Against Criminalization: Beyond "Legalization" vs. "Decriminalization"


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From Desiree Alliance 2013 Program Description:

Supporters of sex workers' rights movement often emphasize how the illegal status of prostitution contributes to harm to sex workers, and how legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution might make it safer. But those of us who are street-based, immigrant, transgender, underage, people of color, etc. know that the law against prostitution plays only a small part in our experience of pervasive surveillance and criminalization in our lives. It is not that we are targeted and criminalized because prostitution is against the law; the prostitution became illegal because we are already targeted and criminalized.

This workshop explores a possibility for an anti-criminalization movement, which goes beyond legalization or decriminalization of sex work and addresses social and economic justice more broadly in the face of pervasive state violence, whether they take the form of Prison Industrial Complex or anti-trafficking "rescues." Our discussion will build on the work of women and queer people of color with histories in the sex trade, and how they have successfully built coalition with radical women of color activists outside of the sex workers' rights movement, for example during the campaign against Prop. 35 in California.

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Against Criminalization: Beyond "Legalization" vs. "Decriminalization"

  1. AGAINST CRIMINALIZATION: beyond “legalization” vs. “decrimnalization” emi koyama for desiree alliance 2013 live tweet @emikoyama #DALV13
  2. Overview 1. languages 2. the “prostitution debate” 3. anti-trafficking discourse 4. impact on social services 5. against criminalization
  4. “Sex Work/Worker” coined by sex worker activists to unite people working in various fields of sex industry (e.g. escorts, dancers, porn models, etc.) and to assert their rights as workers also used internationally by various sex workers’ rights groups around the world nonetheless, many people in the sex industry are unfamiliar with the term, or do not identify with it
  5. “Sex Trade” generally refers to exchange of direct sexual contact for money or other things of value a value-neutral term that describes what people do, as opposed to who they are particularly useful when we are talking about young people who trade sex, or those who may be trafficked people first language: when referring to people, use “people in the sex trade” or “people who trade sex”
  6. “Survival Sex” often used instead of “sex work” to describe exchange of sex for basic survival needs—i.e. doing what one has to do to survive it may be infrequent and only when absolutely needed, or it may be ongoing there is no clear line between “survival sex” and “sex work”: most of us work in order to survive, after all
  7. “Sex Trafficking” official definition of human trafficking: act (recruitment, transportation, etc.) means (force, fraud, coercion, etc.) purpose (labor or commercial sexual exploitation) any commercial sexual exploitation of minors is considered sex trafficking whether or not there is force, fraud, or coercion
  8. “Criminalization” social, legal, political processes that transform certain acts into crimes, and people into criminals not just about what is legal or illegal; it is also about who is targeted for surveillance and control people of color immigrants homeless people drug users queer and trans people …among others
  10. The “Prostitution Debate” legalization: government regulates the sex trade decriminalization: no prosecution of consensual acts criminalization “Swedish model”: buyer is criminalized while seller is treated as victims we are very familiar with this “debate” in the sex workers’ rights community all of these approaches center on adjustments to the status of prostitution in the criminal law
  11. Beyond Prostitution Law not all sex workers are targeted the same way by the criminal justice system for some, prostitution law is the main problem; for others, it is a small part of the bigger problem of pervasive surveillance and criminalization in order to address criminalization of sex workers, it is inadequate to only address prostitution laws
  13. Anti-Trafficking Rhetoric pre-2000: human trafficking was viewed as an issue of development, irregular migration, and labor exploitation (ILO, IOM) 2000: human trafficking is now considered primarily an international criminal enterprise 2008: focus shifts to domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST), or youth in the sex trade 2011: law enforcement defines DMST as a primarily gang-related problem
  14. Sex Trafficking Frameworks trafficking as law and order problem trafficking as immigration problem trafficking as all prostitution trafficking as urban gang problem trafficking as sexual morality problem trafficking as “rescue women and children” all of these frameworks call for surveillance and criminalization as the solution, instead of policies addressing social and economic justice
  15. Push & Pull when looking at the problem of violence and exploitation in the sex trade, it is important to understand both push and pull factors push: things that make people vulnerable, such as poverty, racism, homophobia/transphobia, unjust immigration laws, and the failure of child welfare system pull: things that draws vulnerable people into site of violence and exploitation, such as the presence of human traffickers and exploiters anti-trafficking discourse focuses almost exclusively on the pull side of the equation
  16. Anti-Trafficking Policies “rescues” — i.e. raids and sweeps “safe harbor” law — involuntary “services” “end demand” pseudo-economic approach further surveillance of suspected gang members, immigrants, homeless people, and others entanglement of social service with the law enforcement: reversing of harm reduction approach to public health and advocacy
  17. “Rescues” data released by FBI for Operation Cross Country 1-6 date cities “rescues” “pimps” all arrests 1 2 3 4 5 6 06/2008 16 21 389 10/2008 29 49 73 642 02/2009 29 48 571 10/2009 36 52 60 700 11/2010 40 69 99 885 06/2012 57 79 104
  18. “The FBI has rescued 79 teens held against their will and forced into prostitution from hotels, truck stops and stores during a three-day swoop on sex-trafficking rings across the country … The teenagers, who are all U.S. citizens, were handcuffed and held in police custody until they could be placed with child welfare organisations.” The Daily Mail, June 26, 2012
  19. a Backpage ad flagged as a potential sex trafficking case
