Tag: incarceration

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


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/


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

Monica Jones 602-575-9332

Cristine Sardina director @ desireealliance.org




Screenshot 2015-11-10 15.23.43



New York, NY, November 10, 2015—LGBT+ community groups will host a town hall at the LGBT Center on 13th St. in Manhattan at 6 PM to 8:30 PM, November 11, 2015.

These groups seek to organize against the August 25, 2015 raid by the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and the NYPD in the larger context of the epidemic of violence against our communities while basic needs for housing, living wages, and affirming medical care remain unmet. These disparities overwhelmingly target people of color, especially women, trans-women and gender non-conforming people of color.

From 6 PM to 7:30 PM, discussants will raise awareness about the Rentboy raid as well as community-based campaigns for policy reform that include people in the sex trades, at the federal, state, and local level.

From 7:30 to 8:30 PM, forum participants will break into three working group sessions focused on policy advocacy, community organizing and actions, and litigation and legal services. The working group portion of the event is closed to the press.

Contact: Rico Stone, (c) 917-565-4323hookup@riseup.net

Sponsors:       #HookUp Collaborative, hookupcollaborative.wordpress.com; ACT-UP/NY, actupny.com; Best Practices Policy Project, www.bestpracticespolicy.org; Red Umbrella Project, redumbrellaproject.org


This event is not affiliated with any company or organization, but is instead organized by a loose working group of people who have advertised, and people in community with advertisers, on Rentboy.com.

Ill-informed legislation under consideration in Maryland

BREAKING 11:45am, March 25, 2015: We just learned that the Senate Bill has been withdrawn and the hearing cancelled. This is a great victory for human rights!

While lawmakers at the federal level are battling over a largely bad piece of legislation allegedly meant to address human trafficking, a proposal in Maryland to increase criminal penalties related to trafficking and prostitution will have a hearing on March 25. In the name of making human trafficking-related crimes felonies rather than misdemeanors, the Maryland Senate will hear testimony on Senate Bill 904. This is the counterpart to House Bill 241, which had a hearing last month. Aside from the fact that a criminalization approach is not effective in addressing coercion or exploitation, Maryland’s human trafficking law is even more problematic than many others. In 2007 lawmakers essentially amended the state’s pandering laws and renamed them “human trafficking” laws–meaning that human trafficking in Maryland only covers force, fraud and coercion in the sex sector, and trafficking in any other sector is not covered.

The proposed law would make the following, among others, into felony crimes:

  • take or cause another to be taken to any place for prostitution
  • place, cause to be placed, or harbor another in any place for prostitution
  • persuade, induce, entice, or encourage another to be taken to or placed in any place for prostitution

As noted by advocates like Power Inside who are speaking out against these bills (as well as those who have spoken out against similar legislation in other parts of the country) such a law would increase dramatically the criminal penalties associated with important harm reduction practices such as sex workers working together. A friend giving a ride to a sex worker, a boyfriend or a girlfriend acting as a lookout when a sex worker takes a date, or an older sex worker giving advice to a younger sex worker could all be liable for felony crimes under such a law, which would include up to 25 years in jail, a $15,000 fine, and no possibility to expunge the conviction.

If Maryland lawmakers are truly interested in helping people who experience force, fraud or coercion in the course of their work, whether in the sex sector, domestic labor, agricultural sector, or elsewhere, they should revise the law to properly define human trafficking. Even more importantly, they should focus on structural reforms that would make people less vulnerable to exploitation, such as increasing labor protections, raising the minimum wage, ensuring a strong social safety newt, promoting worker organizing among migrants and other vulnerable groups, and removing criminal laws associated with sex work.

Power Inside, Best Practices Policy Project, Sex Worker Project, and other groups are sending the letter below to the Maryland Senate and General Assembly encouraging them to table this bill and reconsider their approach.

TO: The Hon. Bobby Zirkin, Chair, and members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee; Hon. Joseph Vallario, Jr., Chair, and members of the House Judiciary Committee

FROM: The Undersigned Organizations

DATE: March 25, 2015

RE: Opposition to Senate Bill 904 and House Bill 241

As service providers, human rights advocates, and experts working on behalf of victims of human trafficking across the country, we appreciate the zeal with which the Maryland legislature has taken on the fight to end human trafficking. However, we believe strongly that SB 904 and HB241 are misguided and we oppose increasing penalties under subsection (a) of Maryland Criminal Code § 11-303 and urge the committees to release an unfavorable report on each of the respective bills.

Firstly, it is important to recognize that trafficking adults with the use of force, fraud, or coercion is already correctly a felony under MCC § 11-303(b)(2). This is in line with the definition of trafficking used by the federal government, and accepted as a model law by the American Bar Association, the Uniform Laws Commission, the United Nations, and experts in human trafficking. SB 904 and HB 241 are unnecessary to protect adult victims of human trafficking.

As it stands, MCC § 11-303(a) criminalizes activities that fall far beyond the widely accepted definition of human trafficking. If the amendments pass, basic safety techniques that those in the sex trade, including victims of human trafficking, engage in as a means of harm reduction would be considered felony human trafficking. For instance, two trafficking victims driving to and from jobs together would be considered felony human trafficking. This increased criminalization of an overbroad definition of trafficking will inadvertently escalate harm to adult victims of trafficking, as well as homeless and otherwise vulnerable adults involved in prostitution who rely on their peers for basic survival.

The increased penalties of these common harm-reduction activities have far-reaching consequences beyond longer and more costly sentences. Many Maryland residents who enter into prostitution have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of homelessness, health conditions, and survival related behaviors such as trading sex for shelter. As such, they may have lengthy criminal records for crimes that may eventually be expunged or sealed.  Human trafficking is not eligible for sealing or expungement. As such, anyone arrested and convicted under MCC § 11-303 for prostitution-related activities that fall short of the commonly understood definition of human trafficking will face life-long stigma and discrimination when seeking employment, housing, and education. This is especially true when considering that most employers, landlords, and other gate-keepers will not understand the broad range of survival activities that are considered “human trafficking” under Maryland state law. This unfortunate consequence of criminalization forces people to rely on the sex industry, even when seeking to escape it. This problem is only compounded if non-violent trafficking charges are increased to felonies.  Passing this law could wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable, and we are deeply concerned about the implications.

We, the undersigned, oppose SB 904 and HB 241.

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.