YWEP to share research findings from the Bad Encounter Line

Please forward widely and forgive duplications

Press Release

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday May 22nd, 2012
Contact: Stacy Erenberg 312 513 1399

Young Women’s Empowerment Project releases their NEW RESEARCH entitled DENIED HELP! How Youth in the Sex Trade & Street Economy are Turned Away from Systems Meant to Help Us & What We are Doing to Fight Back

Our Participatory Action Research (done by youth in the sex trade ages 12-23) shows how and why young people in the sex trade and street economy are being turned away from institutions set up to help.

Special Press Briefing
When: May 29th 3pm via Webinar
Time: 3pm-4pm CST/4pm-5pm EST/1pm-2pm PST

Live Event
When:
 Thursday May 31st, 3pm-5pm
Where: Jane Adams Hull House 800 S. Halsted
What: Young Women’s Empowerment Project will give an interactive, multi media presentation that explains their  BAD ENCOUNTER LINE findings, and how YWEP is organizing young people to change the way Chicago sees and treats it’s homeless home free and street based youth.

The BEL findings demonstrate how institutions such as police, hospitals, social services and schools are harming young people they are supposed to serve and protect. The data from the BEL findings shows many themes of police sexually assaulting youth because of their gender, sexual identity, or lack of ability to fight back for being in the sex trade. One story is “ …in a sting set up by the cops. [the officer] got violence with me, handcuffed me and the raped me. He cleaned me up for the police station and i got sentenced to 4 months in jail for prostitution.” – anonymous Bad Encounter Line entry

The BEL research was done using a participatory action research model created  by and for young people directly affected by the issue of institutional violence and neglect. The BEL data and stories from girls in YWEPs constituency were turned  into a zine released quarterly. The BEL research report highlights the finding from the BEL zines collected in 2011.

Background:
The BEL report comes from our 2009 research findings which discovered that young people are being denied help from organizations based on their involvement in the sex trade and street economy. because they are homeless, because they are of color and or/ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The research also found that resilience is a stepping stone to resistance. YWEP created a campaign to build their own resilience and resistance to institutional violence and to change policies in place that allow us to be denied help in the first place.

For more information about the BEL research release please contact Stacy Erenberg 312 513 1399

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.

Indigenous Peoples In the Sex Trade – Speaking For Ourselves

Indigenous Peoples In the Sex Trade – Speaking For Ourselves

We as Indigenous peoples who have current and/or former life experience in the sex trade and sex industries met on unceeded Coast Salish Territory in Vancouver on Monday April 11th 2011. In a talking circle organized by the Native Youth Sexual Health Network we wish to share the following points about our collective discussion so that we may speak FOR ourselves and life experiences:

