Tag: Human Rights

Washington, D.C. passes bill to repeal discredited “Prostitution Free Zones”

On October 7, 2014, the District of Columbia Council voted on a bill to repeal the District’s “Prostitution Free Zones” law as well as the “Drug Free Zones” law that it was based on. After an initial unanimous vote, the Council revisited the topic at the request of Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) who claimed that the Prostitution Free Zones (PFZs) were an important tool to address concerns about sex work in neighborhoods she represents, despite testimony from police that the PFZs have not been used for over two years. “The Prostitution Free Zones have had a major impact on prostitution,” said Councilmember Alexander. The Metropolitan Police Department had stated at previous hearings that police were no longer using the law due to the concerns about its constitutionality as well as lack of evidence that the PFZs were effective in reducing street-based sex work in areas where the zones were declared. While acknowledging the constitutional concerns regarding the PFZs, Councilmember Alexander asked her colleagues to vote against repeal on the grounds that she felt there are reasons to implement the zones.

The D.C. Council passed the law authorizing police to declare PFZs in 2006 over objections from community members who said the zones would legitimize long-standing discriminatory police practices. Community-based research by the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse D.C. revealed the negative effects of D.C.’s approach to sex work, and a more recent review of police-community relations by the MPD-appointed Hate Crimes Response Task Force found high levels of distrust of police among transgender communities in the city, due to patterns of discrimination and abuse. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced the bill to repeal the PFZs in response to the Task Force report and accompanying recommendations by community groups.

Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) pointed out that the zones are not being used by the police, and that to say to constituents that the zones would help address prostitution would be a false statement. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) asked why Councilmember Wells wanted to repeal the law, “Why do you want to repeal this? We have a lot of laws that we don’t use, why do you want to remove this one?” Councilmember Wells pointed out how the PFZs discriminate against trans communities or people based on what they are wearing and being with two people or more. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Chairman of the Council, Phil Mendelson (D-Chairman), claimed that the PFZs were effective, but that the law must be repealed because of the constitutional concerns. “As much as some of us would like for them to come back,” said Chairman Mendelson, “because I think there was value in the police using it to disrupt prostitution markets, it cannot be used. It is unconstitutional.” But Councilmember Grosso noted that the constitutional concerns are not the only reason for repeal. “This is also about human rights in the District of Columbia,” said Grosso. “These zones were used not necessarily to address prostitution or sex work, but to discriminate against people walking down the street that we didn’t want walking down the street.”

After a period of debate which rehashed stigmatizing arguments regarding sex work, the Council voted 10-2 to repeal the Prostitution Free Zones law. All laws under consideration by the full Council must be voted on twice–a second vote on the bill will be taken on October 28th, but in light of the vote tally, it is likely to pass. Although a largely symbolic gesture, since the police have already acknowledged not using the zones for the past two years and no plans to use them in the future, the debate over the bill shows the importance of removing laws targeting sex workers, and those profiled as such, for increased criminalization. Best Practices Policy Project, which assisted the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse D.C. in its community-based research in 2007 and 2008, applauds this step forward for D.C. and encourages the D.C. Council to consider implementing other recommendations from that report.

U.S. POLICING REFORM MUST ADDRESS ABUSES AGAINST PEOPLE IN SEX TRADES

This week Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new initiative to address police misconduct and abuse. Days before this announcement, sex workers, people in the sex trades and advocates submitted a report to the United Nations (UN) on human rights violations committed in the U.S. against sex workers, people in the sex trades, and those profiled as such. The abuses documented in the report make clear that no effort to reform policing in the U.S. can be effective without addressing mistreatment by law enforcement of these highly marginalized communities.

In the report to the UN Human Rights Council, Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP), Desiree Alliance and Sex Worker Outreach Project-NYC (SWOP-NYC) documents extensive violations of the right to equal protection before the law, the right to be free of cruel and inhuman punishment, and the right to health. Across the country, anti-prostitution laws and policies, coupled with discriminatory practices, create an environment in which police profiling and mistreatment of communities of color, transgender people, young people and immigrants occurs with impunity. In many U.S. jurisdictions, arrestees face harsh sentencing laws and receive inadequate legal defense. Due process violations are also rampant. Laws that criminalize a person’s HIV status—found to be a cruel and unusual punishment by the UN—are applied to sex workers across the country, while health care and other social service providers routinely mistreat people who have traded sex for money. Policy and funding shifts have undermined the work of important harm reduction and human rights groups working with people involved in sex trade, including forcing some critical organizations to close.

Citing examples from Baltimore to Phoenix, from New Orleans to Chicago, the report draws on the most recent research and media reports on human rights abuses against people in sex trades as well as interviews with sex workers and advocates. The report’s list of recommendations starts by calling on the U.S. government to make good on a commitment it made in 2011 to the UN to address discrimination and violence against sex workers.

As the country grapples with abuses by law enforcement in the aftermath of the high profile events in Ferguson, Missouri, it would be a mistake to leave certain communities out of the discussion on policing and discrimination. The recommendations from the report give Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department plenty of ideas to work on as they move forward with addressing the problems with law enforcement in the U.S.