  20. things that can get an ad flagged for DMST Possible Minors !  Ads tagged for being minor !  Subjects in the photos had physical indicators of youth (baby- fat on cheeks, little to no curve at the waits, feet/legs outturned when standing, gangly arms/legs) !  Environment where the photo was taken had features indicative of common juvenile behavior (writing on mirror, stuffed animals, posters on walls, etc...) !  Subject intentionally trying to look young (pig tails, knee high socks, holding school books, etc...) !  Ad indicated the subject of the photo was potentially a juvenile through the use of verbiage (barely legal, just turned 18, first time)
  21. Involuntary Services “safe harbor” laws: minors are always (supposedly) treated as victims, not criminals, for being involved in the sex trade in practice, safe harbor law does not stop young people from being criminalized anyway involuntary “services” may involve lockdown or remote facilities; long-term involvement of child welfare system that many had to run away from adults are also offered “services” as diversion program or probation condition (failure to complete the program results in arrest and imprisonment)
  22. End Demand targeting clients through prosecution, public shaming, and education drives sex trade further underground reduces income, bargaining power, and safety of sex workers “end demand” policies often increase penalty for sellers as well shifts client demographics racial and gender profiling not endorsed by actual economists
  23. For Nerds Only… Dh Dl S Ph Pl F(Lh)F (Ll) if you are turned on by these charts, please see to read why “end demand” does not work, and how it can even increase (rather than decrease) prostitution
  24. Case of Club 907 “hostess club” in Los Angeles was raided for suspicions of prostitution, sex trafficking, and labor rights violation in November 2010 80+ women working as “hostesses” were placed on immigration detention and/or deportation proceedings club owners simply posted ads to hire replacement workers the next week
  26. What is Harm Reduction? simply put: it’s not your job to “save” people non-judgmental approach; watch out for our own assumptions people who are affected set priorities and agenda provide what people need to increase autonomy, safety, and well-being
  27. Subverting Harm Reduction youth treated as “children”: supporting youth in the sex trade could be construed as enabling human trafficking people in the sex trade as victims needing “rescue” instead of respecting their autonomy victims and other people in the sex trade as “witnesses” rather than clients or service recipients some safety measures people use, such as working with others, can be construed as “promoting prostitution”
  28. Youth are sometimes arrested, sometimes not, but they are all detained. Youth either agrees to stay at the specified shelter, returns home, or else he or she must be involuntarily institutionalized
  29. Christianity Today magazine, November 2011 Tagline: Leading [Portland’s] effort to halt child trafficking is a network of dedicated Christians. Just don’t go advertizing it. pictured left to right: police officer, youth service director, fundamentalist pastor, and Christian lobbyist.
  30. from a national law enforcement webiner clinicians, social services, etc. embedded into law enforcement information gathering
  31. from a national law enforcement webiner treating condom as evidence threatens health of people in the sex trade
  32. Threats to Advocacy increased collaborations between the law enforcement and social service agencies (e.g. police ride-alongs) through “rescue” missions funding shifted away from empowerment-based advocacy to involuntary “services” and “diversion programs” targeting and closure of grass-roots peer-led organizations by and for people in the sex trade (e.g. Young Women’s Empowerment Project)
  33. outreach material created for SAVVY, a collaboration of Outside In and Portland Women’s Crisis Line of course it’s defunded.
  35. Critiques of Criminalization prostitution laws are only part of the structures that criminalize people in the sex trade; we need to challenge the full spectrum of the machinery of criminalization opportunities for coalition-building: communities of color, immigrant communities, homeless communities are sometimes conservative about sexuality, but they understand the horrors of pervasive surveillance and criminalization an example: multi-racial coalition against Proposition 35 in California
  36. Lessons from DV Advocacy things domestic violence advocates understand: victims stay in abusive or dangerous circumstances for many reasons; advocacy requires a long-term commitment to supporting their autonomy third parties can be invaluable source of support, but relationship building is necessary calling the law enforcement may not be a safe option for many survivors many people in the sex trade have negative experiences with social service agencies and medical facilities as well
  37. my case worker thinks that my boyfriend is pimping me but it’s not true. my teacher does not respect my gender identity or call me by the name i want them to use. bus driver said my service animal was just a pet and didn’t allow me to ride. i think it’s because i am/look homeless. doctor at the clinic asked me why i was so upset about being raped if i’ve had sex with people i don’t know for money before. when i went to emergency room, the nurse told me that it wasn’t a shelter and i wouldn’t be sick if i wasn’t using drugs. police searched me at a bus stop, and questioned why i was carrying two cell phones, or if i was selling drugs. Are your support “SYSTEMS” working for YOU? SYSTEM FAILURE ALERT!
  38. System Failure Alert! based on “Bad Encounter Line” from Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago shares “system failures” (problems in social service, medical service, police, and other institutions that are supposed to help) experienced by street youth and other people through zines, online, and in public events; also share how we fight back and survive uses stories to hold service providers accountable and transform institutions creates resources to help all of us take care of ourselves and our friends
  39. Support YWEP Leaders! Young Women’s Empowerment Project is closing after 12 years of movement building, research, leadership development, and life-changing social justice organizing grass-roots fundraising is ongoing to provide financial support to YWEP leaders as they move forward, and to hold a closing ceremony to honor the work of YWEP members and allies more info & donation link:
  40. emi koyama @emikoyama