Key Facts About Human Rights Violations & Sex Work 2015 Universal Period Review of the United States of America
Throughout the U.S., criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers, and those profiled as such, prevents them from exercising their human rights. Violations include: violence perpetrated by law enforcement; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during incarceration; denial of due process and protection in the justice system; denial of rights to housing, healthcare, reproductive rights, education, incomes, and employment. People of color, transgender people, migrants, homeless, youth, and people living with HIV bear a high burden of these violations. U.S. policies undermine the health and rights of sex workers internationally by requiring that organizations seeking funding adopt a policy against sex work. For more, see: Human Rights Violations of Sex Workers, People in the Sex Trades, and People Profiled as Such, http://tinyurl.com/UPR2015
Previous UN Body Recommendations
In its prior UPR process, the U.S. accepted Recommendation 86, requiring it to “[u]ndertake awareness raising campaigns for combating stereotypes and violence against [LGBT people] and ensure access to public services, paying attention to the special vulnerability of sex workers to violence and human rights abuses.” The U.S has pursued policies that directly contradict this commitment, putting sex workers at heightened risk of human rights abuses. In 2014, the UN Human Rights Committee challenged the U.S. Justice Department’s claim that arresting people for sex work is a humane or effective way to fight trafficking, and called on the U.S. to align its anti trafficking initiatives with human rights norms, which reject criminalizing sex workers.
Suggested Recommendations to US Government for the 2015 Universal Periodic Review
• Implement Recommendation 86 by ensuring respect for the human rights of sex workers and people profiled as such; including their rights to healthcare, education and housing; and their right to be free from violence by government and non government actors.
• Take measures to decrease violence towards sex workers and people profiled as such, by implementing campaigns to end the harms of stigmatization and criminalization.
• Take measures to end the criminalization, arrest and incarceration of sex workers. • Condition federal funding for local law enforcement on adoption of policies to end discriminatory practices of profiling people as sex workers based on race, gender (including gender identity and expression), sexual orientation, homelessness, health status, immigrant status, and other categories.
• Institute mechanisms that allow sex workers and people in sex trades to find redress for human rights violations perpetrated against them by law enforcement, including the protection of these human rights defenders from retaliation or further criminalization.
• Repeal and remove “anti-prostitution pledge” requirements for U.S. global AIDS funds and anti-trafficking funds and cease the practice of basing evaluations of other countries’ anti- trafficking efforts on their level of criminalization of sex trades.
• Reorient anti-trafficking campaigns to be in line with standards set by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. Repeal laws, including those alleged to address human trafficking, which criminalize commercial sex, or the ability of sex workers to work with each other or others for safety.
• Provide funding--and remove barriers such as Federal restrictions--for harm reduction and rights-based health care services for sex workers of all genders and all ages.
As far as we know, there has never been a sex work community meet up during Creating Change before this conference. It’s disturbing to think why when so much of the LGBTQ community trades sex out of choice, necessity and survival. Having a sex work caucus now doesn’t mean there weren’t sex workers at Creating Change before nor that we weren’t organized. In the realities that we know to experience, our experiences as sex workers have historically been erased and whitewashed from LGBTQ history and we call on the wider community to correct this and create space for us. The deafening silence during this conference about the closure of the advertising space on backpage.com, a website where many trans women and men of color advertised, spoke volumes to many of us. As a community we say no more.
The excitement of having our sex work caucus quickly faded when the full schedule was made available just days before the conference started. To our dismay, there were two meeting spaces that specifically addressed sex work— the sex work caucus and the “Policy Counsel and Litigators Round Table on Sex Work Decriminalization”— and they were both scheduled at exactly the same time. Although the decriminalization round table will have community involvement through selected panelists, conference participants who are sex workers are put in a situation where they have to decide between organizing with their fellow workers and having their voice heard among policy makers. Shame on Creating Change for putting us in that situation.
Yes, when we brought this to the attention of Creating Change we got an apology and they gave us the option to move to another time slot. As organizers we considered many factors and decided to keep the time slot, but we felt we needed to make our experiences public. We need accountability from organizations that benefit from our oppression.
