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Stop Calling Human Trafficking “Modern Day Slavery” – Version 0.2

Date: October 30, 2016

This document explains why the U.S. movements against human trafficking should stop calling it “modern day slavery” or otherwise invoking the image of slavery by using terms like “abolition.” Please note that this document is intended for people discussing human trafficking in the United States context, and may not necessarily apply to discussions outside of the United States.

1. In the U.S., the word “slavery” inevitably invokes the specific historical experiences of the enslavement of African peoples by the white settlers in the U.S., which continues to negatively impact African Americans economically, politically, socially, and culturally today. Using the term “slavery” appropriates the historical and ongoing struggles of African American communities against the specific historical event of the Slavery.

2. Human trafficking is a crime. Slavery in the U.S. was criminal, but perfectly legal and supported by the full force of legal, economic, and political institutions. Human trafficking today does not receive such official backing, and cannot be compared to the Slavery. For example, courts today do not enforce contracts for trading humans nor the police detain and send back escaped trafficking victims to their traffickers.

3. It is the modern prison system, not contemporary human trafficking, that is the historical successor of the U.S. Slavery. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime,” and this caveat became a loophole to re-institute Black enslavement in the post-Reconstruction South under the guise of criminal punishment, where the State passed racist laws to criminalize freed slaves, then loaned out “convicts” as laborers to former slave owners. Modern prison system continues to criminalize and incarcerate African Americans at an extremely disproportionate rate while profiting corporations that build and manage prisons and employ prison labor at rates far below the legal minimum wage.

4. Like earlier “wars” on crimes, drugs, and terrorism, the government’s “war on trafficking” center primarily on surveilling, policing, and prosecuting African American and other communities of color, immigrants, street youth, and other communities that are already heavily criminalized. This includes targeting young people of color as “gangs” engaging in sex trafficking, profiling immigrants as both traffickers and trafficking victims at the border and beyond, and treating queer and trans youth supporting each other engage in survival sex as “trafficking” each other. The simplistic rhetoric of “modern day slavery” distracts us from complex systems of power and oppressions that make our communities vulnerable to exploitation, and allows the government to intensify policing and criminalization on marginalized communities, thereby imprisoning and enslaving more descendants of freed slaves in order to rescue “modern day slaves,” rather than addressing social, economic, and political roots of these vulnerabilities.

Version 0.2 – Please send comments or suggestions to emi at eminism dot org.

Next Steps for Safe Consumption/Injection Site in Seattle, or why the City of Seattle should sell drugs and operate brothels

Date: October 29, 2016

In February 2015 the Indiana State Health Department announced an outbreak of dozens of cases of HIV infection in southeastern part of the State resulting from needle-sharing among prescription drug users. It was not particularly newsworthy, except it happened in white rural Indiana as opposed to urban neighborhoods with large Black and Latino populations, causing a shockwave that appears to finally be making drug policy reform an acceptable policy choice to the mainstream.

Among other cities, Seattle and King County are working on becoming the first U.S. city to open a safe consumption (injection) facility in the near future, and I have attended many meetings in which community members, public health officials, social workers, activists, and others discussed how to establish and operate such facilities, as well as what other preventative and treatment options should be pursued. I was initially concerned about some of the random comments made by community members and elected officials who did not seem to know much about the issue, but in the end I feel that the task force came up with a fairly decent proposal (considering the political climate) for the city and county to consider.

Referred to by various names including “drug consumption room,” “medically supervised injecting center,” or “supervised injection facility,” safe consumption sites are “professionally supervised healthcare facilities where drug users can use drugs in safer and more hygienic conditions,” according to a paper by Dagmar Hedrich, Thomas Kerr and Françoise Dubois-Arber. Enforcement of anti-drug laws are often suspended at and around the facility in order for drug users to enter and use the facility without the fear of prosecution. At this point, InSite in Vancouver, Canada which opened in 2003 is the only existing facility in North America, even though multiple cities in the U.S. including Seattle are considering starting one.

One of the key decisions made during the early stages of Seattle’s effort to establish a safe consumption facility was the adaption of the “equity and social justice charge” which guided the process. The document states:

The King County Heroin and Opiate Addiction Task Force will apply an Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) lens to all of its work. We acknowledge that the “War on Drugs” has disproportionately adversely impacted some communities of color, and it is important that supportive interventions now not inadvertently replicate that pattern. Interventions to address the King County heroin and opiate problem will or could affect the health and safety of diverse communities, directly and indirectly (through re- allocation of resources). Measures recommended by the Task Force to enhance the health and well-being of heroin and opiate users or to prevent heroin and opiate addiction must be intentionally planned to ensure that they serve marginalized individuals and communities. At the same time, the response to heroin and opiate use must not exacerbate inequities in the care and response provided among users of various drugs.

All recommendations by the Taskforce will be reviewed using a racial impact statement framework. The Task Force will not seek to advance recommendations that can be expected to widen racial or ethnic disparities in health, healthcare, other services and support, income, or justice system involvement. Whenever possible, these concerns should lead to broadening the recommendations of the Task Force, rather than leaving behind interventions that are predicted to enhance the health and well-being of heroin and opiate users.

One of the reasons the task force used the phrase “safe consumption facility” throughout its discussions (although political compromises resulted in it being rebranded as the “Community Health Engagement Locations” or CHEL in the final recommendation) was precisely because the group did not wish to further the disparities between communities using different types of drugs by offering legal and medical relief to people using drugs in one way without doing the same for those using them in a different way (smoking).

Speaking of political compromises, it was interesting to observe how the task force ended up recommending the establishment of “at least two CHEL sites,” one of which shall be in Seattle and another outside. Some task force members commented that the downtown Seattle business association would not tolerate establishment of the safe consumption site if they felt singled out, while officials from nearby cities of Renton, Auburn, and others fought to push the second facility on each other, fearing that the safe consumption facility would bring drug users to their cities (which is ridiculous: people will not travel to Auburn just to use drugs at the safe consumption facility unless they already live in the area). In the end, police officers representing Renton and Auburn Police Departments both opposed to the recommendation to establish safe consumption facilities, but the rest of the task force adapted it.

Even with the political compromises, I feel that recommendations that includes prevention, treatment (including changes to State regulations that are making access to medication-assisted treatments such as methadone and buprenorphine programs unavailable to many who need it), greater distribution of naloxone, as well as the safe consumption facility are positive steps toward protecting the health and dignity of our neighbors.

