Category: Press Release

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.

Criminalization & Violence Undermine HIV Prevention & Human Rights Says New Report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASENothingAboutUsWithoutUs

December 11, 2015

Tomorrow at the US Human Rights Network conference in Austin TX, Best Practices Policy Project and Desiree Alliance will be releasing the first ever report in the U.S. on sex workers, rights, and HIV created by sex workers themselves. The first report, Nothing About Us Without Us: Sex Work, Policy, Organizing, Rights, will focus on transgender sex workers.

“Sex workers are part of the solution in addressing HIV, and the U.S. is out of step with global acceptance of the need to bring a human rights focus to the issues of sex work and HIV, while moving away from criminalization,” said Sharmus Outlaw, co-author of the report. “Transgender sex workers are now suffering the effects of the silence about what works to prevent and treat HIV.”

The report finds that the policing of transgender communities is justified in the name of anti-prostitution efforts; and that this policing is directly at odds with scientifically-based HIV prevention and outreach efforts. “All across the U.S., transgender women–especially those of color–are harassed and arrested by police officers as they go about their daily life,” said Monica Jones, a transgender rights organizer from Phoenix, Arizona and advisor to the report. “This policing impacts transgender outreach workers doing essential activities in HIV prevention such as delivering condoms and information to the community. We need to stop the arrest of transgender outreach workers, end the practice of using condoms as evidence, stop policing of medications and end the policing of trans people’s lives so that they can walk down the street and reach health care centers when they need to access HIV related care.”

The report finds transgender people with experience in sex work and the sex trade are much more likely to be living with HIV than transgender people who have never been sex workers, or the general population of the United States. In the District of Columbia, for example, 73% of trans sex workers self report living with HIV. But the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the highest level of policy in the U.S., has been almost entirely silent about sex work and sex work was entirely omitted from the National HIV/AIDS Federal Action Plan released in late 2015.

“As sex workers develop our own research around HIV/AIDS policies, we are connecting with others to rethink and strategize about structural barriers best practices in HIV prevention,” said Cris Sardina of Desiree Alliance. “It is not acceptable to ignore how violence, stigma, and criminalization affect trans women who engage in sex work. Nor can we ignore how policing sex work affects all trans women who are often profiled and arrested as sex workers.”

The report will be released at 3 pm CST December 12 and will be available at http://www.bestpracticespolicy.org/nothing-about-us-without-us/.  The release event will be live streamed on Periscope by @swoplosangeles and social media will use the following #silenceequalsdeath and #advancingrights2015. More information can be found at the Release Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1660187327592533/permalink/1660187340925865/

 

PRESS CONTACTS:
Darby Hickey 202-250-4869 and darbyhickey @ gmail.com

Monica Jones 602-575-9332

Cristine Sardina director @ desireealliance.org

 

New Report on Transgender Experiences in Sex Work Recommends Decriminalization

New Data Shows Harms to the Community

December 7, 2015….New York, NY – The Red Umbrella Project (RedUP), the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), and Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP) today released a groundbreaking report on the experiences of transgender people in the sex trade. Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade presents new data and analysis from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), first published in 2011 and still the largest-ever published survey of transgender people in the United States. Meaningful Work is the first in depth look at the 694 NTDS respondents (11% of the survey total) who reported sex trade experience.

In 2011, the NTDS reported that transgender people experience high levels of discrimination in every area of life, as well as high levels of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, negative interactions with police, incarceration, and violent victimization. One result of this widespread discrimination is that many transgender people engage in sex work to earn income or trade sex for housing or other needs. Meaningful Work takes a deeper look at those respondents who traded sex for income:

  • an overwhelming majority (69%) had experienced a negative job outcome such as being fired or denied a job because of being transgender,

  • nearly half (48%) had experienced homelessness, and

  • nearly a third (31%) lived on less than $10,000 a year.

Read the full report here. Read the Executive Summary here.

The criminalization and stigmatization of commercial sex can worsen the discrimination and marginalization that transgender people already face. Transgender sex workers reported high levels of harassment and violence, often at the hands of police: 64% reported being mistreated and nearly one in 10 were sexually assaulted by police. The report also found striking racial disparities, with Black and Latina/o transgender people are far more likely to report any sex trade experience (44% and 33%). Transgender people of color with sex trade experience reported far higher levels of poverty, mistreatment, and negative health outcomes than their white counterparts.

To address these disparities, the report makes several policy recommendations, including the full decriminalization of sex work. National LGBT organizations including NCTE recently joined Amnesty International and the World Health Organization in calling for decriminalization on the grounds that criminalizing sex work prevents sex workers from seeking help from police, needed services, or other employment and impedes HIV prevention efforts. Other recommendations include reforming policing practices and investing in voluntary, non-judgmental, and harm reduction-based social services. The report also urges LGBT organizations and other community groups to prioritize work with sex workers themselves in developing solutions that meet people’s needs for safety, health, and opportunity.

“Trading sex for money is an act of resilience by so many trans people, in the face of tremendous societal violence and discrimination,” said Darby Hickey, Policy Adviser at BPPP and a transgender woman former sex worker. “This report shows how criminal laws, policing, and anti-sex worker stigma combine with anti-transgender bias, producing terrible results. Trans sex workers, particularly women of color, know what the solutions are and it is past time that LGBT groups center their experiences and wisdom.”

“Far too often, the manner in which we deal with sex workers is to criminalize their behavior, without addressing any of the systemic barriers that influence participation in the sex trade. Bad policies and practices, such as using condoms as evidence and court mandated programs, not only don’t help trans sex workers, but actually worsen their outcomes,” said Erin Fitzgerald, Research and Policy Director of the Red Umbrella Project.

“We can’t ignore the fact that so many transgender people, particularly in communities of color, have had experience in the sex trade, often simply as a means of getting by,” said Harper Jean Tobin, Director of Policy at NCTE. “This means of survival, however, too often comes along with increased risk of violence, HIV, and barriers to health care and other supports–all of which are made worse by criminalizing sex work. All people involved in the sex trade, whatever their circumstances, deserve safety, opportunity, and dignity.”

The Red Umbrella Project (RedUP) is Brooklyn based peer-led organization which amplifies the voices of people in the sex trades to take greater control of our lives and livelihoods through sustained and structured peer-mentoring initiatives, multimedia storytelling platforms, and public advocacy. For more information go to www.redumbrellaproject.org. The National Center for Transgender Equality is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life-saving change for transgender people. For more information go to www.transequality.org. The Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP) is dedicated to supporting organizations and advocates working with sex workers, people in the sex trade and related communities in the United States. For more information go to www.bestpracticespolicy.org.

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