Language & Action back from hiatus!

Welcome back to Language & Action, a periodic collection of news about organizing, ideas, interventions, and opportunities, with an emphasis on the lives of women of color, trans people of color, and queer people of color.  We need your help to keep this feature going, so if you spot an amazing blog post, some under-reported news that you think really needs more attention, some critical info from organizing fronts, or just a question you want to chew on with others, please share it with us to post on the next L&A!  Send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com.

WIN! Sex Offender Registration for Sex Workers Ends in Louisiana

Louisiania’s policy to force sex workers to register as sex offenders is finally over!  Most of the people impacted by this law were poor women of color and transgender women of color.  Jordan Flaherty at the Louisiana Justice Institute:

While police continue to harass sex workers across the state, and many women are still imprisoned under these regressive laws (even as US Senator David Vitter faced no penalty for his admitted liaisons with prostitutes), this is a step forward. And much credit should go to the NO Justice Project, convened by Women With A Vision, which worked to raise awareness about this unjust law and fought on multiple fronts to bring it to an end.

Congrats to Women With A Vision, the NO Justice Project, and other partners for this huge step!

Young Women’s Empowerment Project Launches New Website, New Awesome Campaign CD

YWEP has a brand new website – go check it out!  They also report back from June’s Allied Media Conference where they launched their campaign CD, Street Youth in M.o.t.i.o.n., Moving on The Institution of our Needs, and they’re calling for monthly sustainers, so please support their important work!

Skin Color & Prison Sentences for Black Women

A recent study by Villanova University suggests that prison sentences for black women correlate with skin color: the lighter one’s skin, the lesser the sentence tends to be.  Topher Sanders at The Root:

Villanova researchers studied more than 12,000 cases of African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina and found that women with lighter skin tones received more-lenient sentences and served less time than women with darker skin tones.

The researchers found that light-skinned women were sentenced to approximately 12 percent less time behind bars than their darker-skinned counterparts. Women with light skin also served 11 percent less time than darker women.

Wakefield University sociology professor, Earl Smith, raises some questions about the study’s methodology.

Half of LGBT People Who Experienced Violence Did Not Call Police, Audre Lorde Project Organizing for Alternative Safety Strategies

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs‘ annual report on hate violence revealed that, of the 27 tragic murders of LGBT people in 2010, 70% were people of color and 44% were transgender women.  Of the people who experienced anti-LGBT violence, half did not contact police.  The Audre Lorde Project is working on developing safety strategies outside of the criminal justice system.  Michael Lavers at Colorlines:

The Audre Lorde Project is among the groups that organize LGBT people in communities of color that are increasingly looking beyond law enforcement and the criminal justice system for a solution. The Safe OUTside the System Collective works with bodegas, businesses and organizations within Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and surrounding areas to create safe spaces for LGBT people of color to curb violence.

“What’s true and important is our communities have been and continue to organize around issues of harassment—whether it’s neighborhood or community harassment or [harassment] by the police,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Audre Lorde Project.

Raquel Nelson Prosecuted for Trying to Cross the Street, Needs Your Support

Raquel Nelson

Sarah Goodyear at The Grist:

In case you haven’t heard of her, [Raquel] Nelson is the Atlanta-area single mother who was convicted of vehicular homicide after her 4-year-old son was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver who later admitted to drinking and being on painkillers.

Nelson and her three children, ages 9, 4, and 2, were trying to get from a bus stop to their apartment complex directly across a busy road, and there was no crosswalk or pedestrian signal to protect them. It was a shocking, and fatal, case of bad street design. Such autocentric design is only too common around the country; in this case, it was compounded by a mystifyingly aggressive prosecution.

Nelson was offered the choice of a new trial or a 12 month probation.  Visit change.org to lend your support.

California Legislation to Protect Labor Rights for Domestic Workers Passes Senate Committee!

Press release:

Today the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee voted 5-2 in favor of AB 889. The bill – also known as the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, extends basic, humane labor protections to thousands of nannies, caregivers, and housecleaners and improves the quality of care for California’s families.

“Today’s Senate vote was a historic step forward for the rights of domestic workers in California. For decades domestic work has been excluded from both state and federal labor laws and worker exploitation in this industry has remained invisible and unmonitored. AB 889 will end that by establishing the same basic protections under the law that many of us take for granted,” said [Assemblymember Tom] Ammiano.

Check out this Colorlines article about how the National Domestic Workers Alliance is transforming long-term care.

Displaced Women Organize for Housing Justice in Port au Prince

Haitian women and their communities are organizing against government agents who are forcing people out of post-earthquake displacement camps who have nowhere to go.  Bill Quigley and Jocelyn Brooks at the Lousiania Justice Institute:

“We women demand!…” sang out a hundred plus voices “…Justice for Marie!” Marie, a 25 year old pregnant mother, was injured by government agents when they slammed a wooden door into her stomach during an early morning invasion of an earthquake displacement camp in Port au Prince. The government is using force to try to force thousands to leave camps without providing any place for people to go. The people are fighting back.