But before Seattle celebrates itself upon becoming the one of the first cities if not the very first city to establish a safe consumption facility (or CHEL or whatever) and brags about its progressive tendencies, as it did when they legalized same-sex marriage or marijuana use, or when they enacted an ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over several years, I want to push forward with a couple of proposals to further protect the individual and collective health.

First proposal: Provide a public option. Here, I am not talking about heath insurance policies, which is an entirely different matter altogether. I am calling for the City of Seattle and King County to sell drugs to users directly at the safe consumption facility to remove third party suppliers and ensure the quality and safety of drugs consumed at the facility. In my proposal, consumers can purchase drugs that they consume at the facility, and would not be allowed to bring them outside. This will certainly increase the likelihood that consumers will use the facility–perhaps they might even travel to Auburn if this was available. Users will know exactly what they are putting in their bodies because the City can eliminate any contamination of drugs it sells, and it will make it easier to monitor their health while they us them.

Second proposal: Start a safe prostitution facility. The City of Seattle has been at the forefront of the nationwide effort to shut down Backpage, a website that many sex workers (and yes some traffickers) use to advertise their services, which has led to the recent raid on the site. But shutting down Backpage only pushes sex workers as well as potential sex trafficking victims further underground, perhaps onto offshore websites using encrypted and decentralized payment methods like Bitcoin that are harder to subpoena or investigate even when they needed to be investigated for human rights abuses. Safe prostitution facilities would provide client background check, physical safety, social workers on site, as well as safe and clean environment for sex workers.

In both proposals, it would be essential that the City does not receive fees and revenues exceeding what it costs to offer these products or services, lest the City would itself become financially entangled as a drug dealer or a pimp. The City should certainly promote the services to increase its use among people who already engage in drug use or prostitution, but the system should be designed to minimize the financial incentive for the City to overreach this aim, perhaps by requiring that any profit would go toward lowering the fees for the next year.

These proposals may not be satisfactory to people who demand full decriminalization of drug use and prostitution (and I support that as well), but I feel that they are what is possible under the existing laws under the same rationale that make safe consumption sites possible in Seattle. Some versions of these policies are already practiced in some parts of Europe, such as the prescription of heroin to those diagnosed with substance use disorders or the establishment of government-funded facilities for sex workers to operate at, and if any city in the U.S. could do it, it would be Seattle.

My rejected response to the question “should prostitution be legal?”

Date: October 6, 2016

Note: Below is a piece written for an online media outlet that requested my 300-500 word response to the question “should prostitution be legal?”.

It was uncompensated, but because they were lining up many activists (anti-prostitution and sex worker rights) and scholars (law, philosophy, etc.) on both “pro” and “con” sides of the debate, and I felt that none of them on either side would represent my perspective, so I wrote one on a very tight deadline.

Well, it has been a month since that time, but they have not used my response in their published feature so I will assume that they did not like my piece, or felt that my response was completely incomprehensible to their target audience, who are members of the “personal finance industry,” so I decided to publish here instead.

*****

Should prostitution be legal? Of course it should, as I am sure others can explain how there is no fundamental moral or ethical reason that private sexual transactions between consenting adults should be criminalized, or how, if one were actually concerned about the violence and exploitation that exist within commercial sexual exchanges, prohibition of prostitution exacerbates the problems by pushing the sexual marketplace further underground.

But those who argue whether prostitution should be legalized, decriminalized, criminalized, or combination thereof (as in the case of the so-called Nordic model) often miss the crucial reality that criminalization is not about what the laws on the book say, but about the targeting and persecution of communities and individuals deemed criminal, as the extra-legal executions and murders of Black men and women by the law enforcement and the dearth of prosecutions against such actions attest. Criminal laws do not make criminals; they are merely tools to further persecute those who are already labeled by the society as criminal.

That is why, while I welcome my fellow sex worker activists’ and allies’ efforts to decriminalize prostitution, I believe that the criminalization of sex workers who are people of color, trans women, immigrants, street youth, drug users, and other criminalized populations will continue unabated regardless of how the law might classify the legality of commercial sexual exchange. In fact, I have heard anecdotal stories from youth advocates in cities that have enacted “safe harbor” policies which prevent minors from being charged with the crime of prostitution that the constant harassment, abuse, and persecution of street youth engaging in sex trade by the police have not decreased as a result.

Even laws that ostensively target pimps and sex traffickers are in reality used to further criminalize young people of color (I heard the police chief of a city I lived at the time tell a crowd at a human trafficking community forum that we must “stop listening to that crap, rap music” in order to prevent sex trafficking), in addition to making it harder for people in the sex trade to help each other without committing the crime of “promoting prostitution,” which media often equate with “pimping” and human trafficking but does not necessarily involve coercion or exploitation.

Since around 2011, the federal government reframed “domestic minor sex trafficking” as part of the “gang problem,” setting the government’s “war on trafficking” on the same devastatingly racist trajectory as Richard Nixon’s “war on crimes,” Ronald Reagan’s “war on drugs,” and George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” In the meantime, the trafficking of foreign and domestic workers in our farms, factories, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses—none of which are predominantly owned by Black and brown people—remain unaddressed. We need to stop arguing in abstract about whether or not prostitution should be legal, and instead focus our attention on the white supremacy of our social, political, and legal institutions.

*****

Update: Several more months later, they finally posted my response on their website.

A thought on the first annual National Transgender HIV Testing Day

Date: April 18, 2016

Today, April 18th, is the First Annual National Transgender HIV Testing Day. Like everyone else, I was not aware of this new annual observance until just a few days ago, when I was asked by my friends at the Gay City, Seattle’s LGBT wellness center, to be on a panel for it.

According to the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at University of California, San Francisco that coordinates the Testing Day, “NTHTD is a day to recognize the importance of routine HIV testing, status awareness and continued focus on HIV prevention and treatment efforts among transgender people.”

I get tested, and so do many of my friends. I have no quarrel with recognizing the importance of HIV testing, prevention, and treatment: transgender people, especially trans women of color, trans women who trade sex, and trans people who inject drugs, are at an grossly heightened risk of contracting HIV and other infections, and yet are often left out of awareness campaigns, outreach, and medical provisions that focus on the code word “MSM” (men who have sex with men)–which technically includes (many) trans women (and excludes trans men and gender-variant people) but in practice ignores or marginalizes them.

