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Seattle Unanimously Repeals Prostitution & Drug Traffic Loitering Laws

Date: June 26, 2020

Reposted from Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade.

Seattle City Council has just unanimously approved a pair of bills repealing prostitution loitering and drug traffic loitering laws after dozens sex workers and allies gave testimonies in support. We have been working on this issue since 2018, meeting with Councilmembers as well as folks from Seattle City Attorney’s Office, and it feels really good to hear so many of our sex worker and ally friends speaking out and see the entire Council agreeing with us today.

Both ordinances have negatively impacted communities of color, but prostitution loitering law in particular have been used as a pretext for the Seattle Police Department to profile young women of color as suspected “prostitutes,” leading to unnecessary and unwarranted police interactions, background checks, unconsented and possibly illegal searches, harassment, and other harms. The City’s own Reentry Workgroup released a report to the Council in October 2018 which recommended repealing these ordinances because they disproportionately target communities of color based on who and where they are.

During the Council discussion, Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and others pointed out that it would be incorrect to say that these ordinances are “outdated.” To say so implies that they served a worthwhile purpose at some point in the past before they became obsolete since then. The truth is, they always had racially disparate impact and have always been wrong, serving no good purpose worth defending.

But the Council needs to go further. As long as the crime of prostitution (offering sex in exchange for money or other items of value) remains on the books, even if it is rarely prosecuted, similar profiling and harassment of young women of color will continue. Further, the City needs to stop the police from enforcing SOAP (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) and SODA (Stay Out of Drug Areas) orders, which are used exactly the same way as the loitering ordinances against exactly the same population despite having no basis in Seattle Municipal Code.

Also during the discussion, Councilmember Tammy Morales expressed willingness to work with sex workers (yes she used the phrase multiple times) to decriminalize sex work in Seattle so that sex workers and people in the sex trade can be safer and have access to emergency assistance. Other Councilmembers also committed to continue working with sex workers to improve safety and health for people in the sex trade. We are excited to be involved in these future conversations.

We also want to respond to a point made by a couple of people who identified themselves as survivors of trafficking and testified in opposition to repealing the loitering ordinances. Their concern was that repealing prostitution loitering ordinance would also prevent “johns” or buyers of sex, whom they consider perpetrators of harm against people in the sex trade, from being arrested or charged with prostitution loitering.

We generally believe that criminalization of clients of sex workers for purchasing sex from a consenting adult diminishes safety for people in the sex trade, but that beside the point here. Prostitution loitering ordinance has been used disproportionately against men of color (as suspected sex buyers) as well as cis and trans women of color (as suspected “prostitutes”), both for being in the wrong place as someone of a wrong race and gender, and therefore it needs to be abolished for that reason regardless of what one believes about paying for sex. Nothing in the bills passed today will legalize or decriminalize buying sex, human trafficking, or sexual violence in any way. That said, their voices belong at the policy table and we hope they will be part of future conversations about keeping our communities safe without over-reliance on the violent police system.

Thank you for your continued support, and thank you to POC SWOP/Green Light Project, UTOPIA-Seattle, Surge Reproductive Justice, Legal Voice, Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, and other allies as well! Join our email list by contacting us or follow our facebook page for future updates.

Seattle: Uprising’s early victories & further opportunities to participate

Date: June 15, 2020

Reposted from Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade.

As many of you know, things are happening at the Seattle City Hall and around the country as a direct result of #BlackLivesMatter organizing in response to the police murders of George Floyd and countless other Black and indigenous people. For example, here is a (very partial) list of victories documented by Chicago-based activist collective Rampant: Rebellions Get Results: A List So Far (note this post was written on June 8th, and there have been many more victories since then, not to mention victories before June 8th that were not included in the list!)

In seattle, here are some of the victories that we are aware of:

  1. Mayor Durkan issued curfews to stop demonstrations, but demonstrations continued and she was forced to withdraw the curfew.
  2. Mayor ordered a 30-day moratorium on the use of tear gas. The order came with the caveat that Chief Best could still order its use if she felt the necessity, which she did just a couple of days ago, but still both leaders faced criticisms for going back on their promises.
  3. City of Seattle is withdrawing a lawsuit against King County which had prevented inquest into killing of civilians by the police for the last two years.
  4. City of Seattle withdraws its petition to be free from federal oversight placed on its police forces due to patterns of racial profiling and civil rights violations.
  5. Peaceful demonstrators persisted in Capitol Hill for over a week despite being attacked by the police with chemical weapons, flash bangs, stan grenades, etc. and forced SPD to retreat, creating what became known as Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or Capitol Hill Occupied/Organized Protest.
  6. Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution rebuking President Trump’s threat to send in active duty military to Seattle.
  7. Chief Best ordered officers to stop concealing badge numbers with “mourning bands.” They did not follow the order, so the City Council is working on a legislation.
  8. City of Seattle agreed to transfer old fire station in Central District to the local African American community to use as a community center.
  9. City Council member Kshama Sawant proposes ordinances to ban the use of chokehold by police officers and the ownership, purchase, rent, storage, or use of “crowd control weapons” such as tear gas and flash bangs. [Update: Both bills passed unanimously!]
  10. City Council member Lisa Herbold proposes an ordinance to prohibit police officers from covering their badge numbers. [Update: Passed unanimously!]
  11. City council members Lewis, Pederson, and Morales propose an ordinance to abolish the crime of prostitution loitering (which the SPD uses to profile and harass women of color). [Update: Passed unanimously!]
  12. City council members Lewis and Morales propose an ordinance to abolish the crime of drug loitering. [Update: Passed unanimously!]