  • We recognize that many of us have multiple identities and communities that we belong to – some of us take up the title of “sex worker” while others do not see themselves this way.  We have a myriad of experiences in the sex trade, everything from violence, coercion, to survival, getting by, empowerment, and everything in between.   We want to give voice to these issues so that those who are CURRENTLY involved in sex work and the sex industries feel supported and are the primary place where decisions surrounding our lives are made.  We should not be made to feel judged, blamed, or shunned from ANY of the communities we belong to or are coming from. We are the best deciders of what we want our lives to be.
  • Despite the heightened statistics of the many realities we face as Indigenous peoples, we are not significantly represented in the leadership or decision making tables of sex work organizations and other social justice groups alike. By this we do not mean solely having one Indigenous coordinator or a few outreach workers – we mean meaningful, non-tokenizing, multiple positions and visible leadership roles across organizations, groups, collectives, and at any place where the sex trade is discussed. We are not interested in being included after the fact or having to continuously take a seat at a table we had to fight to be at in the first place – we want to be the center in which all decisions about our lives are coming from.
  • We collectively and steadfastly resist the so-called “rescuing” and “saving” approach to the issues going on in our lives that comes from the (in)justice system, social service agencies, prohibitionist groups, and many other areas. What we are asking for is not to be saved or rescued or consistently painted as victims – we come from generations of peoples who have resisted this approach for the last 500+ years so we could be here today. We are asking for support that is unconditional and meets us where we are at.
  • We are living through legacies of colonialism and genocide – which are extremely present today. When various individuals and organizations say things like “we are all oppressed in the same way” or refuse to take a stance on colonialism – this directly silences and further oppresses us. Just because we as Indigenous peoples may be involved in the sex trade as well does not mean that we are all oppressed in the same way as other peoples who are involved in the sex trade or even within our own communities. We demand the right to self-determination about what is specifically true for us as individuals and we refuse to be constantly grouped in “the other” or “unknown” categories – whether from well-intentioned allies or those who have never even considered our realities as Indigenous peoples.
  • We want to address the rampant amount of homophobia, transphobia, cissexism, and heteropatriarchy that we witness from Indigenous and allied people alike.  Many of us are proud to be Two Spirit, trans, gender non-conforming, and many other identities that the English language cannot contain.  We hold both our Indigenous community members and allies accountable to respect who we are and understand that these identities for many of us prior to colonization were honored and respected – and we take this seriously as we seek to reclaim who we are.
  • While it is true that we may experience violence on bad dates, on the street, and in other places where we are, we want to state that VIOLENCE SHOULD NOT INHERENTLY BE PART OF THE SEX TRADE. What remains unchallenged and inadequately criticized are the role and actions of the state, the police, and social service agencies that create and allow the conditions that create violent situations for us to begin with. The very creation of Canada and the United States is based off of the genocide and land theft of our peoples and fast forward to 2011 this is still happening. It is now sanctioned through the law, in the court system, and other organizations wishing to further control and exploit us by continuing to remove us from our homelands, or our communities of choice, or warehousing us in jails and prisons.
  • There is a severe lack of resources and support for those of us on reserves, in northern territories, and in rural and remote areas. So much of the dialogue about the sex trade is urban and metropolitan focused when so many of our rural and remote communities have the evidence to prove the urgency of shifting the dialogue to listen and support what is going on in the north and on the reserves.  Where can sex workers go when there are no supports in their own communities? Why should they always have to come to the city?
  • While the criminalization of the sex trade is indeed harmful to us and we consistently resist the regulations forced onto us by a colonial white law and order system, we want to move beyond just discussing criminalization and decriminalization. There are many other factors that contribute to the realities of our lives specifically as Indigenous peoples that are being largely ignored because of these kinds of debates constantly happening.
  • At public events or in the media, supposed ‘experts’ or ‘allies’ often focus exclusively on violence and victimization, over-representation and exiting strategies. While these issues are important, we want to move the dialogue beyond this focus on ‘being saved’ and instead to hear from sex workers themselves about all the complex realities and needs they face. Why is it that in public forums, the only voices we hear are those wanting to save sex workers from violence rather than from sex workers themselves? Sex workers should be invited to speak to their own issues, representing a diversity of perspectives and experiences. For example, sex work is often seen as an exclusively urban issue. In reality, lots of people in rural areas are trading sex for money, rides, clothes, and many other reasons – but because of shame and silence, this aspect of sex work remains invisible.  Expanding our understanding of Indigenous involvement in sex work will entail including a diversity of perspectives, allowing these voices to inform policy and programs.
  • Sex workers and those involved in the sex trade are part of our communities – all of the things we are advocating for in terms of Indigenous rights and land sovereignty sex workers need to be part of as well. Internationally sanctioned Indigenous rights are determined by states – so how do we see our own rights in our own territories within the sex trade? We aren’t going to have only one approach – Indigenous peoples have never only had one approach. There are multiple nations, multiple view points, and multiple ways of dealing with things – Indigenous peoples are not one homogenized group and we need to move forward being accountable to all of these differences.
  • There exists an extreme amount of stereotypes surrounding Indigenous sexuality and our bodies that have been used to legitimize violence against us and make the settlement of our territories by the colonizers possible. Distancing ourselves from stereotyping has in many cases also meant distancing ourselves from sexuality and ultimately from sex workers. This is just not about our own individual stories – we need to look at how are we treating all our relations and that especially means people who are most pushed aside by those in our communities.
  • We want to move forward to a place where we can discuss sex work and sex trade sovereignty – having autonomy of our bodies, our spaces, and the right to govern ourselves. We want to talk about our humanity instead of talking over people who are involved in the sex trade. We are more than just the numbers or statistics coming from the realities in our lives. We have voices, we are Indigenous peoples involved in the sex trade and sex industries, and we need to be heard.