BPPP, Desiree Alliance and SWOP-NYC submitted the report to the UN as part of the Universal Review Period (UPR), a periodic process by which the UN Human Rights Council examines the human rights record for UN member states. Other countries will make their recommendations to the U.S. about ways to improve human rights during the UPR session in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2015.

Groups representing sex workers and people in sex trades have recently submitted reports to the UN regarding the U.S. obligations under international treaties such as the International Covenant to Eliminate Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UPR report was endorsed by Power Inside (Baltimore), BreakOUT! (New Orleans), Casa Ruby (D.C.), Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (Atlanta), Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) USA and chapters in Phoenix, Tucson, Seattle, and Tampa Bay, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, Monica Jones/Stand with Monica Campaign (Phoenix), Red Umbrella Project (NYC), and St. James Infirmary (San Francisco).

We Want Our Voices Heard! Seeking information for the National UPR Report to the U.N.

SWOP-NYC & SWANK action to "86 the violence"

SWOP-NYC and SWANK public action in NYC in support of UPR Recommendation 86 in 2011

The Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP), Desiree Alliance, and SWOP NYC are calling on sex workers rights advocates and allies to join us in reporting the human rights abuses experienced by sex workers, people in the sex trades, people profiled as sex workers or impacted by anti-sex work policing and policies, and related communities. The U.S. will soon be reviewed by the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council on its human rights record in a process referred to as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). We are submitting a report to the U.N. and the U.N. needs to hear from you. Through this process, we create awareness before the international community, media outlets, other government officials, U.N. Human Rights Council members, and other stakeholders on the pressing issues facing the community.  This is an important tool for pressuring the government to make changes.

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JOIN MONICA JONES ON APRIL 11: TAKE ACTION FOR THE RIGHTS OF TRANS PEOPLE AND SEX WORKERS

The Best Practices Policy Project, the Desiree Alliance, Global Action for Trans* Equality and INCITE! are calling for US-wide and international action on April 11, 2014 to support Monica Jones’ campaign for the rights of transgender people and sex workers.

Monica Jones, a human rights defender in Arizona and an advocate for the rights of transgender people and sex workers, was profiled and wrongfully arrested for “manifestation of prostitution” by a police sting operation and anti-prostitution diversion program known as “Project ROSE”. Ms Jones had been a speaker at a rally protesting Project ROSE—which is run by Phoenix police and Arizona State University’s School of Social Work—the day before. At the time of her arrest, she was not engaging in sex work, but was in fact walking down her street to the local bar.

On April 11 at 8.30 am (US Mountain Standard Time) Monica’s case will go to trial at Phoenix Municipal Court. She will plead not guilty and an action is planned outside the court to show the City of Phoenix Prosecutor that we won’t tolerate the systematic profiling and criminalization of transgender people of color and sex workers. The court date was postponed after Monica’s defense filed a motion challenging the constitutional basis of the manifestation law, and Monica promised to return with “twice as many people.” Last month, two sex worker rights advocates went to the United Nations in Geneva to bring international attention to Monica’s trial and the ongoing human rights violations occurring in Phoenix and across the United States.

We call on people and organizations across the United States, in the region and internationally to show your support for Monica Jones and the issues she cares about. We encourage individuals, organizations, and communities to acknowledge the day in whatever way they feel safe in doing to raise awareness, to learn and share about the issues (it could be through social media action, by sharing a meal, organizing a public action, writing a letter to the press, through art and so on).

Please email us at bestpracticespolicyproject @ gmail.com and director @ desireealliance.org to tell us about the action you plan and if you would like us to highlight your action on our websites. If you wish to add your organization’s name to this call, email us and we would be happy to do so.

More information about the case, Monica’s trial can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/events/477216822384806/

http://www.swopphoenix.org/monica/

http://www.bestpracticespolicy.org/2014/01/10/phoenix-calling-the-united-nations-new-iccpr-report/

Since refusing to plead guilty to the charges she is innocent of, Ms. Jones has been targeted four additional times by police officers while walking around her neighborhood carrying out everyday activities such as bringing groceries home or heading to her local bar. Each time, the police use insulting and transphobic language and threaten her with arrest, despite the fact that she is doing nothing more than simply walking outdoors. Across the U.S. and in Phoenix, transgender people of color are routinely targeted for harassment and hate-motivated violence, by both police and the public, and are frequently profiled as sex workers by police. Transgender people are also targeted for cruel treatment in prisons, including by guards.

Ms. Jones states, “I believe I was profiled as a sex worker because I am a transgender woman of color, and an activist. I am a student at ASU, and fear that these wrongful charges will affect my educational path. I am also afraid that if am sentenced, I will be placed in a men’s jail as a transgender woman, which would be very unsafe for me. Prison is an unsafe place for everyone, and especially trans people.

Monica Jones should not have to go to court to fight wrongful charges resulting from a discriminatory and arbitrary arrest stemming from a department in which she studies. Sign the petition to have the charges against Monica dropped.