Do you have more? Please send it to us so we can add to this list!

ANYWAYS, Today (Monday, June 15th) at 2pm the City Council is discussing CMs Sawant and Herbold’s bills on banning certain police behaviors that have been used against protesters. The Council meetings are held online due to COVID-19, but you can sign up to testify and/or watch the meeting (direct YouTube link) live.

We are VERY interested in CMs Lewis, Pederson, and Morales’ bills to eliminate prostitution and drug loitering ordinances. City’s own working group had recommended repealing these ordinances TWO YEARS AGO and we’ve met with council members to ask them to follow up on the recommendation, but the Council has so far failed to act on it. The ordinances are likely to be discussed at a later time, but you can submit comments on them NOW on the link above.

Lastly, the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade has endorsed “Defund Seattle Police” campaign, which seeks to immediately cut at least 50% of SPD budget to fund community-based programs that prioritize health and safety strategies and free all protesters arrested during the recent protests. If you agree, please sign on to the campaign as an individual or as an organization.

Not another bs PR statement about #BlackLivesMatter

Date: June 5, 2020

Reposted from Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade

It’s been a rough week of sadness and outrage. I am forced to be in quarantine to avoid coronavirus because I have many compromising medical conditions but every day I’ve been following many of my friends fight for systemic changes we seek, whether they are on the street or online. I feel heavy yet hopeful that this time, the national uprising will lead to lasting movement toward a more just society. When the coronavirus is sufficiently contained or vaccine becomes available, I anticipate that the struggle for racial justice and liberation of Black and other marginalized people will still be ongoing, and I look forward to joining you out there.

On behalf of the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade, I signed on to the call to Defund the Seattle Police Department, which demands the City of Seattle to: 1. defund Seattle Police Department (at least 50% of $363 already budgeted for SPD); 2. fund community-based health and safety initiatives that diminish reliance on the police to solve social problems; and 3. drop charges against protesters. You can join the call as an individual or as an organization by clicking on the link below:

http://tinyurl.com/defundSPD (individual)
http://tinyurl.com/defundspdorg (organization)

As the subject of this post says, I am getting fed up with bunch of self-serving PR statements arriving on my inbox from corporations and organizations expressing support for Black lives that do not reflect their day-to-day operations. Today, I received an email from a local (predominantly white, police-friendly) “anti-trafficking” coalition soliciting donations to themselves, claiming that their mission aligns with the goals of Black Lives Matter, after years of promoting more policing and prosecution of those involved in sex trade which further criminalize Black, indigenous, and people of color. They even quote a white academic “expert” who equates prostitution to slavery, comparing their white supremacist carceral politics to actual abolitionists who fought against American chattel slavery and continue to fight against the unjust criminal justice system and the Prison Industrial Complex. And of course they had to stress that they only supported “peaceful” protest by doubly emphasizing the word “peaceful” by italicizing and then underlining the word. This is opportunistic and shameful. You cannot promote carceral approach to social problems and then claim to be in the movement for Black lives at the same time.

I hesitated making a formal statement on behalf of the Coalition for Rights & Safety about recent police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and many other Black men and women that we have not even heard about because so many of those statements are fake and I wanted to focus on mourning and fighting and supporting my friends rather than taking part in the PR fray. But when I saw anti-trafficking organizations using the national attention to their own advantage, I had to say something. But this is not just a statement; we commit to continue prioritizing the rights and safety for the most marginalized sex workers and people in the sex trade, especially sex workers who are Black, indigenous, or people of color, sex workers who are trans, are immigrants, are disabled, and/or lack housing.

Thank you for being in the movement with us. Please call me if you want to talk more about how we can continue to (and better) advocate for Black lives and the lives of other marginalized communities.

Emi Koyama
The Coordinatrix
Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade

Also read:

You Can’t Say Black Lives Matter Without Including Black Sex Workers by Suprihmbé
Stop Calling Human Trafficking “Modern Day Slavery”

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 life expentancy. 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:

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