Written by the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and co-signed by:

Sarah Hunt, Kwakwaka’wakw

Bambie Tait, Gitxsan nation

Ivo Haggerty (Cargnelli)/Sta’xai’luum Blackstone

Lyn Highway


War on Terror & War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement

Emi Koyama of eminism.org has completed War on Terror & War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement, a powerful new zine that examines and challenges the current US domestic anti-trafficking movement.  Here’s an excerpt from the zine intro:

This booklet is a product of two years of research into the state of the anti-trafficking movement in the United States. I went to dozens of events, lectures, and conferences, and spoke with many wonderful but misguided people who take part in this movement. I have also had opportunities to hear many stories of surviving forced labor and prostitution, some of which were not so dissimilar to my own experiences in the sex trade in one point or another. I do not wish to negate their authority to speak about their own experiences and how they wished things were different, but I am deeply troubled by the cherry-picking of survivor stories and experiences that support the anti-trafficking trope equating all prostitution with trafficking and all trafficking with slavery, while all other voices are dismissed as “exceptions” (or “the top 2% elite,” as one anti-prostitution researcher said).

What I aim for in this booklet is to examine various questionable “facts” presented by the anti-trafficking movement, and address ways in which they distort our perceptions of sex trafficking and prostitution and mislead the public to support policies that are ineffectual or counter-productive. I will also show links between the War on Trafficking and the War on Terror, and how problematic aspects of the War on Terror permeates the War on Trafficking as well.

Chapter 1 of this booklet exposes the big three “factoids” that anti-prostitution groups use in order to influence people emotionally and to get their way with media, corporations, and the government, but are false. Chapter 2 continues on this direction, but focusing on other misinformation that influence public opinions. Chapter 3 scrutinizes “economic” arguments, including the “end demand” approach to end sex trafficking and the theory of “economic coercion.” In Chapter 4, I will use the movie Taken as a starting point to talk about the links between the War on Terror and the War on Trafficking. And finally in the conclusions, I will contrast anti-trafficking versus social and economic justice approaches, demonstrating how anti-trafficking movement is harming women and other vulnerable people.

Check out the full intro and table of contents here: http://eminism.org/blog/entry/231
Download a free preview and purchase the zine here: http://eminism.org/store/zine-emi.html

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Grassroots group challenges discriminatory Crime Against Nature law

Grassroots group challenges discriminatory Crime Against Nature law

by Rosana Cruz, VOTE

Originally posted at Bridge the Gulf, reposted with permission

This week the local organization Women With a Vision (WWAV) is celebrating a huge step forward in their fight on behalf of low income women and lgbt people of color in New Orleans. For almost four years WWAV has been campaigning against the discriminatory Solicitation of Crime Against Nature statute.  As a result of these efforts, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit Tuesday calling the law unconstitutional.

This 206-year-old Louisiana state law makes it a felony to solicit oral and anal sex and requires those convicted to register as sex offenders.  In contrast, a conviction under Louisiana’s prostitution statute is a misdemeanor and does not carry such severe penalties.