The people calling for justice are residents of a make shift tent camp called Camp Django in the Delmas 17 neighborhood of Port au Prince. They are up in arms over injuries to Marie, one of their young mothers, and repeated government threats to demolish their homes. Despite the 100 degree heat, over a hundred residents, mostly mothers, trekked across town to demand the government protect their human right to housing.

800 Protestors in Quebec Demand Action To Stop Violence Against Aboriginal Women

Aboriginal women in Canada are putting pressure on the Canadian government to address the murders and disappearance of hundreds of aboriginal women.  The Canadian Press:

[Women’s status] ministers concluded a two-day meeting in Gatineau, Que., just as about 800 protesters took to Parliament Hill demanding action to prevent violence against aboriginal women, and to bring attention to more than 500 who have been murdered or disappeared.

“Our missing and murdered women and girls are suffering from neglect — neglect by the Canadian government that does not recognize them,” said Laurie Odjick, whose 16-year-old daughter Maisy disappeared in 2008 from her reserve near Maniwaki, Que.

Sterilization and Reproductive Justice

Considering the politics of choice and sterilization, Iris Lopez studied the conditions in which Puerto Rican women in New York City “chose” to undergo sterilization.  Lisa Wade at Ms. blog:

Lopez found that 44 percent of the women she surveyed would not have chosen the surgery if their economic conditions were better. They wanted more children, but simply could not afford them.

Lopez argues that, by contrasting the “choice” to become sterilized with the idea of forced sterilization, we overlook the fact that choices are primed by larger institutional structures and ideological messages. Reproductive freedom not only requires the ability to choose from a set of safe, effective, convenient and affordable methods of birth control developed for men and women, but also a context of equitable social, political and economic conditions that let women decide whether or not to have children, how many, and when.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is preparing to have hearings and provide restitution to people the state sterilized without consent in the Eugenics era that listed through 1974.

Young Women United Successes in Reproductive Justice

Young Women United in Albuquerque reports in their most recent newsletter that they were able to help pass four powerful bills and defeat five crappy ones in New Mexico.  Get it, YWU!

YWU asked New Mexicans to share why our families need access to Treatment Instead of Incarceration. With only four days notice you responded, and with your voices we made an incredible scrapbook that we presented to the governor. (and will be sharing with others too.) To see the online version visit our page at facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Young-WomenUnited/115921231790158).

We had media coverage from several TV stations, and radio stations who wanted to hear our stories, perspectives and community needs.

We had three opinion pieces printed in Albuquerque media; Reflections on Justice for the West Mesa Women, Truths About Addiction and Families, and Landscape of Addiction in New Mexico.  Links to the opinion pieces can be found in the Related Links  section of our website  AVAW page (http://www.youngwomenunited.org/whatwedo/avaw.html).

We spoke at a congressional breakfast in DC to connect and carry our work to federal policy makers.

We continued to connected with organizations around the country doing this amazing work too…and these connections will help strengthen our movement as we go forward.

OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF!

Solidarity with Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, which is organizing to end solitary confinement and other institutional violence within and of prisons.  They need your support.

The Center for Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Austin seeks Seed Money Applications for projects related to gender and human rights in (or in relationship to) the Americas.

Here’s a list of ten self-defense techniques.

Queers for Economic Justice and FIERCE, fantastic queer organizing groups in NYC, both seek Executive Directors.

To submit a news item, please send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com.

No Simple Solutions: State Violence and the Sex Trades

A response posted by an INCITE! affiliate and collective of radical women  of color, queer people of color, and Indigenous people who identify as people in the sex trades.

As a collective of radical women and queer people of color and Indigenous people who identify as sex workers, people in the sex trades, people doing what we have to do to survive, and people who have been trafficked into sex work and other forms of labor, we wanted to respond to Rinku Sen’s recent Colorlines blog post The Complexities of Sex Trafficking, and Some Simple Solutions because, for us, there are no simple solutions to the complex circumstances that inform our lives. Simplified responses do not do justice to our lived realities, or to the systemic conditions that inform them. While we appreciate Sen’s distinction between trade and trafficking, unfortunately this distinction is not made within the laws currently being promoted to respond to harms experienced by people in the sex trades. In fact we believe that in all too many cases these laws increase harm to the very people they  intend to help.

As young people and adults with experience in the sex trades who are directly impacted by current responses to prostitution and trafficking, we recently came together as an affiliate of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence to think more deeply about how to respond to the wave of legislation, funding, and conversation about sex work and trafficking in a way that represents our truths and realities. We are deeply rooted in INCITE!’s analysis of state violence as integrally connected to interpersonal violence, and its commitment to community-based solutions to violence that do not rely on law enforcement, which is in and of itself a source of systemic and widespread violence against women and transgender people of color. Indeed, a ground-breaking youth-led participatory research project conducted by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, to which Sen refers in a comment addressing responses to her piece, found police and social services to be the primary sources of harm experienced by young people with experience in the sex trades.

