to Sharmus’ funeral costs.