Tag: Human Rights

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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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.

Countries Make Recommendations to U.S. at the United Nations

The United States underwent its second round of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Monday, a human rights mechanism at the United Nations meant to hold countries accountable by subjecting them to review at the Human Rights Council. Sex worker rights activists Monica Jones and Derek Demeri were present in Geneva, Switzerland, for the review. They had asked representatives of other countries to raise the issue of sex worker rights with the U.S. during the review. While none of the 117 countries making recommendations specifically discussed sex work, many recommendations about policing and law enforcement cover the rights violations that are committed against sex workers and others profiled as such.

After the session concluded, Jones and Demeri participated in the civil society consultation with the U.S. government delegation to Geneva. They voiced their concerns about rights violations against people involved in sex trade, violence against trans women, particularly trans women of color, and deaths of people incarcerated due to negligence or violence by jail and prison personnel. “I want to know what you are doing to address violence against trans women,” Jones asked the government delegation, noting how poverty, violence, incarceration, and isolation affect trans women uniquely. “We support recommendations to end police brutality, as the violence that sex workers face is most often at the hands of police,” said Demeri. He added that the U.S. government should also take steps to fix its flawed approach to human trafficking, should stop the practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution, and should uphold the rights of sex workers and related communities including queer youth, trans women, and women living in poverty. You can hear their remarks here:

The advocacy efforts of Jones, Demeri, and others at the United Nations builds on years of work by sex worker rights activists and allies. During the UPR process in 2010, Uruguay called on the United States to end violence against sex workers, and the U.S. government accepted the recommendation. Unfortunately, very little has been done since that time by the federal government to protect sex workers’ rights. The situation has actually deteriorated, as national and local policies and practices harming sex workers, and those profiled as such, increase every year, often under the banner of fighting human trafficking. Next steps for the UPR include encouraging the U.S. government to accept most of the recommendations made by other member countries, and pushing policy makers to support sex worker rights.

U.S. Sex Worker Rights Activists Call for U.N. to Hold U.S. Government Accountable

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | May 8, 2015

CONTACTS: Geneva- Monica Jones 602-575-9332, Derek Demeri jdemeri20@gmail.com;

United States- Janet Duran- 973-900-4887, Penelope Saunders- 917-817-0324, penelope.saunders@gmail.com

 

U.S. Sex Worker Rights Activists Call for U.N. to Hold U.S. Government Accountable

U.N. to Review US Government Human Rights Record on May 11th

Geneva–Representatives of U.S.-based sex worker rights organizations are in Geneva, Switzerland, meeting with members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), and advocating for greater human rights protections. The HRC will hold its quadrennial Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the U.S.’ human rights record on May 11th at 9am (3am EST), at the U.N. in Geneva. The UPR is a peer-based review process, through which the human rights record of each member state of the U.N. is subject to scrutiny by fellow governments, which call on other each other to address and end violations of civil, political, economic and social human rights in their own countries.

In advance of the review this year, advocates with Best Practices Policy Project, Desiree Alliance, and Sex Workers Outreach Project-NY submitted a report to the HRC. Written in consultation with sex workers and their allies throughout the country, the report shows that criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers, and those profiled as such, exposes them to rape, extortion, physical violence, harassment, and discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. Criminalization and stigma can also lead to denial of housing, healthcare, parenting and other reproductive rights, education, incomes, and employment. The report demonstrates that the legal system frequently fails to recognize that sex workers can be victims of violence, and thus denies justice or support to sex workers who seek help.

For Monica Jones, a human rights advocate and transgender woman of color from Phoenix, AZ, the issues she is raising in Geneva have directly impacted her own life. Like many transgender and gender non-conforming people of color, she is threatened by regular harassment by police, who use anti-sex work laws to intimidate and harm members of communities already vulnerable to discrimination. “As long as the police can target my community using these anti-sex work laws,” Ms. Jones notes, “we will never be safe from violence, including the violence of incarceration.”

The UPR of the U.S. comes as major uprisings are sweeping the country in response to persistent police violence and murders of people of color. Sex worker communities, particularly those of color, are all too familiar with the rampant profiling, harassment and violence that police carry out throughout the U.S. Sex worker rights advocates in Geneva are in solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter movement and other similar racial justice movements that seek to end police brutality. “We refuse to be silenced when the criminalization and stigmatization of our communities means our voices and existence don’t matter to those who hold power,” said Derek Demeri, a member of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance, who is in Geneva. Demeri pointed out that one of the many detrimental effects of stigma and criminalization is increased risk to sex workers’ health and wellbeing. “The U.S. is obligated to uphold the right to health under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet municipalities criminalize possession of condoms, jeopardizing the health of sex workers and other communities and placing them at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” he said.

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