Like Sen, we oppose and resist any and all forms of violence, including but not limited to: coercion, extortion, violence by police and other law enforcement agents, structural economic, gender- and sexuality-based violence, and racial violence against all people, including people in the sex trades. Such violence also includes the denial of affordable housing, health care, and access to living wage employment. We also challenge those in both the anti-trafficking and sex workers’ rights movements who claim to speak on our behalf, and those who use our lives and experiences to advance their own agendas without recognizing our leadership.

We know that each of our experiences of the sex trades are unique, and there are no one-size fits all solutions. We are members of families and communities struggling to survive and make the best possible choices given the options available to us. For many of us, the truth about the sex trade is somewhere between a completely empowered experience of the sex trade, which requires only decriminalization to eliminate harms, and a completely harmful experience of the sex trade which negatively presumes all of us to be victims in need of “rescue.”

The Safe Harbor Act, along with initiatives like it that Lloyd and others are promoting across the country, are NOT simple or solutions for most of us. First, they don’t stop arrests of young people for prostitution-related offenses, or the police abuses of young people in the sex trades that, including police trading sex in exchange for promises of dropping charges. They also don’t stop arrests of young people in the sex trades that involve “charging up,” i.e. charging young people with weapons or drug-related offenses which may be easier to prove. Second, while they may stop criminal prosecutions of young people for prostitution-related offenses, these laws do not eliminate detention and punishment of young people involved in the sex trades, they just shift young people from the jurisdiction of the criminal courts to family court systems, where they can remain entangled until the age of 21. And, in the end, only a very narrow group of people can benefit from these laws.

For example, in order for the Safe Harbor Act to benefit a young person, they must be under 16 and arrested for the first time and must never have been in family court before.  Young people between the ages of 16-18 continue to be charged in adult court. Even those under 16 who can meet the Act’s criteria must still convince a judge that they are a “victim” of a “severe form of trafficking” – a hurdle that both Sen and Lloyd acknowledge is almost impossible for young girls of color.  This is also a problem because most young people’s stories do not fit into a neat box.  A National Institutes of Justice funded study by researchers at John Jay College in New York City found that only 8% of young people involved in the sex trades in New York City had been forced into prostitution by a “pimp,” and only 10% currently worked with one. The same study found that 16% of girls and 6% of boys trading sex were coerced, but the vast majority of girls (84%) engaged in the sex trades in New York City had never come into contact with a “pimp.” When young people can’t respond to police and prosecutors’ pressure to give up a “pimp” they never had  they get punished  by law enforcement and service providers alike, and find themselves back on the delinquency and detention track.  Even when the Safe Harbor Act (and other laws like it) is found to apply to a young person, they must still follow the rules a family court judge sees fit, which can involve attending a court-mandated program like GEMS, many of which enforce Christianity on participants. Additionally, for young people for whom no such services are available, including LGBTQQ young people and young men in the sex trades, such legislation offers little or no relief whatsoever.

In fact, current ways of thinking about trafficking and the sex trade make LGBTQ youth invisible. The 2007 study Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness found that, of the estimated 1.6 million homeless young people in the United States, between 20 and 40%, or approximately half a million, identify as LGB or T.  Research also reveals that LGBTQ teens are more likely to remain homeless because they also experience homophobia and transphobia in foster care, shelters, and from service providers. A recent study, Hidden Injustice documented the systemic homophobia and transphobia LGBTQ youth experience in family and juvenile courts and in service provision, and the increased rates and lengths of detention they experience as a result. For these reasons, many LGBTQ homeless youth stay on the streets because they feel safer there.  Once homeless, LGBTQ youth, and particularly LGBTQ youth of color are also at increased risk of profiling and police abuse in the context of “qualify of life” enforcement. They are also likely to become involved in the sex trades and street economies as a means of survival. Yet young men and transgender women, including those who are coerced into the sex trades,  are denied access to programs such as GEMS, remain invisible as “victims” in the eyes of law enforcement, judges, and service providers.   Additionally demands for increased penalties for prostitution-related offenses expose young people, including LGBTQ youth, who work in non-exploitative peer networks, to significant jail time for sharing resources and engaging in practices aimed at increasing safety and survival.  They also drive the entire industry further underground, and the young people we reach further away from help.

As we work to develop a comprehensive statement that centers the voices of Indigenous people, people in the sex trades, and radical women and queer people of color, we call on movements for racial justice, civil rights, reproductive justice, LGBTQQ rights, immigrant justice, and those struggling against racial profiling, police brutality and abuse, criminalization and mass incarceration to develop responses that reflect the complexities of our lives and experiences. Most importantly, there are no simple answers.

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Violence against Women and Immigrant/Refugee services oppose new directive from Canada Border Services Agency

Violence against Women and Immigrant/Refugee services oppose new directive from Canada Border Services Agency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – February 14, 2011

Toronto, February 14, 2011: Women’s rights experienced a serious set-back when the Canada Border Services Agency issued a new policy directive that will impact immigrant and refugee women who are seeking safety from abuse across Canada.

Over the last two years anti-violence against women service providers, migrant women and anti-racist organizers with the Shelter | Sanctuary | Status Campaign (SSS) in Toronto have mobilized forums, rallies, protests, press conferences, delegations and actions to ensure that women fleeing abuse can access services without fear of deportation. These actions led the Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre of the CBSA to pass a policy that it would prohibit their officers from entering any space that serves survivors of violence to arrest undocumented women. The policy was originally signed in October 2010 with the endorsement of Violence against Women organizations in the GTA.