With that, we have developed as a community some changes that we would like to see from Creating Change as a way to include us better in the process. Specifically:
Waiting for solidarity,
The Sex Work Caucus, Creating Change 2017
May 11, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ATLANTIC CITY SEX WORKER RIGHTS RALLY
Atlantic City, NJ Over forty years ago, a collective of sex workers living in France began to organize. United, they demanded accountability for police violence, to investigate gruesome murders against the community and to end the laws that made working conditions more violent. In reaction, the French government began jailing dissenters, claiming they were withholding tax payments. Sex workers had had enough. On June 2nd 1975, over 100 sex workers occupied the Church of St. Nizier in Lyon in cooperation with its priest. Over the church hung the sign “OUR CHILDREN DON’T WANT THEIR MOTHERS IN PRISON!”
While the protest was violently broken down several days later, it sparked a nationwide movement and forced the government to investigate several of the murders that had happened to French sex workers. Every year since then, sex workers around the world have recognized June 2 as International Whore’s Day and use the day to reaffirm community efforts in holding governments accountable for their human rights violations. In 2016, this tradition continues in Atlantic City.
On Friday, June 3 sex worker advocates, community members and allies will stand in solidarity and rally in the streets of Atlantic City. Sponsored by the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance and the Sex Workers Outreach Project Philadelphia Chapter, participants will meet at noon in City Center Park (on Atlantic & South Carolina Avenue) and travel to pre-planned political establishments throughout the city demanding accountability and change in policy. Specifically, advocates are attempting to draw attention of the Mayor’s Office, Atlantic Civil Court House, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, and the Department of Public Safety. Advocates will distribute information sheets as they engage residents and tourists in Atlantic City. At select locations, community members will share their stories of political corruption, rights violations and inexcusable action as a result of failed government policies. More information about the rally can be found on our Facebook event page or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While none of these Atlantic City establishments control the political climate in Trenton, where the final battle for decriminalization of sex work will need to happen in New Jersey, NJRUA recognizes that Atlantic City is undergoing radical institutional and visionary changes in response to its financial crisis. As sex worker advocates, we demand to be a part of this process and have our concerns heard. Atlantic City can make enforcement of prostitution laws low-priority, end wasteful sting-operations, outlaw condoms as evidence for prostitution-related charges ,and expand good samaritan laws so sex workers and drug users can report acts of violence with immunity. These actions are in Atlantic City’s hands, but are they listening? On June 3, we will make our voices heard.
Globally sex workers have created key consensus documents on addressing HIV, such as the 2014 statement: h ttp://www.scarletalliance.org.au/events/AIDS2014/consensus2014/ . During 2015, within the United States, we created our first sex worker led national policy document N othing About Us, Without Us: Sex Work, HIV, Policy, Rights. Our perspectives and work are widely available for your guidance at any time, not just at this meeting.
Links to Human Rights
Addressing the needs of marginalized groups, key populations & communities
Institutionalization of Community Responses, Monitoring and Accountability
Civil Society Support for Member States
For more information please contact us at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow us on twitter @btriplep and @njrua
Entries due by February 14, 2016
If you are a sex worker/person in the sex trade and have a strong connection to New Jersey (live here or work here or come from here), then contribute a poem or similar to the International Sex Worker Rights Day podcast competition by February 14, 2016. New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance (NJRUA) will select several of the pieces to read for our International Sex Worker Rights Day podcast. Contributors maintain copyright of their art but will provide permission for it to be shared on our podcast. All contributors will receive a tasteful sex worker rights sticker provided by BPPP (Best Practices Policy Project) and contributors’ work that is read on the podcast will win a sex worker rights t-shirt.
The competition will be judged by founding members of NJRUA. The inaugural NJRUA poetry podcast will be recorded/edited by PJ Starr and released on soundcloud on March 2, 2016. The podcast builds on a tradition begun by Robyn Few, who read a poem created by her friends for International Sex Worker Rights Day in 2010: http://moralhighground.tumblr.com/post/441642564/poem-for-march-3rd-read-by-robyn-few-in
Contribute your poem, words, lyrics, etc to email@example.com by Feburary 14, 2016 to be in the running to win a t-shirt and have your poem read for inclusion on the podcast. You may contribute anonymously (ie we don’t have to read any name on the podcast) or you may provide us with a name and short bio if you wish. Also please indicate that we have your permission to use your art/poem/words for our podcast.
Newark, New Jersey On December 17, community members will gather in front of Newark City Hall in recognition of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This will be the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance’s (NJRUA) second public event in recognition of the day, and will be co-hosted this year by the African-American Office of Gay Concerns (AAOGC), a community based organization dedicated to HIV prevention among the greater Newark LGBTQ population.
Sex workers, their friends and allies will gather at 6PM in front of Newark City Hall where community members will recount instances of violence and call on public officials to enact change that allows sex workers to take action when they do experience violence. The demonstration will then move to AAOGC’s office, a few blocks away, where food will be provided for participants. An event flyer can be found by clicking here.
It is fitting that this message is sent out on December 10, International Human Rights Day. Social marginalization and criminalization creates an environment in which violence against sex workers is allowed to happen undeterred. When a sex worker faces violence, they are unlikely to report crimes committed against them due to a history of police violence and police inaction when crimes are reported. In 2006, four sex workers were found murdered in Atlantic City and nine years later their case still remains unsolved.
NJRUA recognizes that the most marginalized members of our community experience the most violence. According to the Sex Workers Outreach Project, of the 41 known sex workers killed in the United States this year, about a quarter of the victims were transgender women of color, and many others were women who had a history of drug use. Unfortunately, it is often people living on the intersections of oppression that bear the brunt of failed governance and social marginalization.
We call on policymakers to recognize and change the failed model of criminalizing the activities of sex workers and their clients. While discretion is given to local law enforcement agencies and individual officers to give amnesty for sex workers who report violent crimes, we call on local municipalities, counties and the state to enact legislation that gives blanket amnesty to any sex worker who does come forward to report acts of violence and to ensure their protection. We call on the public to embrace and love sex workers in their community, and to end the social marginalization that allows perpetrators of violence to act without thinking twice.
As we prepare for December 17, we remember all those whose lives we have lost. No longer will the community hide in the shadows and remain silent. We demand action for the living!
November 11, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ARE NOT CRIMINALS
Paterson, NJ Last week on November 2, NJRUA’s North Jersey Regional Director, Janet Duran, was arrested and detained for “willful nonsupport” by the Passaic County Family Court system. She was released Wednesday evening with the expectation that she will be on a payment plan to pay off child support arrears. Advocates with NJRUA find the conditions that have led up to her detention to be rooted in stigma against those who have traded sex and the broken justice system in Passaic county that treats victims of domestic violence as criminals.
The Passaic County Courts, and most recently Judge Sohail Mohammed, have granted the father of Ms. Duran’s children full custody with no visitation access since 2005. This decision was made despite the fact that he has been known to be physically abusive in both private and public settings. Ms. Duran has even filed a restraining order in the past because of the physical beatings she has received from him. What’s more, Ms. Duran’s perceived involvement for engaging in the sex trade was openly used against her during the case. Ultimately, the Passaic County Family Courts found a violent man to be more of a fit parent than a working mother providing for her children.
Sadly, Ms. Duran’s case is not in isolation as this has been an ongoing problem in the North Jersey family court systems. For the past six years, Strengthen Our Sisters has been organizing annual demonstrations outside the Passaic County Family Courts over the systemic problem of courts granting child custody to documented abusive men over fully capable mothers.
Ms. Duran has been expected to pay child support despite the fact that she has been on public assistance as a registered caretaker with the state for one of her parents, who is suffering from Alzheimers Disease and Dementia. It is shocking that the Passaic County Courts so willfully ignores her situation as caretaker, which takes the place of full time employment, and assumes she is fully capable of making payments. Judge Mohammed most recently issued a warrant in July for failure to make these payments, later enforced by Judge Justine Niccollai, which lead to Ms. Duran’s arrest last week.
Throughout this process, Ms. Duran has had to represent herself in court hearings. Services that are normally afforded to victims of domestic violence are unavailable to Ms. Duran because of the deep-rooted stigma against sex workers in New Jersey. Lawyers she has approached have openly told her “prostitutes have no rights.”
Violence is never excusable, regardless of one’s actual or perceived status as working in the sex trade. NJRUA urges anyone with the capacity to offer legal support to Ms. Duran to please contact us immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms. Duran’s circumstances are a reminder to NJRUA’s commitment in addressing all forms of oppression against sex workers. Even with the removal of prostitution offenses, stigma and social marginalization of sex workers will continue to give systems of power justification to use other laws to further harass and take advantage of a disenfranchised community. Discrimination in all its forms must be addressed for the full empowerment of the community.
OCTOBER 21, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RESPECT SEX WORKERS’ RIGHT TO PRIVACY
Secaucus, New Jersey State advocates condemn the recent arrest of two women who have been charged with prostitution related offenses in Secaucus, New Jersey last week. “Regardless of the circumstances leading up their arrest, sexual activity that people make a choice to engage in is not a crime,” mentioned Janet Duran, the North Jersey Regional Director of NJRUA, “If people are concerned with the lack of choice available for those who trade sex, then arresting them should not be seen as part of the solution.” Evidence-based research continues to show that arresting people for engaging in sex work violates people’s right to safety and health as community members are driven further underground and must make riskier decisions in order to avoid the law. According to reports available on the State Police website, about 830 women throughout the state have been arrested for prostitution related offenses in 2013.
It is particularly deplorable that Secaucus Det. Sgt. Michael Torres found it more appropriate to leave the name of hotels where the stings were conducted out of the media’s knowledge over the names of the women they have arrested. The sentiment expressed by doing so suggests the privacy of hotels is a higher priority than the privacy of those accused to be sex workers. The right to privacy is a human right recognized by the United Nations, and both the United States and New Jersey Supreme Courts. This is a right particularly concerning for highly stigmatized communities such as sex workers and those who have been through the criminal justice system.
However, the media has played an equally distasteful part in violating sex workers’ human rights. The Jersey Journal found it relevant to release the legal names and home towns of those who have been arrested, making it publicly available online. “This has been an ongoing problem with media in the state,” explained Derek Demeri of NJRUA, “In a state made up largely of small cities and suburban districts, this public declaration of one’s accused sexual activities will follow them for life and can be extremely damaging.” Legal names, arresting photos, and sometimes home addresses are often published by various media outlets when prostitution stings are done throughout the state creating an online permanent record, even if these charges are later discovered to be under false pretense.
Advocates urge the media to respect the privacy of those suspected of engaging in prostitution, and for law enforcement to abstain from arresting sex workers and their customers for engaging in consensual sexual activity, and to end the practice of profiling people as sex workers because of their race, gender or immigration status. For those interested in learning more about appropriate media representation of sex workers, please visit the Media Training Program under the Red Umbrella Project’s website (redumbrellaproject.org) for more information.
Statement to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS
I’m with the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance, a community of sex worker activists based in New Jersey, and first I want to say, you guys are really doing great work, and I see that, I appreciate it.
However, sex workers are not being mentioned at all, why is that? I work with national organizations, they’ve been reaching out to so many of the national offices, and they’re not getting responses. And it’s a shame. So I had some recommendations for you guys, so since no one else is listening, I’m going to tell it to you all:
We want an end to the practice of using condoms as evidence for people who trade sex, and criminalizing trans women of color for practicing safer sex.
We want to support sex workers unionization efforts so they can create safer working conditions instead of arresting them for trafficking themselves as what happened with Amber Batts in Alaska.
We want to end the violent policing of communities that allow street-based workers the ability to negotiate condom use safety without fear of arrest.
We want to stop the federal crusade against advertising websites like backpage or rent boy which provide tools to screen for potentially violent clients.
Ultimately we want to end the criminalization of sex.