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Roundtable on California’s Prop 35 and “War on Trafficking”

Date: December 24, 2012

I participated in the roundtable discussion about California’s Prop 35 and “war on trafficking” in the current (January 2013) issue of In These Times magazine, which is also available on its website.

ITT Jan. 2013 Cover

Proposal for Bad Date Line 2.0: Text-Based “Bad Date” Blacklist for Sex Workers

Date: December 20, 2012

This is something I thought of today: a text-based “bad date” blacklist for sex workers and people in the sex trade. I know that there are several online “blacklists” out there, along with local “bad date” lists, but this is unique because it can be offered for free, and used from cheap cell phones many street-based workers have.

HOW TO USE:

Using a cell phone, sex workers can text the license plate number, phone number, or email address to a specified number. The text could be something like “5031234567 ?” (phone number 503-123-4567) or “OR*ABC012 ?” (Oregon license plate ABC-012).

The server computer looks up the information in the central database for a match. The worker would receive a response within seconds indicating whether or not there was a match, and if so what kind.

If there is no match, the server would respond with the message “NO RECORD.” If there are matches, it will give discreet codes like “VI” for violent or abusive client, or NC for someone who refuses condom. There may be multiple reports for the same person, in which case the response would say something like “VI NC*2”.

HOW TO REPORT:

When a sex worker experiences a bad date, she or he can text the license plate number, phone number, or email address to a specified number.

When reporting, the worker can include a code to indicate what kind of “bad date” it was, such as:

VI – violent or abusive
NP – no payment
HG – persistent haggler
NS – no show
NC – refuses condom
DR – especially disrespectful
PO – police
ST – stalker
PH – keeps calling, no intent to pay

A worker would send information such as:

5031234567 VI NC = phone number 503-123-4567, violent, refuses condom

OR*ABC012 PH NS = Oregon license plate ABC-012, repeated phone calls without intent to pay and no show.

ADVANTAGES OF USING THIS SYSTEM

  • it can function via text alone, making it easier to use even on cheap prepaid phones; workers don’t have to carry an incriminating piece of paper on them.
  • it can be implemented for relatively cheaply–cheap enough that we can probably get it funded by donations, and offer as a free service to all. (We can probably get it started for $1,000 seed money.)
  • unlike “Bad Date Line,” it doesn’t have to publish the master list (it only responds to the specific number or email address that was inquired).

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS:

  • Someone could make false reports.
    • True, but if someone was led to make a false report, there must be some reason. We don’t guarantee that the information is always correct, but workers can make their own decisions about whom they interact with.
  • Someone who is blacklisted might dispute it.
    • Solution: any client who disputes the information can come to us with a proof of identity, and we would agree to replace the code(s) with “DP” for “report was made, but is disputed.”
  • The record might be used as evidence for prostitution.
    • We won’t keep the record of who is texting us.
    • Also, we could modify the system to make it available to the general public who are going on date with people they met online. That way, usage of the service does not necessarily indicate that someone is doing sex work.

This is the kind of cost that we’d be looking at. I think it’s entirely possible to fund with individual donations.

Is there any tech person who is interested in volunteering with a project like this? Do you know anyone?

State Violence, Sex Trade, and the Failure of Anti-Trafficking Policies – New Zine Released!

Date: December 17, 2012

In celebration of International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, I am announcing the release of new zine, titled “State Violence, Sex Trade, and the Failure of Anti-Trafficking Policies.” This zine is yet another compilation of short essays and articles I’ve been writing about sex work, sex trade, and the anti-trafficking movement.

In spring of 2011, I wrote “War on Terror and War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement,” which focused on debunking main claims of mainstream anti-trafficking organizations. In “Understanding Complexities of Sex Trade/Work and Trafficking” published in late 2011/early 2012, I discussed what sex trade actually looks like for people who come from complicated backgrounds, demonstrating how mainstream anti-trafficking rhetoric and politics harm the very people they are intended to “rescue.”

Essays in this new compilation extend the analysis of the previous two booklets on this important topic, with a special emphasis on the context of pervasive surveillance and criminalization of communities of color, immigrants, street youth, as well as people in the sex trade. Throughout the booklet, I am calling for a new multiracial coalition against state violence and criminalization, instead of narrowly focusing on sex workers’ rights or on sex trafficking.

I hope that this booklet stimulates conversations among feminists, sex workers, progressive activists, and all others who need to be part of this emerging coalition.

Table of Contents

The new zine is available for download (PDF) and purchase (hard copy) at http://eminism.org/store/

“Complexities of Sex Trafficking and Sex Work/Trade” handout updated for December 17

Date: December 16, 2012

Just in time for International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, I’ve updated my half-page flier, “Understanding the Complexities of Sex Trafficking and Sex Work/Trade: Ten Observations from a Sex Worker Activist/Survivor/Feminist.”