On February 11, 2011, the National Office of CBSA called a meeting with organizations that work with women who experience and are fleeing violence in Toronto to announce that a new national policy would be implemented immediately, that would replace the previously agreed to policy. Women at the meeting were shocked to find that a policy that would be effective in ensuring that women with precarious immigration status could receive essential services was being replaced by a much weaker one, which reiterated the CBSA’s priority to conduct surveillance at and enter women’s shelters in the name of national security.

Women’s advocates present at the meeting with CBSA voiced their concerns about this policy and the complete lack of consultation prior to its implementation. The lack of consultation and absence of a gendered analysis of immigration policy, including the enforcement of deportation orders in violence against women spaces, raises serious concerns about the commitment to uphold women’s rights under provincial, national and international legislation and covenants.

In response to the new CBSA policy, Eileen Morrow of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses states, “Services that work with women and children who experience violence are dedicated to keeping women safe from violence and maintaining their confidentiality.  That is our mandate and it is the mandate of all services that work to end violence against women.  We’ll continue to follow that mandate. If CBSA isn’t prepared to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, we still are.  Services will need to make decisions about how they can do that to protect women and their children from violence.”

We will continue to oppose any policy or action on the part of the CBSA or any other government agency that endangers women and their children.  We demand that the policy that was enacted on February 11, 2011 be revoked immediately, and that the policy that was originally endorsed by anti-violence organizations be reconstituted for Toronto and the whole of Canada.

- 30 -

For more information contact:

Eileen Morrow – Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, 416-977-6619

Notisha Massaquoi – Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, Toronto, 416-593-7655

Check out this website for more info on the campaign: http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/sss

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Take Action Against State Violence Against Immigrant Families

Michelle Chen at Colorlines reports on recent “child welfare intervention” policies in which states terminate the parental rights of undocumented immigrants and take away their children.  Chen quotes a paper by Prof. Marcia Anne Yablon-Zug of the University of South Carolina School of Law:

Increasingly, states are removing the children of undocumented immigrant parents and then terminating their parental rights. Such terminations represent a significant, but largely unnoticed, change in the law. There is no Supreme Court case or Congressional Act heralding this development. This is an unofficial change that comes directly from the child welfare agencies and family courts and their shifting conception of what justifies the termination of parental rights.

The article also points to a case in which a child was taken from his Guatemalan mother by a US judge and placed with a richer American family who the judge claimed were more “fit” parents.

Meanwhile, Alto Arizona reports on a delegation of children from Arizona and throughout the country who, on July 15, 2010, and along with mothers, aunts, and women’s advocates, testified before Congress about the police/ICE violence their families have endured.  Here are some excerpts:

It was five or six thirty in the morning when my sister jumps on the bed crying saying that she overheard my dad talking to the babysitter.  We decided to talk to my dad and he  told us what was going on.  He promised us that she would be back the next day, but she wasn’t.  So my sisters and brothers were really upset.  They started crying because they wanted their mother.  But it was really painful to tell them, oh she’ll be there the next day, and keep on lying to them until she came home.  It was really heartbreaking because we saw her with a broken jaw.
– young person giving testimony

Children are being terrorized and traumatized by these programs that are taking effect in Arizona.  They are being torn apart by ski mask officers that take their moms away.
– Sylvia Herrera, Puente Arizona

I live in Maryland and I’m from El Salvador.  I have a daughter that is 1.5 years old.  One day I called the police because of a domestic violence issue.  I thought they would help me, but instead they began harassing me because they thought I was selling illegal phone cards.  I was detained for 5 days.  I thought I would never see my daughter and husband again.  They released me, but with a tracking device.  Now I have an order for deportation.
– woman giving testimony

Here’s the full video:

The relationship between gender violence and immigration violence is profound.  Anti-immigrant racism and violence is destructive to immigrant families and puts immigrant women and queer/trans folks at more risk for domestic & sexual violence, economic exploitation, police brutality, and reproductive assaults.

The National Women’s Caucus Against ICE and Police Collaboration has written a letter asking President Obama to stop ICE and local police collaboration programs, such as 287(g) and “Secure Communities,” which opened the door to the passage of Arizona’s SB1070.  Here’s an excerpt:

We, supporters of women’s and children’s rights, urge you to address the growing human rights threat against women and children in the United States as a result of failed immigration enforcement programs. In the last two years, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau has expanded programs that enlist local law enforcement to help enforce federal immigration law with particularly disastrous consequences for women and children. Programs like 287(g) and the “Secure Communities” initiatives undermine family safety, deter women survivors of violence from seeking protection or help, facilitate workplace harassment and employer abuse, and create tremendous suffering and psychological trauma for separated mothers and children.

Please sign on to this letter here.

Art by Favianna Rodriguez

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Sex Work, Migration and Anti-Trafficking: Interviews with Nandita Sharma and Jessica Yee

We are excited to share this interview of Nandita Sharma and Jessica Yee by Robyn Maynard on sex work, migration, and their critical analysis of the recent push for anti-trafficking legislation.

Maynard interviewed Sharma and Yee in February 2010 for No One Is Illegal Radio’s edition “Sex Work, Migration, and Anti-Trafficking” in February 2010.  Edited excerpts of that interview were published in Upping the Anti #10, then reprinted on the Briarpatch Magazine blog, and we are re-publishing those excerpts with permission. – Editors

Sex Work, Migration and Anti-Trafficking: Interviews with Nandita Sharma and Jessica Yee

By Robyn Maynard
Briarpatch Magazine
July/August 2010

Nandita Sharma is an activist, scholar, and the author of Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of ‘Migrant Workers’ in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2006), and “Anti-Trafficking Rhetoric and the Making of a Global Apartheid” (NWSA #17, 2005). In this interview, she addresses the effects of anti-trafficking on migrant women doing sex work. She critiques the notion of “trafficking” in the context of the increasing necessity of global migration and the tightening of borders in the global North. According to Sharma, border restrictions, rather than “trafficking,” are the biggest impediment to the self-determination of (im)migrant women in Canada.

Jessica Yee is the director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. In this interview, she describes the conditions of ongoing and under-reported exploitation of Indigenous women in Canada, critiques the conflation of “trafficking” and sex work, and explains the oppressive effects of the anti-trafficking movement on Indigenous women’s self-determination.

Robyn Maynard interviewed Sharma and Yee in February 2010 for No One Is Illegal Radio’s edition “Sex Work, Migration, and Anti-Trafficking.”

Nandita Sharma

"If we want to end the exploitation of women, we need to challenge capitalism, which is the basis for all our exploitation. . . We don't give more power to the state to criminalize workers, we give more power to workers to end their exploitation."

How do the government and media use the idea of “sex slavery” to create moral panic? What are the consequences for migrant women doing sex work?

Without a doubt, the moral panic against sex work is fuelling the push for anti-trafficking legislation. Most people who are pushing the anti-trafficking legislation also want to eliminate the option for women to enter into sex work. And they want to do that by further criminalizing sex work activity, especially by criminalizing the entry of migrant women into the sex industry.

For example, in Canada the migration of women into sex work is increasingly scrutinized by the state. Not only are there police who continuously raid sex work establishments like strip clubs and massage parlours under the guise of “protecting public morality” or public health; we also have immigration police who are raiding sex work establishments looking for so-called “victims of trafficking.”

Of course, the vast majority of women who migrate do not enter into sex work. But for those women who do, one of the greatest vulnerabilities they face is their status in the country. The lack of legal or permanent status makes migrant women involved in sex work more vulnerable. Many women who are migrants in the sex industry are employed on temporary work visas in the entertainment industry – the visas given to sex workers were recently squashed by the government – or they are forced to work illegally. It is impossible to legally get into Canada as a sex worker and enter as a permanent resident. You don’t get “points” for being in the sex industry, even though there is high demand. The anti-trafficking legislation is another way to attack women’s ability to work in the sex industry, and it does so in a way that further legitimizes (and relies on) the idea that no woman should ever be engaged in sex work. Ultimately, the moral panic against sex work makes migrant women more vulnerable in the sex industry.

What does anti-trafficking legislation fail to address in terms of women’s rights and agency? What are the root causes of what gets called “trafficking”?

The key issue is to understand why, over the last decade, national governments around the world have been pushed to pass anti-trafficking legislation. There is increased migration in the world today, largely resulting from practices of dispossession and displacement through political and economic crises and war. And yet, alongside increased migration, most states – especially in the so-called “First World” – have implemented restrictive policies that prevent more and more people from entering these states legally. The result is that most people who enter these states are considered to have “illegal” status.

Anti-trafficking legislation is used to target so-called “illegal migration.” Instead of placing the blame for migrants’ vulnerability on the restrictive immigration policies of national states that force people into a condition of illegality, it blames those who are actually facilitating their movement across borders. In today’s world, where it is increasingly difficult to enter First World states legally, it is also next to impossible to enter without someone’s help. It’s impossible to simply get on a plane, get on a boat, get into a car, or walk across the border, without some kind of official identity papers. It’s very difficult to get forged visas or forged passports, and to cross without someone helping you across that border. For many of the world’s migrants, the urgent need is assistance with their movement. Anti-trafficking legislation criminalizes people who facilitate migrants’ entry into national states. I think this is the underlying agenda behind anti-trafficking legislation. It offers ideological cover to target both the migrants themselves and the people who facilitate their movement. In this way, anti-trafficking legislation strengthens border policing.

How can we fight the exploitation of women that takes place in sex work without resorting to anti-feminist hysteria and characterizing women engaged in sex work as victims of trafficking?

I think that we need to take our cue from sex workers themselves. Sex worker organizations are very clear on the steps needed to ensure safe, dignified, decent working conditions for women in the sex industry. At the top of the list is decriminalization. The anti-trafficking agenda moves in exactly the opposite direction. It actually further criminalizes sex work by targeting those people, especially in the case of migrants, who are facilitating women’s entry into sex work. Basically, there is a fundamental disagreement between those who want to end sex work and those who want to make sex work safer for women. The fundamental disagreement is whether or not women have the right to engage in sex work. Most people in the anti-trafficking camp believe that there is no way that women can ever engage in sex work without being fundamentally exploited. I disagree with that, as do most sex workers’ organizations. Most of them point out that sex work can be made safer, can be made more dignified – and the way to do that is to stop demonizing those who are engaged in it. Along with decriminalizing sex work, we can support union organizing within the sex industry. This is exactly what some sex workers’ organizations in India, Bangladesh, San Francisco, and elsewhere have attempted. We need to understand sex work as one of the options available to women in a capitalist economy. We need to work, and sex work is a viable option for many women.

Ultimately, if we want to end the exploitation of women, we need to challenge capitalism, which is the basis for all of our exploitation. Whether we’re working in the sex industry, a restaurant, or in a university, we’re being exploited by those who are benefiting from our labour. So, if we want to end exploitation, we don’t give more power to the state to criminalize workers, we give more power to workers to end their exploitation. Of course, being a university professor is not demonized like sex work is. So we also need a major attitude adjustment. Feminists have long been demanding freedom for women, including control over their own bodies and sexuality. Supporting women in the sex industry and recognizing them as part of the broader collective of workers is part of this struggle.

Those of us who are critical of anti-trafficking rhetoric and legislation are often accused of not caring about women. We’re accused of not caring about women who are kidnapped, women who are beaten up, women who are enslaved or not paid wages, women who have their passports and other documents withheld from them so that they’re rendered immobile. In response to these accusations, the important thing to remember is that all of those crimes are already addressed in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is illegal to kidnap people, to beat them up, to rape them, to not pay them wages, to withhold their documents without their permission, etc. Why do people think new anti-trafficking legislation will make women safer when the police seem completely disinterested in enforcing Criminal Code measures that already exist to protect women? Instead of anti-trafficking legislation, we should be demanding that workers in the sex industry are protected under occupational health and safety regulations, as all workers should be. We should demand that illegalized workers have access to the same rights and entitlements as any other worker in the country, which would of course require that we eliminate the distinction between illegal and legal workers. There are many things we can do that do not rely upon further criminalizing people’s movement across borders. This is the challenge we must pose to people who tell us that the only way to protect women – especially in the sex industry – is to criminalize the people who facilitate their entry into it.

Restrictive immigration policies are causing much of the exploitation of “trafficked women.” How do we fight for migrant women’s safety?

Ultimately, the only way that migration is going to be safe for anyone is to decriminalize it. We need to ensure that people have the autonomous right to move whenever they decide it is in their own best interest. If women today could be assured that when they needed to move they could do so freely – without being criminalized, without needing forged papers, without having to get smuggled into the back of a boat or the underbelly of a car – then they would be much safer.

Let me give you two examples of how anti-trafficking legislation actually increases the vulnerability and exploitation that many women migrants face. First, anti-trafficking legislation targets people who are helping women cross borders. This raises the cost of moving across borders and, as a result, women have to go further into debt in order to do so. Second, by imposing these enormous penalties – which, in Canada, can include a life-sentence and in the United States can include a death sentence – those facilitating movement make migrants use routes that are less safe. People are being forced to cross borders in very vulnerable places like deserts and mountains, places where hundreds of migrant bodies are found dead every year. Anti-trafficking legislation is thus making migration less safe for women.

Jessica Yee

"The government and the media are using the ideas of the left – ideas of human rights and labour rights – to advance right-wing projects."

Please speak about the situation faced by Indigenous women in Canada in terms of forced labour and exploitation. What do you think about the use of the term “trafficking” given that “Canada” is actually Indigenous territory?

Indigenous women have faced forced labour and exploitation for 500 years. What is interesting is that this seems to be a revelation for the media right now; all of a sudden, people are aware of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and aware that young Aboriginal girls under the age of 18 are eight times more likely to experience sexual assault than other women in Canada. I find it interesting that suddenly this seems to be a priority for both mainstream and alternative media. If you were to ask any Indigenous person if it is new that women are being displaced from communities and beaten out of positions of power and political significance, they would tell you it’s not.

I think that the term “trafficking,” and the way that it’s used in Canada, doesn’t speak to the reality that Aboriginal women face in our own communities. I see a lot of ongoing internal oppression and lateral violence as an Aboriginal woman. Forced labour and exploitation is a reality for many Aboriginal women. It’s not new and it happens in many different forms. As an Aboriginal woman, I don’t think I’m less likely to be sexually assaulted working in an office than working on the street – I feel like there’s an equal chance that I’m going to be assaulted, maligned, and subjected to violence, and that there’s an equal chance that the government, the police, will not help me.

It is important to consider how women are valued on the basis of race in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal society. Violence committed against Aboriginal women is normalized. Aboriginal women are deemed less important than non-Aboriginal women. This is something that we’ve internalized, and that is mirrored in society.