But I also find it disturbing to see public institutions promote a greater recognition of the importance of HIV testing, prevention, and treatment among trans people, while much of the targeted population continue to live in poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and survival sex.

Economist Emily Oster has pointed out that the HIV epidemic arising from risky sexual behaviors in Sub-Saharan Africa can be explained in part by the low non-HIV mortality. Individuals who can expect longer life ahead and are wealthier tend to change their sexual behaviors in response to the increased threat of HIV while those who do not expect to live long and are poor tend to be unmotivated to alter their behaviors. When controlled for other factors, similar observation can be made among gay men in the U.S., according to Oster.

This is something I have personally observed among women (including trans women) who are street-based, who trade sex and/or use drugs: because HIV has a relatively long latency period, those who are struggling to meet immediate basic needs and cannot imagine their distant future discount the present-day value of the risk of HIV infection to close to zero. In other words, one would not worry too much about getting sick many years later if she does not expect to live that long, or imagine having a future anyway.

It is also a survival strategy: we push thoughts about risks we are routinely taking out of our consciousness in order to be able to take risks required for our immediate survival. If so, campaigns aimed at subverting this survival strategy and raising awareness of these risks, even if they are well-intentioned, border on violence.

There are lots of discussions about how public health agencies must improve their outreach and service delivery to trans people, particularly trans women of color, to get them to participate in testing, prevention, and treatment. Of course we should improve them. But the bottom line is, we must build a social environment in which trans women of color, street-based sex workers, injection drug users, and others can expand their imagination into their futures, a psychic space philosopher Drucilla Cornell named “imaginary domain.”

When one otherwise expects to live a long, generally enjoyable life, she will certainly do more in the present to make sure that she will be healthier: it would bring in more trans people to participate in testing, prevention, and treatment than any “cultural competency training” or other trickery. While outreach programs do provide desperately needed employment to some trans people, they are destined to fail in the absence of larger programs promoting broader economic and social justice providing material and psychic necessities for trans people to imagine their futures.

What I am describing may seem merely anecdotal or theoretical, but there is an evidence suggesting that our current strategy of promoting testing, prevention, and treatment among trans women (of color or on the street, especially) has not been as effective as expected based on earlier successes among non-transgender men who are MSM. In a clinical trial conducted by researchers at UCSF and elsewhere which randomly assigned trans women to receive either pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that can prevent HIV infection or placebo, researchers were baffled to find that the group receiving the free preventative medication did not have lower infection rate compared to the group that received placebo after a trial period. The ineffectiveness of the PrEP provision had to do with “drug adherence”: they did not detect any sign of taking the medication in the bloodstream of the trans women who became infected despite receiving PrEP. Further, while non-transgender male MSM who take highest risks tended to take PrEP more regularly, no such correlation existed among trans women: trans women were no more or less likely to take PrEP consistently regardless of how much risky behaviors they are engaging in.

It is perhaps worthwhile to point out that trans women are taking different types of risks for different reasons than non-transgender men who are MSM. According to the study, “transgender women more frequently reported transactional sex, receptive anal intercourse without a condom, or more than five partners in the past 3 months” compared to non-trans male MSM. In other words, trans women are often engaging in risky behavior in order to provide for themselves and to survive, rather than for pleasure, which presents them with unique sets of vulnerabilities as well as an internal need to desensitize themselves to the risks they are taking.

As of today, PrEP costs over $1,000 per month which is out of reach for most trans women, but public health officials in cities like San Francisco (through the Healthy San Francisco program) are rushing to throw the medication at trans women. But I wonder: what could trans women do if they simply had extra $1,000 per month in cash instead? Wouldn’t it allow them to stop taking so much risks just to survive, and perhaps afford them an opportunity to take care of their health better, a space to imagine a future that is worth living in?

In the meantime, I question why UCSF, CDC, and other institutions are promoting the recognition of “the importance of HIV testing,” prevention, and treatment among transgender people. It cannot be because the society values the lives of trans women of color so much, when so many of them continue to be abandoned in poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and survival sex. I wonder if the real, if unconscious, motivation behind such projects is to protect (mostly) white, middle-class, non-transgender men who buy sex from trans women and their families.

I am not doubting the sincerity of individuals involved in these projects on the frontlines, especially since many of them are also members of trans communities. But I continue to be suspicious of the larger institutions that promote HIV testing in isolation of other, more immediate needs of many trans women of color.

[last edited in September 2016]

New Zine: Against Japanese “Comfort Women” Denialism in the U.S.

Date: November 9, 2014

“Against Japanese ‘Comfort Women’ Denialism in the U.S.” was written in response to the recent rise of Japanese right-wing nationalist activities among some of the Japanese residents in Southern California (not Japanese Americans, but Japanese people from Japan), especially their campaign against resolutions, memorials, and other recognitions of Japanese “comfort women” during the WWII by U.S. cities.

This zine analyzes the “talking points” of Japanese right-wing nationalists, and applies the same nuanced approach to the issue of “comfort women” that the author (a co-founder of Japan-U.S. Feminist Network for Decolonization) has advocated for in the contemporary anti-trafficking movement for many years, pointing out precisely what responsibilities Japanese government bears.

The zine is available for purchase online, or at the upcoming workshop “Confronting Japanese Right-Wing Nationalism in Southern California this Friday, November 14th at UCLA.

Faces of CW Denialism

Canadian city council candidate Paul Pesach Gray’s intellectual dishonesty [Update: Retracted]

Date: August 15, 2014

London, Ontario city council candidate Paul Pesach Gray just published a blog post in support of Bill C-36 that is aimed at suppressing prostitution by targeting “johns and pimps.” That isn’t particularly newsworthy, but it became relevant to me when he decided to quote me (out of context) and attack me as “un-compassionate and short-sighted.”

Let’s read what Mr. Gray wrote.

According to sex trade activist and opponent of Bill C-36 Emi Koyama, in War on Terror & War on Trafficking:

Many more (sex trade workers) cannot get or keep other jobs because of mental health issues, addictions, criminal record, immigration status, or discrimination (and a severe lack of social resources to help them with these issues).

Basically, what Koyama is saying is that prostitution is the saving grace for people suffering from mental health issues, addiction, discrimination (which must be proven on a case by case basis) and people who might stand to be deported from Canada, or at the very least must clarify their immigration status but haven’t done so for reasons unknown.

Why doesn’t Ms. Koyama and others who share her opinion put more energy into improving the social resources which they say are lacking so severely? Why defer to the “soft bigotry of low expectations”?

First of all, he is wrong to describe me as an “opponent of Bill C-36.” I have not taken a position on the bill at all, as I am not familiar with the Canadian situation and do not want to speak over our Canadian friends that the law would impact, though I am aware that many Canadian progressives, (intersectional) feminists, and sex worker activists and allies oppose the bill. Mr. Gray needs to dialogue with members of Canadian society who oppose the bill, rather than quoting an American who has not even made a single statement about Bill C-36 (until now, that is).

Mr. Gray summarizes my quote as “prostitution is the saving grace for people suffering from” various social and economic circumstances that diminish their ability to find other sources of income. The quote comes from a blog post which was later included in the booklet he mentions.

Here is the concluding paragraph of the blog post/article:

In short, “end demand” campaign is harmful to women because it diminishes their bargaining power, forcing them to do more for less money, with more dangerous johns, under less safe environments. We cannot criminalise our way out of the current situation; we must address social and economic concerns with solutions that aim at achieving social and economic justice. We can begin to do so by funding affordable housing, childcare, treatment programs on-demand (instead of many months’ wait list), and education and job training programs, instead of more jail beds or police cars or some “class” for the johns to take.

I think it is clear that I am in fact arguing that we must “put more energy into improving the social resources which they are lacking so severely,” as Mr. Gray says, rather than merely accepting the status quo, as Mr. Gray alleges.

Even after (supposedly) reading my article, however, Mr. Gray does not respond to my argument that “end demand” strategy is harmful to women; he simply ignores my main argument, or the fact that I have not even made a single statement about Bill C-36 until now, and quotes me out of context to paint opponents of Bill C-36 as “un-compassionate and short-sighted,” when in reality he is the one promoting un-compassionate and short-sighted approach to addressing the needs of vulnerable populations.

I don’t know much about Canadian politics, but this kind of intellectual dishonesty (more than any political disagreements) would put me off as a voter if he were running for an office in my city.


[UPDATE]

I received the following email from Mr. Gray’s campaign manager.

Dear Emi Koyama:

Paul is sincerely sorry for mischaracterizing your work and important message.
He is currently in the processes of removing your name from the post and is putting together a public statement of apology to you.
Basically, Paul had received the information he posted to the web from this source: http://www.themanitoban.com/2014/07/bill-c-36-endangers-sex-workers/20149/
In the future, Paul plans to do further research and even contact those he quotes.
Again, Paul is sorry and will publish the public apology/retraction by the end of today.

Sincerely,
Brian Moskowitz

Sent from my iPhone

Regards,

Brian Moskowitz: Campaign Manager

Ward 4 City Council Candidate:
Paul Pesach Gray

Thank you, Mr. Gray, for acknowledging the mistake. So it appears that Mr. Gray saw my quote second-hand in a University of Manitoba student newspaper, and did not do further research to find out the context (and assumed the worst).

Given that, I realize now that calling Mr. Gray’s writing “intellectual dishonesty” was a bit too harsh. However, it was intellectually lazy for sure, and I appreciate his retraction.

[UPDATE 2]

Mr. Gray issued a public apology over his mischaracterisation of my work. Thank you for your prompt response!

Meanwhile, a pro-criminalization activist insists that it was okay for Mr. Gray to defame me because I “align with the ‘sex work’ lobby,” whatever that is.

Natasha Falle tweets

Operation Cross Country VIII: Roundup and Comments

Date: July 3, 2014

Operation Cross Country VIII Roundup and Comments

There was yet another round of FBI Operation Cross Country in the end of June, making it the eighth nationwide prostitution sweep (supposedly) intended to “rescue” “children” who are in the sex trade (see my article, “Rescue is for Kittens: Ten Things Everyone Needs to Know about “Rescues” of Youth in the Sex Trade” for why this framework is problematic). As with the last few times, I’ve combed through hundreds of local news articles to uncover the full impact of the nationwide sweep on people in the sex trade, since FBI does not release a comprehensive national data.

Below, you will see an updated summary of all Operation Cross Country sweeps.

Spotty Data from FBI’s Operation Cross Country sweeps
Source: FBI press releases; last updated in July 2014

  Date Cities “Rescues” “Pimps” Other Arrest
1 06/25/2008 16 21 unk 389
2 10/27/2008 29 49 73 642 (518 adult sw)
3 02/23/2009 29 48 unk 571
4 10/26/2009 36 52 60 700
5 11/08/2010 40 69 99 885
6 06/25/2012 57 79 104 unk
7 07/29/2013 76 105 159 unk
8 06/23/2014 106 168 281 unk

Here is a chart showing what local news media are reporting about OCC-VIII. Let me know if I am missing any news stories with additional data.

City-by-City Roundup of Media Reports on Operation Cross Country VIII
Source: FBI press release unless otherwise specified; last updated in July 2014

Division “Rescue” “Pimp” Adult SWs Notes Source(s)
Albany 0 0 unk    
Albuquerque 0 0 unk    
Anchorage 0 3 unk    
Atlanta 11 15 47 arrested women are age 18-38 (median 23) FBI Atlanta; WMAZ
Baltimore 2 5 33 WBAL reports three “rescues,” contradicting FBI figure WBAL; WMAR
Birmingham 1 3 14 arrested women are age 19-34; “6-week old baby was also rescued”–is this one of the women’s child? FBI Birmingham; WHNT; WAFF; WZDX
Boston 0 0 unk    
Buffalo 2 0 unk    
Charlotte 0 3 unk    
Chicago 13 4 unk    
Cincinnati 0 1 unk    
Cleveland 16 12 at least 49 12 sw arrested in Boardman (ages 19-36, avg 25.67, median 25.5); 2 in Elyria (ages 19 and 20); 35 in Toledo. 4 minors “rescued” in Toledo are ages 15, 16 (x2), and 17. WYTV; WFMJ; Chronicle-Telegram; Vindicator
Columbia 1 2 unk   FBI Columbia
Dallas 2 2 unk    
Denver 18 11 64 “38 adults cited/arrested for prostitution, 26 adult victims/prostitutes contacted”; one minor identified as 16yo; two in Colorado Springs as 15yo boy and 17yo girl; boy “was trading se for a place to stay using an online website”; 13 women arrested in Pueblo, 4 more as “accomplices” FBI Denver; KCSR; Colorado Springs Gazette; Billings Gazette; KXRM
Detroit 5 6 unk    
El Paso 0 1 unk El Paso Times reports 2 pimp arrests and 8 rescues, contradicting FBI; one victim identified as 16yo El Paso Times
Houston 4 4 unk    
Indianapolis 4 3 at least 10 10 sw arrested in Fort Wayne WANE; WLFI; WISH
Jackson 2 19 up to 53 12 sw and 3 drivers arrested in Rankin County FBI Jackson; WDAM; Sun Herald; WAPT
Jacksonville 0 1 26   FBI Jacksonville; Florida Times-Union
Kansas City 2 7 at least 4 4 sw in Springfield alone KOLR
Knoxville 0 1 at least 8 Eight women were arrested for prostitution, four women were arrested for promoting prostitution, two women were arrested for human trafficking, and three men were cited for solicitation. FBI Knoxville; Times Free Press; WBIR
Las Vegas 7 2 at least 30 30 sw in Reno alone Reno Gazette-Journal
Little Rock 2 5 36   Associted Press; KFSM
Los Angeles 10 12 at least 54 total of 60 arrests in Long Beach alone FBI Los Angeles; Orange County Breeze
Louisville 0 4 unk    
Memphis 2 5 unk    
Miami 3 4 unk    
Milwaukee 6 12 at least 13 13 sw in Racine County alone FBI Milwaukee; WITI
Minneapolis 1 9 unk    
Mobile 0 0 unk    
Newark 1 8 37 minor was age 14; “45 pimps and prostitutes” arrested FBI Newark; Shore News Today
New Haven 1 1 44   FBI New Haven
New Orleans 3 17 75 5 sw in Alexandria, 17 in Baton Rouge, 10 in Lake Charles, 3 in Monroe, 17 in New Orleans, 23 in Shreveport The Town Talk; Gannett Louisiana; KTBS; Bayou Buzz; WDSU
New York 3 3 unk   FBI New York
Norfolk 0 1 unk    
Oklahoma City 2 14 27   KFOR; JohnTV; The Oklahoman
Omaha 1 2 unk    
Philadelphia 0 2 unk    
Phoenix 5 21 52 Yuma Sun reports 52 sw “rescued,” while FBI reports 42. Yuma Sun has further detail (breakdown by location), so I tend to believe it. FBI Phoenix; Yuma Sun; KTVK
Pittsburgh 0 3 25 “30 arrests on state charges, including three pimps and two adults that traveled for sex with a minor” leaving 25 arrests for adult women FBI Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Portland 1 2 20   FBI Portland; KOIN
Richmond 0 2 26   FBI Richmond; News & Advance
Sacramento 9 7 unk   FBI Sacramento
Salt Lake City 0 0 unk    
San Antonio 6 3 at least 6 6 women arrested in Austin for prostitution (ages 20-30, avg 26.67); 22yo woman arrested for “human trafficking” for “prostituting a 17-year-old girl”; the 22yo and 17yo were working together according to TWC News FBI San Antonio; KVUE; Austin American-Statesman; KXAN; TWC News
San Diego 2 6 35 5 sw arrested in Oceanside alone; “rescues of 37 victims, including two minors” FBI San Diego; The Coast News; KPBS
San Francisco 6 13 57   Point Reyes Light; Marin Independent Journal; KTVU
Seattle 4 13 56   FBI Seattle
Springfield 2 1 unk   FBI Springfield
St. Louis 0 1 at least 2 2 sw (ages 19 and 20) in Columbia alone FBI St. Louis; Columbia Tribune
Tampa 8 3 up to 82 Total 85 arrests, including 2 sw in Sarasota FBI Tampa
Washington 0 2 unk    
Total 168 281 (1000+?)    

Please note that I am counting the number of adults in the sex trade who were subjected to some form of police intervention as part of OCC-VIII, and not necessarily only those who were arrested or charged with prostitution. Many news stories disguise what actually took place (for example, writing “liberated from prostitution” when women are arrested), and some law enforcement officers seem to intentionally mislead the media (Portland Police Bureau reportedly told a reporter that they “did not arrest” any women, which is technically true, but left out the crucial fact that the women were given citations instead). I hope that someone would file FOIA requests with each FBI division to find out what happened to all these people.

While each Operation Cross Country campaign becomes bigger than the last, the overall patterns remain the same: large number of adult women in the sex trade are subjected to intervention by the law enforcement (most, though not all, are arrested or cited for prostitution or other related crimes); young people who are trading sex in order to escape from violence at home or in child welfare system and those who have safe home to go back to are lumped up together and involuntarily “rescued” back into the systems that they ran away from in the first place; young women and others who work with or alongside other young people are unfairly targeted as “pimps” even when there is no sign of any abuse or exploitation; Black and Brown men and women are profiled as “gang members” and “pimps” while the professionalized white rescue industry employ force, fraud or coercion to tell young people how they should live.

For more analysis on the “rescue” operations, please read the following articles:

Anti-Shakesville commenter claims to dislike men of NOMAS, but acts like one.

Date: February 18, 2014

So apparently, the person who submitted the hate-filled post,”The Great Kerfluffle,” is a user named Jimmybeamus, who seems to be contributing many other anti-Shakesville posts in the last couple of months.

Jimmybeamus says:

As the OP, I’d be happy to respond to Emi’s criticisms at any length. The basic point I’d make still stands- this is the essence of shakesville!Feminism. I pointed out that, at best, Emi’s statements were deeply controversial, at worst, actively wrong and harmful, based on the opinions of experts.* I pointed out that the reaction to a bunch of people saying “Um, we don’t want this going out under our name” was disproportionate, overwrought, and melodramatic. I’m no fan of NOMAS, nor do I like Brannon. He seems like a prick.

I’m glad to hear that Jimmybeamus, whoever that is, is willing to respond, but they do not seem to actually respond to anything I wrote.

Jimmybeamus wrote that my “thesis” was “that the men who pimp underage girls are not necessarily predators, but ‘often friends, partners, mentors, family members, photographers, drivers, bodyguards, and others who do not control the person trading sex in any way.” Based on this characterization, Jimmybeamus argues that my view was potentially “actively wrong and harmful.”

But that is not my thesis, as I made it clear over and over, in my original article that Brannon and Jimmybeamus misrepresented, my report that was published on Shakesville, and my initial response to Jimmybeamus’ attack.

What Jimmybeamus wrote is a demonstrably false mischaracterization of my work by NOMAS Robert Brannon, who used it to justify his censorship of my presentation and threat to physically disrupt it, as well as to publicly attack me during a panel in which NOMAS had promised to address women’s (all women participants except for the one woman who is on NOMAS board were protesting them) objections to their behaviors. Jimmybeamus claims to dislike Brannon, but they are participating in the proliferation of Brannon’s lies about me and my views.

What other aspect of my views are “controversial”? Here are the list of my claims that Jimmybeamus quoted:

  1. mainstream anti-trafficking discourse promotes further surveillance and criminalization of already marginalized communities as primary and often only solution to the problem of violence and exploitation experienced by youth and adults in the sex trade
  2. such approach ignores realities of people who are actually in the sex trade
  3. intersectional analysis would require us to start from the acknowledgement that the state is problematic institution, a source of violence against women of color and many others, that cannot be intrinsically relied on

I would welcome debate if Jimmybeamus can come up with actual criticisms or counter-arguments to any of the above.

Jimmybeamus writes that my views “directly contridicts” the “experts,” but their choice of experts reflects their obvious bias. It should be obvious to any reasonable person that Department of Justice should not be the go-to source for discussing harms of criminal justice systems on marginalized communities. Such uncritical reliance on the law enforcement (and non-profit organizations that align with them) is precisely what I am criticizing. Again, I welcome actual debate, if Jimmybeamus wishes to argue that DOJ should be intrinsically trusted.

Expertise does not rest exclusively with those who criminalize people in the sex trade, or organizations that align themselves with the law enforcement. There are many grass-roots organizations, activists, researchers, public health officials, and others who are themselves in the sex trade and/or working to advocate for people in the sex trade, who question the current mainstream anti-trafficking approach that prioritizes criminalization, including myself. Jimmybeamus is clearly unfamiliar with the landscape of this larger conversations and struggles, which resulted in their failure to recognize the expertise I bring to the feminist movement against violence.

Jimmybeamus repeatedly reduces what happened at the NOMAS conference as simply “livestream being cut,” and argues that I and other women are overreacting (and yes, it’s not just about me or Melissa; when you say that we are “melodramatic,” which by the way is a typical misogynistic label men use to silence and gaslight women, you are attacking all women who signed the demand to NOMAS). It was so much more than just that: denial of reality, blaming and scapegoating of HAVEN women, threats, physical aggression, stalking, etc. If it were just about “livestream being cut,” there would not have been a report or a list of demands.

Jimmybeamus argues that NOMAS’ decision to cut off the livestream was reasonable. But I was one of the main speakers NOMAS had (through HAVEN) invited to the conference, and they had months to evaluate my views. They have failed to do that, and because of that NOMAS co-chairs Allen Corben and Moshe Rozdzial ended up making their decision on Brannon’s lies about me. After everything, I asked Corben and Rozdial if I said anything that they thought was out of line, to which they responded “no.” The fact that they allowed the recording to be posted online with their name attached next day is a testament to how they had made the decision to censor irrationally.

Jimmybeamus wrote that I “flipped [my] shit” when I found out that NOMAS had cut the livestream. I do not recall “flipping shit,” especially at that point, before all the gaslighting and harassment. I suspect that Jimmybeamus simply made it up just to trash me. If not, I would like to know what they mean by that.

Jimmybeamus also wrote that I “tried to have [Brannon] ejected from the conference,” but as I’ve said before, I never requested such; I was informed after the decision was made. Again, Jimmybeamus made it up with no basis.

And Jimmybeamus says that I “packed up and left early” because I was “triggered” by Brannon’s presence. Once again, that is not what I wrote in my original report, so here is another instance where Jimmybeamus made things up to attack me and diminish the actual harm Brannon was causing at the conference, not just toward me, but also to other women including Lauren Chief Elk.

Jimmybeamus closes their comment by stating: “if Emi or Lizzie or anyone else wants to set themselves up as experts wielding the Pure Truth, they need to be able to answer criticism.” I would be happy to answer criticisms, and I have, but so far none of Jimmybeamus’ so-called “criticisms” are based in reality. On the other hand, Jimmybeamus has proven to be unable to respond to anything I wrote in my response to their “Great Kerfluffle” post.

Jimmybeamus, you clearly do not have enough background (personal, academic, or professional) to actually debate about public policies affecting sex trade or trafficking, and your entire “criticism” is about distorting, dismissing, and ridiculing me, solely because I had one article published by Shakesville. You continue to spread Brannon’s lies about me, minimizing and excusing his aggressive behaviors, and now you are calling women “melodramatic” for daring to resist male aggression. I have a feeling that your presence is going to be a liability even for the anti-Shakesville site sooner or later.

Anti-Shakesville site hates on me by association re NOMAS incident

Date: February 7, 2014

Last August, I was invited to be part of Forging Justice conference, which was co-organized by feminist anti-violence organization HAVEN and our supposed male ally group, National Organization for Men Against Sexism.

To be honest, I didn’t have a very high expectation of men of NOMAS based on my previous experiences dealing with male feminist “leaders” (as opposed to ordinary men who happened to be feminists), but what happened at the conference was much worse than I had imagined. Later, I wrote about all that transpired at the conference, and had it posted on Shakesville, a popular feminist blog. Here are related posts on Shakesville:

After these articles were posted, NOMAS did post a formal response on its website. Ever since, I have been thinking about writing about how the statement is very inadequate and disappointing, but I could not gather enough strength to once again focus my energy on bunch of (overwhelmingly) white men who just don’t get it.

It seemed like the whole incident had been forgotten after five months on inaction, but somehow it was picked up this past week by a Tumblr page “Drink the Shaker Kool-Aid” (shakesvillekoolaid), which appears to be an anti-Shakesville site. I don’t know (or even care) what issues the writer of the anti-Shakesville site has against Shakesville or Melissa. But what it says about me and my work seems completely off-base.

shakesvillekoolaid quotes part of my article that described my presentation at Forging Justice:

[it] focused on how the mainstream anti-trafficking discourse promotes further surveillance and criminalization of already marginalized communities as the primary and often only solution to the problem of violence and exploitation experienced by youth and adults in the sex trade. I argued how such an approach ignores realities of people who are actually in the sex trade (due to any combination of choice, circumstances, or coercion), and harm the very people they are intended to help. At minimum, I believe, an intersectional analysis would require us to start from the acknowledgement that the state is a problematic institution, a source of violence against women of color and many others, that cannot be intrinsically relied on.

To this, shakesvillekoolaid comments:

Now, here’s the first point that should be noted. This pretty much directly contradicts the findings of the DOJ, various organizations dedicated to helping sex workers, and other, you know….experts.

shakesvillekoolaid does not refute anything I state, or provide any counter-evidences; they simply state that my view “contradicts findings of the DOJ, various organizations dedicated to helping sex workers,” and others. Of course it does: I am criticizing them. It makes no sense to rely on DOJ’s words when the question is whether or not some actions of DOJ and others aligned with it are harmful to people in the sex trade. shakesvillekoolaid is, of course, free to side with the DOJ over grass-roots activists like myself if they choose to do so, but the evidence has to come from somewhere other than the DOJ itself.

At the very best, Koyama’s thesis, that the men who pimp underage girls are not necessarily predators, but “often friends, partners, mentors, family members, photographers, drivers, bodyguards, and others who do not control the person trading sex in any way” is….controversial.

This is a distortion of my actual thesis, and it is inexcusable for shakesvillekoolaid to interpret my writing this way, because in my Shakesville article I directly and specifically refuted this characterization. In response to NOMAS co-founder Robert Brannon’s comment that I claimed “pimps are not controlling abusers, but friends, mentors, partners, and protectors,” I wrote:

And Brannon clearly distorted my argument when he claimed that I consider pimps “friends, mentors, partners, and protectors”: what I have actually written was that friends and others close to people who trade sex are often targeted by the law enforcement as “pimps,” leading to further isolation, which of course make us more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

In other words, my argument is that people who are targeted by the law enforcement as “pimps” are not necessarily pimps or traffickers, but friends and others who are not doing any harm; I am NOT arguing that actual pimps and traffickers are doing no harm. Perhaps Brannon may have genuinely misunderstood my writing, but shakesvillekoolaid cannot claim honest misunderstanding after having the opportunity to read my refutation.

shakesvillekoolaid further writes:

So, first- this illustrates a huge problem with Lizzie-style feminism- just because Koyama had one type of experience in sex work does not mean that her experience is universal, or that she is an expert. She is an expert on the sex work done by Emi Koyama, not all sex work done by all women and men everywhere.

My experiences are obviously not universal, and nothing I wrote claims to speak for all sex workers. But I am not just one woman speaking about her experiences; I am an organizer, writer, and independent researcher who have worked with other people who have been in the sex trade as well as our allies. After all, that is why HAVEN chose me as the speaker–not just to talk about my own experiences in the sex trade, but to share what I have learned from all of my experiences. shakesvillekoolaid seems to accept DOJ and rescue organizations as “experts” while discounting the expertise of grass-roots activists, which is bizarre and offensive.

Second, I was always informed that comparing things that aren’t rape TO rape was a huge no-no. Apparently there is an exception when comparing, say, a livestream being cut to, you know- rape.

No. I’m not comparing cutting off livestream to rape; I am comparing NOMAS’ initial claim that I had wanted them to cut it off and consented to it with rapists’ typical defense. The analogy was specifically chosen because NOMAS was positioning itself as the “real” feminist fighting violence against women while falsely accusing me of being an apologist for systematic rape, when in reality NOMAS’ behavior is more in line with that of a rapist.

Apparently she tried to have him ejected from the conference but he came back, and the long and the short of it is she packed up and left early because she found his presence triggering.

I did not try to have him ejected; I made no such request, and was only told after the fact that he had been ejected. And his presence wasn’t just “triggering”; when he kept approaching me after he was ejected twice, sneaking around so that he could come near me undetected by HAVEN staff, I was afraid of actual, physical danger. I wrote in my article:

As a survivor, I experience triggers frequently. I know that, most of the time, I feel scared about the situation or people because of something that has happened in the past, and that there usually is not an actual danger to myself. So for the last two days, despite the fact I felt scared and could not stop feeling shaky or sleep for more than two or three hours each night, I kept trying to tell myself that nobody was going to actually harm me.

After the third time Brannon violated boundaries of women like me, Lauren, and others, however, I was no longer certain that my scared feelings were just feelings: women know that someone that angry and out of control is capable of doing the unthinkable. So I decided to pack up and leave the conference hours before I had originally planned to do so.

It should be clear to anyone reading this that I was not just merely “triggered”; I believe that many other women would feel the same way if the same man kept approaching them after being ejected by his peers multiple times. For shakesvillekoolaid to describe this incident as merely “triggering” minimizes Brannon’s abusive behavior and distorts what I clearly wrote.

I have no idea what shakesvillekoolaid’s grievances against Shakesville are, but it appears that they have chosen to hate on me and publicly distort and discredit my work, solely by association to Shakesville, rather than actually engaging with my work and offering honest critiques. That fact led me to lose any interest in finding out what those grievances are.

Service, rights, justice: Envisioning “justice” approach to empowering people in the sex trade

Date: December 30, 2013

Reproductive justice is a framework developed by women of color to expand and revolutionalize the mainstream “reproductive health/rights” movement that is too often preoccupied exclusively with individual women’s access to abortion and too reliant on the “pro-choice” rhetoric that does not resonate with many women of color. Reproductive justice framework, on the other hand, is rooted in the intersectional critiques of social, economic, and environmental structures (that is, much of the larger society beyond simply anti-abortion laws) that hinder the ability of women and girls to exercise full self-determination over their bodies and their reproductive and sexual lives.

In the 2005 publication “A New vision for Advancing Our Movement for Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Justice,” Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (which has changed its name to Forward Together) formally articulated a three-dimensional approach to advancing the well-being of women and girls through reproductive health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice frameworks. These three frameworks arise from different sets of problems and analyses. The chart below, developed from the above-mentioned publication, contrasts the three approaches.

Approach Analysis of Problem Strategy Key Players
Reproductive Health lack of access to reproductive health services improving and expanding services, especially for women in underserved communities medical and public health professionals
Reproductive Rights legal barriers to accessing reproductive health services passing laws to enhance individual women’s reproductive rights legal experts, policymakers, elected officials
Reproductive Justice women’s ability to exercise self-determination is hampered by systemic inequalities developing leadership and power of most marginalized groups of women through grassroots organizing organizers facing multiple oppressions and working across multiple social justice movements

I have been informed by radical women of color activists like Loretta Ross about the need to push for reproductive justice (rather than just “defending” legal right to abortion), but it was only after reading the work of Mia Mingus–herself an important activist in the reproductive justice movement in her previous leadership role at SPARK–on disability justice that I fully understood how relevant the three-dimensional analysis was for many other movements (which should have been obvious, but I was slow to catch on).

Mia proposes three dimensional approaches to disability politics: service, rights, and justice (she replaced the term “health” with “service,” because of the inescapable ableism in the “health” discourse). These three frameworks also arise from three different analyses, and lead to three different strategies as well as different groups of key players.

Approach Analysis of Problem Strategy Key Players
Disability Service lack of access to disability-related services improving and expanding services, especially for disabled people in underserved communities medical professionals and care providers
Disability Rights discrimination against people with disabilities and lack of accessibility passing laws to enhance legal rights of disabled people legal experts, policymakers, elected officials
Disability Justice disabled people’s ability to exercise self-determination is hampered by systemic inequalities developing leadership and power of most marginalized groups of disabled people through grassroots organizing organizers facing multiple oppressions and working across multiple social justice movements

The framework for advocating for disability justice is similar to that calling for reproductive justice because disability justice is reproductive justice and reproductive justice is disability justice. Ableism (along with racism, classism, etc.) has been a prominent component of controlling women’s reproductive choices, and the control of women’s reproduction has been a central component of marginalizing and erasing people with disabilities. While mainstream reproductive rights movement and mainstream disability rights movement do not often crossover (in fact, they sometimes come into direct conflict with each other in areas such as selective abortions), reproductive justice movement and disability justice movement are one and the same, only differing in relative focus.

I’ve been thinking about how I often feel alienated from the American “sex workers’ rights” movement even as I research and write extensively about the rights of sex workers and people in the sex trade. In “Anti-Criminalization: Criminalization happens on the ground, not in the legislature,” I explained how sex worker rights framework that promotes legal reforms (legalization, decriminalization, etc.) prioritizes the concerns of sex workers who are white, adult, middle-class, citizen, cis women over those of us facing relentless criminalization that go far beyond the anti-prostitution law. I called for an “anti-criminalization” (as opposed to legalization or decriminalization) movement that seeks broad social and economic justice in order to fully achieve self-determination for people in (or considering) sex trade.

The anti-criminalization movement is a sex worker justice movement, that is also a reproductive, disability, environmental, etc. justice movement–and organizations such as Black Women for Wellness and Latinas for Reproductive Justice understood this when they came out in opposition to Prop. 35 back in November 2012.

Can we develop a three-dimensional analysis for envisioning sex worker justice? Here’s an attempt:

Approach Analysis of Problem Strategy Key Players
Sex Worker Service/Support lack of access to health and public services improving and expanding services, especially for people in underserved communities that trade sex medical professionals and social workers
Sex Worker Rights prohibition and regulation of sex trade that do not protect workers legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution legal experts, policy makers, elected officials
Sex Worker Justice people’s ability to exercise self-determination is hampered by systemic inequalities developing leadership and power of most marginalized group of people in the sex trade through grassroots organizing organizers facing multiple oppressions and working across multiple social justice movements

“Service/support” approach can be employed by sex worker-run organizations (peer support group, St. James Infirmary), harm reduction agencies, or even anti-prostitution groups that, regardless of how they view prostitution, sometimes offer goods and services people want. “Rights” approach is often invoked by people in the “sex worker’s rights movement” such as members of Sex Workers Outreach Project as well as many libertarian supporters of legalizing prostitution. “Justice” framework is the foundation of organizations such as Young Women’s Empowerment Project and Women With A Vision, and other organizations led by women of color. (Anti-prostitution camp can also claim to be working from “justice” framework when they call for “abolition” of prostitution–but their strategies often fail the test, not to mention the appropriative use of the term “abolition.”)

I do not actually feel that “sex worker justice” is actually the right phrase for this struggle, because “sex worker” is a term used mostly by the more privileged folks among those of us who trade sex, and also because we need to expand economic options for everyone rather than just for those of us already in the sex trade. Perhaps it needs to be subsumed into “reproductive justice” since it is about attaining self-determination in how we control our own bodies and sexualities free from social, economic, cultural, and environmental restraints, but existing literature on reproductive justice does not speak to this connection very much (it addresses more about human trafficking and forced prostitution, but not about prostitution as an economic option).

I am also attached to “anti-criminalization” as a framework to build coalition across communities that are targeted by pervasive policing and criminalization, especially because too often (relatively privileged) sex worker activists and their allies focus on legalization/decriminalization as if that would stop the criminalization of people of color, street youth, immigrants, transgender women, homeless people, people who use drugs, and others who trade sex under any combination of choice, circumstance, and coercion. So I am not proposing that we start calling our movement “sex worker justice” just yet–but I think there are insights we can gain from parallels to three-dimensional model from reproductive and disability politics.

I also want to caution how “justice” framework can be co-opted or backfire. A friend who was on the panel deciding how Trans Justice Funding Project distribute its funds told me about the difficulty the panel faced when reviewing grant applications from around the country. They were interested in prioritizing organizations and projects that operate from justice-based framework in advocating for trans people and communities, rather than those that simply provide services or lobby for trans rights. But it turned out that most of the “trans justice” organizations were located in coastal urban areas, while groups in non-coastal rural communities were desperate for funds to provide basic services and support. Fortunately, the panel was able to recognize the need for different approaches in different communities, as directed by members of the said communities.

If we romanticize “justice” framework and discount the importance of other approaches, particularly the “service/support” framework, we run the risk of leaving behind people who depend on services and support provided by organizations that may appear to lack analysis. I believe that a real “justice” approach requires both short-term and long-term strategies, and the short-term strategy might involve creating, improving, and expanding resources for “service/support” as needed.

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