In her new book GOOD BOOTY: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music (out now from Dey Street Books), the accla...
sabato 19 settembre 2015
Amnesty International voted to create a policy decriminalizing all aspects of consensual sex work, and call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.
“I am deeply disappointed in Amnesty International’s new proposal,” says Lisa Brunner, program director with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. Brunner is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota.
Catherine Murphy, policy advisor at the global human rights organization, told CNNthat the policy is being misinterpreted. “There’s lots of misunderstanding about our proposal. What decriminalizing talks about is the laws that are used to criminalize adult consensual sex work, or selling of sex among consensual adults. It does not mean the removal of all laws that deal with exploitation, abuse, trafficking, involvement of children. Those laws are absolutely needed and are still absolutely relevant within a decriminalized system. We would never advocate for that, absolutely not.”
Brunner and others complain that decriminalizing the entire sex trade makes it too easy for sex traffickers, pimps and customers to profit from the sex industry while sanctioning the brutality commonly inflicted on women in prostitution.
Says Brunner, “Considering [Amnesty International’s] Maze of Injustice Report in 2007 that brought the world’s attention to the high rates of sexual assault for Native women, this latest policy recommendation is especially disappointing.”
According to that report, Native American and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the U.S. “They seemed to have missed the boat in connecting sexual violence and sex trafficking,” Brunner says. “Amnesty International’s proposal represents a fundamental failure to understand that prostitution is sexual violence and in most cases not a chosen profession.”
Chris Stark, a sex trafficking researcher from Minnesota, agrees. “In the Garden of Truth Reportwe found that 92 percent of the sex trafficking survivors interviewed wanted to leave the sex trade,” she says. “In creating this policy, it is abhorrent for Amnesty International to focus on the small percentage of women who claim sex work is a choice.”
Brunner and others support policies similar to the “Nordic model” or “Swedish model,” aimed at preventing trafficking and exploitation. In those models, people who sell themselves or are sold for sex are decriminalized while the buyers, traffickers, pimps, brothel owners and facilitators are prosecuted. Victims who wish to leave the commercial sex industry are provided with support and comprehensive social services.
“Whether Amnesty International believes it or not, their recommendation allows greater injury to vulnerable populations. This would open the doors for more pimps and more buyers, buyers who will now be more encouraged to participate in an activity they might not have tried before,” says Jeri Jimenez, sex trafficking survivor and survivor advocate, who is a member of the Klamath tribe.
“Most trafficked women have been tortured by pimps,” say Sandi Pierce, president of Othayonih Research in Minnesota and a long time researcher on sex trafficking especially among Native women and girls. “The very organization, Amnesty International, that brought the inhumane practice of torture to the world’s attention has betrayed us.”
In the wake of Tuesday’s arrests of employees at Rentboy.com, a website advertising male sex workers, some LGBT organizations have called attention to a their support for the decriminalization of sex work.
Lambda Legal today retweeted a statement released last Thursday, in which it and four other LGBT organizations endorsed an Amnesty International resolution urging decriminalization.
“As LGBT rights organizations in the United States, we join to applaud and support Amnesty International’s recent resolution to protect the human rights of sex workers by calling for decriminalization of sex work, while simultaneously holding states accountable in preventing and combatting sex trafficking, ensuring that sex workers are protected from exploitation, and enforcing laws against the sexual exploitation of children,” the statement reads in part.
It asserts that criminalization does not actually protect sex workers but makes them more vulnerable, with less power “to negotiate condom use and other boundaries.” It notes that “transgender people engage in sex work at a rate ten times that of cisgender women,” and that LGBT people generally are often presumed to be sex workers whether they are or not, leading to police harassment and brutality, and high rates of incarceration. The harassment often continues behind bars, the statement points out.
Signing it along with Lambda Legal were Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Transgender Law Center.
Lambda’s tweet does not reference the Rentboy.com arrests, so it is not entirely clear the timing is related. This morning, seven employees of the New York City–based company, including CEO Jeffrey Hurant, are charged with violating the Travel Act, a federal law, by “promoting prostitution,” says a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
“While the site has disclaimers stating that the advertisements are for companionship and not sexual services, Rentboy.com is designed primarily for advertising illegal prostitution,” the press release states.
Hurant and the other defendants were formally charged in federal court in Brooklyn, and outside the courthouse they were “swarmed by reporters,” CNN notes. Hurant defended his company, telling the media, “I don’t think that we do anything to promote prostitution. I think we do good things for good people, and we bring good people together.”
If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Sex workers are increasingly at risk of violence, and being forced to do things they don't want to – and the internet is at least partly to blame. That's the frank assessment of women who have worked on the streets and in the legal and illegal brothel industries, and have been interviewed by Fairfax Media.
All say that there is considerably less demand for sex work than five years ago and, as women compete for fewer clients, they are facing demands for unsafe sexual practices and regular violence.
Project Respect, a not-for-profit group that supports women in the sex industry, is calling for the everyday violence against sex workers to be recognised as just as significant a problem as violence against women more broadly.
Kathleen Maltzahn, the group's founding director, says there was a view that once sex workers had taken a client's money, they consented to everything that occurred with that client.
"As long as people think, 'you took the money so therefore you consented', that's going to be a big problem," she says.
The women interviewed by Fairfax Media said the rise of internet "hook up" sites were making it easier for men to connect with sex workers and sexual partners, and contributing to a downturn in the industry.
They say violence is a daily part of their life. The most common forms are biting, slapping, pinching, hair pulling, verbal abuse and rough sex, which they say is present in almost every interaction. None had reported being victims of this violence, which they considered "part of the job".
At Project Respect's Fitzroy office, four women who have recently left the sex industry sit around a table. Haltingly at first, they tell their stories.
Jen* says when she started brothel work five years ago, women could make $500-$600 over a seven-hour day shift. Now, they'd be lucky to make $200.
Hannah, who spent about six years doing street sex work in St Kilda, says that as the industry declines, sex workers have been forced to drop their prices, and offer services that would have previously attracted a high fee.
"Now, they're expecting you to do things you never want to do."
She was once kidnapped by a client for four-and-a-half hours, and counts herself lucky to have made it out alive. Another client held a gun to her head, and she has been raped several times. A woman she knew had been thrown from a moving truck and broke her leg and a bone in her neck.
Sara says that when she stopped working at a Sydney brothel some months ago, the number of women offering sexual services without the protection of condoms had doubled. When she left the industry, she was experiencing "more and more violence", and increasingly using drugs and alcohol to cope.
Hannah interjects: "You need to do drugs to do the work; you need the drugs to forget about the work".
While domestic violence has become a national talking point and the subject of a royal commission, violence against sex workers remains hidden.
The Crime Statistics Agency, which is responsible for processing, analysing and publishing crime statistics in Victoria, does not collect data on violence against sex workers. The agency says it does not collate assault statistics based on people's occupations.
In Ms Maltzahn's words, this shows "you measure what you value".
"Women show tremendous resilience and strength, but we know that the price of women being left alone with any form of violence is very costly, and we can't have a group of women in society who can't be confident they can go to the police whatever their situation."
Victoria Police Senior Sergeant Marilyn Ross, of the Victoria Police Sex Industry Co-ordination Unit, said her team was aware that both physical and sexual assaults were being committed against sex workers.
She said police believed crimes were under reported because of the stigma attached to sex work, workers' wariness about police, and cultural and language barriers.
She said police encouraged sex workers to report crimes committed against them.
"Police are not here to judge people for what they do for a living," she said. "When a crime is reported we need to ensure we investigate it as we would any other crime against a person, in a professional and respectful manner."