Women around the world, especially racialized women, shoulder the burden of labour that doesn’t get acknowledged or reported. Forced labour and exploitation are reported even less. When we’re talking about “trafficking,” people assume we’re talking only about sex work, and only about cross-border trafficking. We need to remind ourselves that sexual slavery and the forcing of sexual acts are not the only kinds of exploitation, even though they seem particularly salacious compared to other forms of forced labour. We also need to understand that “trafficking” takes place within nation states, and against Indigenous people.

Many people uncritically accept the conflation of trafficking and sex work. The same people who think it is taboo to talk about sex are the first to suggest that this is the number one issue of forced labour, but it’s not. And people who are actually being trafficked and moved against their will receive no attention because the state is so focused on raiding massage parlours and arresting women who are sex workers. This neglect occurs in the name of righteousness and “saving” women, yet it is merely the further colonization of women’s bodies, women’s spaces, and women’s choices.

Can you talk about how the anti-trafficking movement affects Indigenous women who do engage in sex work? What is your analysis of the government’s efforts to present anti-trafficking as support for “women’s rights”?

Recently, Saskatoon Conservative MP Brad Trost attempted to de-fund the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health and the international Planned Parenthood Fund because they perform abortions and support sex workers. In defence of de-funding, it was suggested that he really cares about women and is concerned with how men are attacking women, forcing them to use sex work as a means of employment, and thus have abortions. I think that this is important because it seems like the government and the media are using the ideas of the left – ideas of human rights and labour rights – to advance right-wing projects.

The common misconception that “trafficking” refers only to sex work reflects people’s ignorance of the realities of sex work. A lot of anti-trafficking campaigns aren’t organized by sex workers. The campaigns involve re-victimizing.

In Toronto, we’re really lucky. The Native Youth Sexual Health Network has partnered with Maggie’s (The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project) to form the first harm reduction pro-choice project – pro-choice means that we respect women’s choices to engage in sex work – called the Aboriginal Sex Worker Outreach and Education Project. It is the first project in Canada by and for Aboriginal women that isn’t exit-focused; it doesn’t solely tell women to get out of the trade. As someone who has engaged in sex work over the years, I know that exit-based programs are not working.

I think it’s dangerous that the government tries to present “anti-trafficking” campaigns as advocacy for women’s rights. And I think it’s really important for people to not only stand up against it, but also to challenge prevailing misconceptions of sex work. These misconceptions are affecting Indigenous women throughout the world. A crude example of these effects is MTV’s “MTV Exit” campaign, in which they team up with UNAIDS and go to countries where they think there is a lot of “sex trafficking” to try to rescue women. Indigenous women in these countries are then arrested on suspicion of being sex workers. Their human rights are under assault by this western imposition in the name of “anti-trafficking.” So, in addition to the impact on Indigenous women in Canada, we’re also responsible for stuff that’s happening throughout the world to other Indigenous countries and people.

If criminalizing sex work is not a solution, what is a more meaningful way to struggle for justice?

First, a meaningful way to struggle for justice is to actually work with sex workers. Take their lead, just like you would with any other ally-based movement. Second, we have to address people’s great unwillingness to talk about sex and sexuality more generally. Without these conversations people will have a difficult time coming to terms with real trafficking and real exploitation.

We need to have frank discussions about sex work, and about sex and sexuality more generally. These topics are particularly taboo in Indigenous communities. This is because colonization is such a real presence for us. And if you’re going to take away a people’s most powerful abilities, you’re also going to take away their sexuality, which is why I think we have members of our own communities who conflate “trafficking” with sex work and assume it is all “bad for women.” We’re in survival mode and trying to keep our communities together, trying to keep our communities free of violence, and ain’t nobody helpin’ us! And if nobody’s helping us, then we get left to our own terms and our own measures to deal with things.

There is a lot to discuss. I get many questions from people asking about youth and sexual exploitation, for example. Even within the sex worker movement, people do not agree that young people have the right to engage in sex work. I recommend that people check out the Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago, which is the only organization for young women engaged in sex work between the ages of 13 and 24. We work with them quite a bit in the United States. They just produced an amazing research report on your question: what’s a more meaningful way to struggle for justice? Their answer is that we should listen to to the people who are impacted, and shut up a little bit more! Respect the ways we decide to organize. People need to recognize that there are so many spaces that aren’t safe for us, as sex workers, to be real and frank about our lives and our struggle. In the meantime, correct people who are confused about what really constitutes trafficking and exploitation. More importantly, teach people about self-determination – not just over land, but over our own bodies.

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Language & Action

Language & Action is a new weekend feature where we spotlight some of the fantastic analysis, news, & performance from around the blogosphere that shine a light on critical ideas and action addressing violence against women of color.  The title is borrowed from Audre Lorde’s brilliant 1977 talk, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”

If you have suggestions for things to include, please send us an e-mail at incite.news@gmail.com or float it in the comment section!

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YWEP gathering info about Bad Encounters:

Young Women’s Empowerment Project (YWEP) is collecting important info from youth in Chicago who have had crappy encounters with social services, hospitals, police, shelters, etc:

Are you having a bad experience getting help from a social service, police, hospital, shelter or some where else? Do you think this is because you are involved in the sex trade, homeless or Lesbian Gay Bisexual or Transgender or another reason- like using drugs or being involved in the street economy?

If you want to report this bad experience and help other youth in your community
CLICK HERE

Spread the word!!!

For more information about this project, check out this page.

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Juarez-inspired makeup?

Companies use Juarez as inspiration for makeup:

Julianne Hing at Colorlines has a great write-up on MAC and Rodarte’s new cosmetic line that was inspired by the makeup designers’ trip to Juarez, Mexico, a town that has seen thousands of women murdered or disappeared.  She writes:

It seems the designers took a recent trip to the border, checking out towns from El Paso to Marfa, Texas. They came back with a fascination with Juarez in particular, and with life in the post-NAFTA maquilas that were set up to help the city become a free-trade zone. When designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy unveiled their ready-to-wear F/W 2010 in February, they said that they had been inspired by the lines of women workers who’d make their way to factory jobs in the middle of the night. Romantic, huh?

Of course, real life in Juarez, which has the distinction of being the world’s deadliest city, is much less so. By the end of July, Juarez is set to log 6,000 murders this year alone. The city is home to hundreds of factories owned by multinational corporations, and has become a bloody warzone where Mexico’s drug wars are being fought. For the last few years the violence has resulted in so many thousands of unsolved deaths, many of those killed have been women workers who were traveling to and from their jobs in Juarez’s factories.

The story includes the companies’ apologies and Hing follows up with an interview with beauty bloggers who broke this story.

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African women and children denied housing rights and brutally attacked by police in Paris:

After watching this horrific video of African immigrant women and children being brutally attacked by police in Paris because they were negotiating for housing rights, La Macha at VivirLatino discusses the level of violence the state is willing to inflict on immigrant women and children in order to protect its borders.  She writes:

Are the protection of borders worth this? And please don’t tell me that this was the mother’s fault. I know that all the anti-immigrant people will be here soon to tell me that it’s their fault, and I can handle that. But if any supposed “ally” says “what were they thinking?” I have a few suggestions. First, sit for a moment and open yourself up to the humanity of these women and the humanity of their children. Know what it feels like to feel terror and confusion and a fear you can’t breathe through. Then take a moment to consider that even when the government offers you something, you, a black immigrant mother that may or may not be legal, may actually have considerable reason to not trust that government.

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Intersectional analysis of Israeli “rape by deception” case:

brownfemipower at Flip Flopping Joy analyzes the recent Israeli case in which a Palestinian man was accused and found guilty of “rape by deception” after having sex with a Jewish woman who thought he was also Jewish.  She asks, “What vested interest does an apartheid regime have in criminalizing sex between classes?” and writes:

When we don’t understand that a woman’s body under such a system is *contested* and even often looked at as a *resource* for the nation/state, we stand a very good chance of grossly misunderstanding what particular situations mean.

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Frida Kahlo: “The broken column (self-portrait)”

Recognizing each other as queer disabled women of color:

In tribute to Frida Kahlo, Mia Mingus at Leaving Evidence reflects on the power of recognition among queer disabled women of color.  She writes:

And even when we are visible as disabled queer women of color, sometimes we don’t even recognize each other.  We don’t recognize each other because we’re not taught how to do it; because we’re taught how to be afraid of each other.  Because we are taught how to not recognize each other more readily than we are taught how to find each other.  Where are we? How do we find each other? And how do we do the work to recognize each other and to be recognizable to each other?  Sometimes, as is so often the case with queerness (and disability), I see you, but I don’t know if you see me.  I feel this acutely with adoptees.  We share space together, but often times we don’t know how to recognize each other.  We look right through one another, or avoid each other as if we were taught some kind of secret script.

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Representations of Resistance: May Day Marches for Immigration Justice

Urmi Chakrabarti of MataHari: Eye of the Day marching in Chelsea-East Boston- Everett on MayDay with compas from the area

Activists continue to mobilize against SB 1070 in Arizona and for immigration justice in the US, including a film festival, a human rights march, and an organizing summit in Arizona on May 28-30.

We invited women of color, trans people of color, & queer people of color to send in pics of May Day marches, a day when thousands of people engaged in direct action in support of immigration justice.  Thank you to Carol & Urmi from MataHari: Eye of the Day who submitted this fabulous photo of the march in Boston.  Matahari: Eye of the Day is a social justice organization that mobilizes, advocates and creates safe spaces for historically marginalized, immigrants, communities of color and allies, who are survivors of labor exploitation, trafficking, racism, heterosexism, sexual, societal and familial oppression. In solidarity, they offer tools to build a global justice movement, strengthen community leadership and raise voices for social action and transformation to increase freedom, dignity and human rights.

Thank you also to Queer Sol for submitting “Austin Resiste,” a fantastic two part video of the May Day march in Austin, TX.  Queer Sol is a multidisciplinary artist collective founded by Queer People of Color to explore their diverse abilities and share their experiences. Queer Sol seeks to provide a safe space for queer identified people of color and their allies to meet, dialogue, connect, and enact social change through artistic means.

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