Tag: laws

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.


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.

Huge victory for human rights–Canada high court strikes down prostitution laws

This morning sex workers, people in the sex trade, and allies around the world were moved to cheers and tears by the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court in the Bedford case. In a unanimous ruling, the high court struck the entirety of Canada’s prostitution laws from the books, finding that the

“provisions, primarily concerned with preventing public nuisance as well as the exploitation of prostitutes, do not pass Charter muster: they infringe the s. 7 rights of prostitutes by depriving them of security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

The sex workers who brought the case were visibly overjoyed and emotional on television after the decision was released.

The justices gave the Canadian government a year to react to the judgment–and already anti-sex worker rights groups have discussed introducing the so-called Nordic system of criminalizing clients. But human rights groups in Canada have already rejected that approach, and the Bedford plaintiffs and their lawyers strongly cautioned the government against such laws as well.

While it takes time for laws, and society, to change, meaning many folks involved in commercial sex will not immediately benefit from the Court’s ruling, the decision is nonetheless momentous. It has the potential to affect the fight for recognition of sex workers’ rights well beyond the borders of Canada. We send a salute to the tireless advocates and activists who fought this battle and won.