Please feel free to download PDF and distribute copies at your local December 17 event!

Anti-Criminalization: Criminalization happens on the ground, not in the legislature

Date: November 27, 2012

I attended Harm Reduction Conference for the first time this year, and it was also the first year this conference had the “sex worker track,” a series of workshops and presentations throughout the conference dedicated to addressing harm reduction approach to meeting the needs of sex workers and people in the sex industry. Many of the presentations I’ve posted on this blog last week were part of the sex worker track, and I attended many presentations by other activists.

But there is a downside to holding a specific “track” on sex workers’ issues, as it became clearer as activists and advocates working for people in the sex industry discussed among ourselves: I felt that “sex workers’ issues” was treated like a separate set of issues, distinct from issues affecting people who use drugs–the central focus of the conference overall–despite the fact there are large overlaps between issues and concerns faced by both groups. And it is not just in the sense that many people in the sex trade also use drugs; more importantly, it is because social and economic circumstances that exacerbate risks both groups face are often the same.

For many activists participating in the “sex worker track,” it was obvious that the ascent of the mainstream “anti-trafficking” discourse that reduces the complex issue of sexual labor to evil “traffickers” forcing innocent “victims” into prostitution and prescribes further policing and prosecution as the solution is not just harmful to sex workers, but to people of color, immigrants, street youth, and all others whose lives are under pervasive surveillance and criminalization, as I’ve discussed in my presentation about “war on trafficking”.

We were also keenly aware that police encroachment of social service systems under the guise of fighting human trafficking (mainly domestic minor sex trafficking), as discussed in my presentation about youth services, is dismantling the coalition based on harm reduction principles between social and economic justice movements and public health administration that we have built over last several decades, with serious negative consequences for many other vulnerable communities in addition to people in the sex trade. But I’m afraid that the rest of harm reduction community are not recognizing this clear and present danger to the entire harm reduction movement because they compartmentalize “sex workers’ issues” as a side business, rather than one of the central themes of the entire movement.

One of the most exciting things that came about as a result of our discussions at the Harm Reduction Conference is a new framing for addressing how attacks on people in the sex trade which are perpetuated by the mainstream anti-trafficking discourse operate in relation to other ways communities are targeted and criminalized by the state.

Mainstream (white, middle-class) sex workers’ movement in the U.S. puts lots of emphasis on “decriminalizing” prostitution and sex work–i.e. eliminating laws that prohibit consensual adult commercial transactions involving sexual contact–as well as destigmatization of sex work. But to those of us who are street-based, immigrants, youth, transgender, etc. this agenda appear to be based on the naive premise that people engaging in prostitution are targeted by the state because the legislature passed laws to criminalize prostitution. Those of us who live under pervasive surveillance and criminalization know that the cause and effect run the other way around: we are just targeted and criminalized for who we are, and the laws are passed by the legislature to justify it and make it more efficient.

In other words, criminalization happens on the ground, not in the legislature. For example, even though some States have passed “safe harbor laws” that define minors who are “rescued” from prostitution as victims, not criminals, young people are still arrested and detained as juvenile delinquents, “material witnesses,” mentally incapacitated, etc., or are “charged up” with drug and other crimes that result in longer sentences than simple misdemeanor prostitution offenses. Young people, especially young women of color and transgender women, are still profiled as suspected prostitutes, and are targeted for “stop and frisk” in search of drugs and condoms–which is construed as an evidence for prostitution. They are still forcibly placed under the child welfare system that many young people had to run away from in the first place for years, instead of serving 12 days in jail as they did before. We are not targeted because we trade sex for money, food, shelter, survival; we are just targeted, period, and it is simply slightly more convenient for the state that some of us are also breaking laws against prostitution (and even if we aren’t–we are automatically suspects).

We need an anti-criminalization movement, not decriminalization movement. An anti-criminalization movement is not just about sexual freedom or “right to choose,” although it supports these ideas too. More fundamentally, it is about fighting for social and economic justice in the face of pervasive state violence against communities of color, immigrants, street youth, drug users, and others. An anti-criminalization movement is not just about changing laws, but about delegitimatizing state violence from its very foundation of colonialism and genocide to slavery and the Prison Industrial Complex.

We saw a beginning of this new alliance in California, where voters earlier this month overwhelmingly approved Prop. 35, a ballot measure enacting several “anti-trafficking” laws that focus on increasing criminalization and policing. Even though Prop. 35 was easily passed statewide, the array of organizations that publicly stood against this problematic statute was impressive: along with some sex worker and civil liberties organizations, the list of critics included Black Women for Wellness, Latinas for Reproductive Justice, and Causa Justa / Just Cause–organization led by people of color for people of color who saw through the anti-trafficking rhetoric of Prop. 35 and recognized it for the racism, sexism, and xenophobia that underlie the increased surveillance and criminalization of their communities.

It is this new, emerging alliance against criminalization of our people and communities in an increasingly multi-racial and queer/trans-friendly America that gives me hope despite of the massive overreach of policing and criminalization advanced by the mainstream anti-trafficking movement. We need to continue having conversations not just about decriminalization as a matter of legal reform, but about anti-criminalization, linking the struggles of people in the sex trade with other people and communities that are facing state surveillance and criminalization, building alliances with organization for racial, economic, gender, housing, queer/trans, and immigration justice.

(Thanks to people I spoke with at the conference, especially S. and K. for your insight that informed much of what I wrote here. This isn’t my personal manifesto, but something that came bubbling in the space among and between all of us. I love you.)

Youth vs. the Social Service Industrial Complex: How Anti-Trafficking Hysteria is Dismantling Harm Reduction Movement

Date: November 24, 2012

This is the last of the series of presentations I gave at Harm Reduction Conference last week. I would really appreciate reactions to this presentation: the explosive title is not at all an exaggeration.

Resisting the “War on Trafficking”: Two Presentations at Harm Reduction Conference

Date: November 22, 2012

Here are a couple of presentations I gave at Harm Reduction Conference last week as part of the panels critiquing the mainstream anti-trafficking movement. First has to do with debunking commonly stated myths about trafficking–more specifically, domestic minor sex trafficking–and the second addresses problematic public policies that result from these inaccurate claims, and proposes an alternative framework.

Because of weird scheduling I ended up presenting the second part first at the actual conference, but I’m posting them here in correct order.

Transgender Youth in the Sex Trade–my presentation at TransConnect: Resource and Cultural Fair

Date: November 20, 2012

Below is my presentation at this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event, TransConnect: Resource and Cultural Fair held at Portland Q Center. This is basically a shorter version of my keynote talk at Portland State University’s TDOR event last year, so there’s not much new materials in it, but I thought some people might prefer the shorter version. The presentation was sponsored by Portland Sex Workers Outreach Project.

Portland Bad Date Line: Limitations and Challenges

Date: November 19, 2012

I announced earlier that I was going to speak on two panels at Harm Reduction Conference that took place last week, but I ended up doing five panels instead, different themes each time. Here’s one of the presentations I did about Portland Bad Date Line.

Bad Date Lines are a tool used by people trading sex to protect each other by sharing information about “bad dates”–people who use violence to hurt them. This presentation gives a brief history of Portland Bad Date Line, focusing on how its features changed when Danzine, a grass-roots sex workers’ organization that started it, closed its doors and the PBDL was taken over by social service agencies.

Three presentations in three days: Harm Reduction Conference and TransConnect

Date: November 15, 2012

I’m giving three presentations in Portland this week. The first two are at Harm Reduction Conference held at Marriott Waterfront on Thursday and Friday; the other one is at TransConnect, a “weekend of events leading up to Trans Day of Remembrance” this Saturday.

“Empowerment-Based Alternatives to the ‘War on Trafficking'” (in panel “Trafficking Wars”)
Thursday, November 15th at 4pm-5:30pm
Harm Reduction Conference
Marriott Waterfront Hotel

“Embracing Negative Survivorship and Unhealthy Coping: A Harm Reduction Approach in the Movement Against Domestic and Sexual Violence” (in panel “Addressing Violence”)
Friday, November 16th at 5:45pm-7:15pm
Harm Reduction Conference
Marriott Waterfront Hotel

“Transgender Youth in the Sex Trade”
Saturday, November 17th at 4:30pm
TransConnect
Portland Q Center

Description: Transgender youth (especially transgender youth of color) are overrepresented among young people who occasionally or regularly trade sex for money, food, shelter, and other survival needs. There are many factors that contribute to the high prevalence of transgender youth in the sex trade, including family and community rejection, violence, isolation, discrimination, lack of medical services, mismatched documentations, and social services that are sex-segregated or religiously-based. This workshop provides an overview of various factors affecting the experiences of transgender youth in the sex trade, and how the broader transgender movement must become more inclusive of transgender people in the sex trade–while they are still alive, instead of merely mispronouncing their (often non-Anglo) names at annual TDOR events year after year after their bodies are discovered decomposing in dumpsters.

I look forward to seeing my friends in harm reduction and queer/trans communities!

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