The law has disproportionately impacted women of color, primarily low income African American women. Ninety-seven percent of women registered as a sex offender must do so as a result of a Crime Against Nature conviction. And 80% of people on the registry due to a Crime Against Nature conviction are African American. Women With A Vision has partnered with local and national groups to bring attention to this issue and support the women, and some men, who are targeted by this injustice.

On Tuesday, attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of nine anonymous plaintiffs convicted under Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature law and forced to register as sex offenders as a result. The attorneys, WWAV, and allied organizations held a press conference at the New Orleans federal courthouse, and a telephone press briefing Wednesday morning.

Watch: Tatiana speaks out

A member of the youth lgbt project Breakout, “Tatiana” (not her real name) describes her unjust arrest for Solicitation of Crime Against Nature.

Excerpts from the press conference:

At the press conference, Executive Director Deon Haywood shared these important words on behalf of the dozens of people who have turned to Women With A Vision for help with this issue:

“I work with the people directly affected by this statute every day: the toll it takes is devastating. WWAV has been standing with the women of New Orleans, no questions asked. We’ve been let into worlds that few others see, and trusted with stories that few others hear. This issue first came to our attention in 2007 when a woman first came into our office and showed us her driver’s license with the big orange SEX OFFENDER on it. Since then we’ve heard dozens stories from women who are on the registry because of this charge.

“The women we serve are no threat to anyone. They are grandmothers, mothers and daughters. All of them have struggled with poverty and many have struggled with addiction. They did what they had to do to survive, put food on the table, but because they are poor, because they are Black, because they are street-based, because they struggled with addiction, they were singled out for this charge.  Mothers who picked up this charge 20 years ago now can’t get their children into daycare because they have sex offender on their id.

“Women who have struggled with addiction, violence, trauma, and poverty all of their lives and haven’t been able to get the services they need are now even more shut out.  No DV shelters, drug treatment programs or homeless shelters will take them.    These women are no danger to anyone, yet they are treated as predators of the worst kind – all for just offering certain kinds of sex for money. In virtually all the cases we have heard of, that is all they did – they never even performed any sexual act before they were arrested. Now they are being forced to pay a terrible price. They have served their time, but now they have to serve an additional sentence, in many cases a life sentence.”

Shana griffin, Research & Advocacy Director of the Women’s Health & Justice Initiative discussed the dimensions of that terrible price:

“I applaud the courageous steps being taken by the plaintiffs of this lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature Statute.  The disproportional harm caused by Solicitation of a Crime Against Nature charge disrupts lives and families, often resulting in:

  • Intensified experiences of sexual violence and harassment at the hands of law enforcement officers
  • Displacement from family and friends
  • Restrictive and unsafe housing and employment options
  • Increased social vulnerability to HIV & AIDS
  • Untreated addictions and risks of homelessness
  • Limited access to healthcare and preventative services, and
  • Broken dreams

“The public demonization and the complete disregard of the health and safety of women of color impacted by this statue entraps them in a dangerous cycle of violence, poverty, and criminalization. The sex registry mandate condemns them to a vicious cycle of excessive fees and restricted access to jobs due to discrimination, which leads to the possible need to engage in high-risk choices, thereby exposing themselves to daily violence just to comply with the law. The challenges faced by women of color, who are maliciously marked as ‘sex offenders’ by the state because of their sexual behavior, profoundly affects their health and safety and severely limit their access to resources, thus regulating them to a lifetime of shame and fear.”

Andrea Ritchie, a private police misconduct attorney and co-author of Queer (In)justice, who is co-counsel on the lawsuit, highlighted the specific groups most hurt by the discriminatory charges of the statute:

“In New Orleans and across the country, women of color and transgender women are routinely profiled as being involved in prostitution, and often report that they can’t walk down the street without being picked up for loitering for the purposes of prostitution. That’s bad enough when it’s a misdemeanor. In Louisiana, on a second offense it’s a felony, and requires registration as a sex offender for 15 years to life.

