DEFEND SEX WORKER RIGHTS!
URGENT ACTION NEEDED!
The California legislature is now considering a bill SB 1110 that establishes a LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program. This program authorizes police to refer sex workers to a treatment program on a first arrest or go to jail.
While those who put forward SB 1110 may be well-meaning, the legislation was written without input from sex workers. It goes against the demands of the sex worker movement internationally which is for decriminalization, because it treats sex work not as a job but as a disease and sex workers not as workers but as offenders in need of treatment and rehabilitation. Amnesty International, Open Society Foundation and other key organizations support decriminalization.
Similar programs to those proposed in SB 1110 have been extremely problematic. For example, in Seattle (which is used as an example of good practice for SB 1110) hundreds of people were swept off the street and into LEAD by a four-month police and FBI undercover operation to clean-up downtown.
LEAD is law enforcement led. It gives the police the power to decide who gets arrested or not and who goes into the program, and puts women’s access to services in police hands. If sex workers refuse LEAD they will be charged. If they accept LEAD, charges still stay open on their file — if they don’t meet all the conditions the program dictates, want out or are kicked out, they will be charged with what they were arrested for. Given institutional racism and sexism, sex workers disproportionately impacted include trans, women of color and immigrants.
Seattle’s LEAD program speaks of being inspired by “arrest-referral” projects in the UK. But sex workers there complain that these programs have not stopped criminalization. Instead they have: increased police powers over sex workers; cut into the ability of sex workers to earn a living; undermined the independence of the few sex worker services that do exist, turning them into an arm of law enforcement.
Rising poverty is increasing the numbers of women, particularly mothers, going into sex work. For those of us who want to get out of prostitution we need money and resources not punitive rehabilitation programs. The bill includes a diversion program for drug users, which is not being opposed, so anyone who wants drug treatment has this option.
Please endorse this call urging legislators to withdraw the sex worker aspect of SB 1110. Please also contact Senator Hancock (D-Oakland), the bill’s sponsor.
Please send your endorsement to US PROStitutes Collective: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 415-626-4114
Contact Senator Hancock at: (510) 286-1333, (916) 651-4009, http://sd09.senate.ca.gov/contact
Initiated by: US PROStitutes Collective and joined by Black Trans Lives Matter; Coyote, Rhode Island; English Collective of Prostitutes; Erotic Services Providers Union; Kate Zen, Migrant Sex Workers Project, Canada; Red Umbrella Project. Endorsed by: Margaret Prescod, Founder, Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike.
PROBLEMS RAISED BY SIMILAR DIVERSION SCHEMES
- The bill SB 1110 says that sex workers would be referred to services which “may include, but are not limited to, housing, medical care, child care, treatment for alcohol or substance abuse, nutritional counseling and treatment, psychological counseling, employment, and employment training education.” Sounds impressive but few services exist that are independent of law enforcement. Many existing services are judgmental and punitive. They are mostly mandatory and women are forced to jump through hoops to get any help. In some services for example in hostels, women are closely supervised and not allowed to have their children with them – cruel and with lifelong consequences for both children and mothers. There is no new money so these existing services are likely to be the ones that get the referrals.
- The bill doesn’t spell out if the services are mandatory or voluntary – what conditions must someone fulfill in order to avoid arrest, and what will be the penalty? In NYC sex workers have been forced into as many as ten programs in six months, some had to drop out of school in order to meet the requirements and they have no way of earning money. Relationships between sex workers and the non-profit service projects have deteriorated because the projects now have power of arrest and imprisonment over sex workers.
- Our understanding is that SB 1110 gives law enforcement money for setting up meetings to monitor people. This will enhance the power of the police to dictate what the non-profit sector does or doesn’t do. In some cases funding that was supposed to be used to support sex workers in other programs has gone to the police.
- The Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the attention of the nation and the world the institutionalized racism embedded in law enforcement and the cozy relationship between law enforcement and DA offices.
- The independence of non-profit services is corrupted as the services are increasingly recruited to be part of the criminal justice system. They take on the role previously performed by probation services, for example monitoring women to see if they abide by the terms of their rehab and breaching them if they “fail”. In some cases the police were based at the rehab projects a lot of the time and the project workers promoted the police as “partners”.
- Diversion programs allow the police to present themselves as social workers rather than law enforcement. Policing methods do not change but are now justified in the name of saving victims.
- It is harder to find out information about how many sex workers are being arrested as the facts are hidden behind “good news” stories about sex workers’ redemption. Behind these many arrests may continue.
- In the UK rehab has not kept sex workers out of prison. Women are given rehab orders that inevitably are breached because they are impractical, patronizing and/or punitive, and crucially prevent women from making a living. When breaches occur, sex workers are back in court. After a number of court appearances judges revert back to fining or imprisonment.
- A sector of non-profits which have been hostile to decriminalization and which are key opponents to sex workers’ struggle for justice and rights will be emboldened against us. Projects like Safe House in the Bay Area work closely with the police and have consistently stood against decriminalization. Why give them more power?
- The NGO industrial complex which undermines the sex worker rights movements as well as other movements for racial, social, economic and environmental justice, has been strengthened. In the UK a network of non-profit sector groups was spawned which appeared to be independent but was in fact driven by the groups relationship with the police.
- The movement for decriminalization is undermined as these measures are often considered more palatable than decriminalization to those in positions of power and to all who gain from our criminalization. The approach is just that of getting the police to be nice and then you don’t need decriminalization. Decriminalization is supported by prestigious international organizations and agencies such as: Amnesty International, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNDP, WHO, Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW), Human Rights Watch, the Lancet, Open Society Foundations.
- The bill only mentions 647(b) i.e. soliciting, which most sex workers are arrested under, but women working the streets can be arrested for loitering, and local municipal police codes to get them off the street. What is proposed for sex workers charged with these other offences?
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DEFEND SEX WORKER RIGHTS! URGENT ACTION NEEDED!