“Not only are the individuals we are talking about today survivors of rape and domestic violence, they are also survivors of police violence, including sexual harassment, physical abusive, improper strip searches, and rape by law enforcement officers. As one of our clients told us: “I was raped and used many times myself, and I never hurt anyone – why am I on the registry as a sex offender?”

Rosana Cruz, board member of Women With a Vision and Associate Director of VOTE (Voice Of The Ex-offender), spoke about the dual stigma faced by formerly incarcerated people who are registered sex offenders:

“Every day dozens of New Orleanians come home from extended periods of time in jail or prison. They face obstacles that make it nearly impossible to find jobs, rent apartments or to access sorely needed resources like educational loans or housing subsidies.  We know that many of them also face discrimination because of their records.

“But the brave women and men who have stepped forward today face an even more insidious roadblock. In addition to having the social stigma of having been in the criminal justice system, they also have to contend with a modern day scarlet letter, a sex offender charge emblazoned across their id cards. For years after their release, those red letters continue to close doors in their faces. Instead we should help them to clear a path for their success, as they struggle to make a new and better life for themselves and their children.”

Staggering consequences

The plaintiffs in the case chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.  They all must carry a state driver’s license or non-driver’s identification document emblazoned with the words SEX OFFENDER in bright orange capital letters.  They must disclose the fact that they are registered as a sex offender to neighbors, landlords, employers, schools, parks, community centers, and churches. Their names, addresses, and photographs appear on the internet.  They are required to mail postcards notifying every person in their neighborhood.

Said one plaintiff, “When you mail those cards it’s so humiliating, people kill you for that. I fear for my safety.”

Said a mother of three who was convicted under the statute in the 90’s, “Because my picture and address are up on the internet with my charge, a guy once came by my house looking for sex.”

Attorneys on the case include Bill Quigley and Alexis Agathocleus from the Center for Constitutional Rights, private police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie, Esq., co-author of the recently released book Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, and Davida Finger of the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

———-

Rosana Cruz

Rosana Cruz is Associate Director of VOTE (Voice Of The Ex-offender). Previously Rosana worked with Safe Streets/Strong Communities and the National Immigration Law Center. Prior to joining NILC, she worked with SEIU1991 in Miami, after having been displaced from New Orleans by Katrina. Before the storm, Rosana worked for a diverse range of community organizations, including the Latin American Library, Hispanic Apostolate, the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of New Orleans, and People’s Youth Freedom School. Rosana came to New Orleans through her work with the Southern Regional Office of Amnesty International in Atlanta.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Dec 18th, Toronto: Sharing Celebrating and Decolonizing Indigenous Sex Work

SHARING, CELEBRATING AND DECOLONIZING INDIGENOUS SEX WORK
Saturday December 18
Native Canadian Centre, 16 Spadina Road, Toronto
6-9 pm (food served at 6 pm)
FREE event!

with
Traditional Feast catered by Ringfire Productions
Performances from RED SLAM and Brenda MacIntyre
Roundtable Discussion
Celebratory giveaway

In honor of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers – this will be an evening for us as as Indigenous people and communities to listen, discuss, and learn how to end violence against sex workers from Indigenous perspectives.

A supportive, non-judgmental space for sex workers (current and former) community members and youth. This event will respect the right of self-determination over our lives and bodies for all Indigenous people including sex workers.

Please bring what you can for the giveaway (art, momentos, crafts, recipes, etc). Everyone is welcome to participate with/without an item.

FREE EVENT – ASL INTERPRETATION PROVIDED – WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE. PLEASE NOTE EVENT IS TAKING PLACE DECEMBER 18th, NOT DECEMBER 17th – CHILDREN WELCOME

For more information or to RSVP contact Krysta Williams, Lead Youth Advocate at the Native Youth Sexual Health Network at kwilliams@nativeyouthsexualhealth.com

Facebook event: http://on.fb.me/eBnZy2
Co-sponsored by the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project

Thank you to our supporters: 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations, Anishnawbe Health Toronto and Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine