Search Eminism.org

  • Enter search term(s):

Subscribe

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Categories

Archives

Recent Posts

Remembering our history: Sex workers in Portland organize against draconian City ordinance, 1999-2000

Date: May 31, 2011

Below is an excerpt from my old (2002) zine, Instigations from the Whore Revolution: A Third Wave Feminist Response to the Sex Work “Controversy”. My thinking has evolved and shifted in some ways since I made that zine, but I thought it’d be interesting to share a history of sex workers organizing against the City government.

How Sex Workers Defeated Mayor Vera Katz: Information on Portland City Ordinance 14.44

In September 1999, Portland City Council passed a new ordinance (City Code 14.44) proposed by Mayor Vera Katz and the Portland Police Bureau regarding the personal escort/modeling industry. The ordinance mandated absurd requirements for anyone who worked as a personal escort or model, making her even more vulnerable to abusive customers, police abuse, and discrimination than she already was. It violated sex workers’ right to privacy, patronized their ability to make their own decisions, and seriously compromised their safety.

Local sex workers formed Scarlet Letter, a collective of workers and their supporters, to combat the city ordinance. “Workers need affordable housing, health care with dignity, and protection from mismanagement and harassing authorities,” instead of such a repressive regulation, says its press release. Scarlet Letter later submited “Sex Workers’ Wish List,” the counter-proposal to the City describing a better way to regulate escort/modeling industry.
Sex workers and their allies also waged a legal battle, arguing the City Code 14.44 to be unconstitutional. City modified the ordinance twice to increase the odds of withstanding the legal challenge, but the judge eventually sided with sex workers on March 8. Mayor Katz subsequently abandoned the ordinance.

Even though we were able to defeat this particular ordinance, we know that it could come back in a different form any time, plus sex workers across the country are fighting daily against similar legislation. The information about this ordinance is included here in order to preserve the history of sex workers’ successful organizing.

Absurd Requirements under the Ordinance

Under the City Code 14.44, anyone who works as an escort or a lingerie model must:

  • Pay $200 to get a personal escort/model permit that has her headshot.
  • Give police their finger prints. – Submit to a criminal background check–permit is denied if she has been convicted of “prostitution-related crimes” in the past five years.
  • Keep a telephone log of each customer who calls. – Show the escort/model permit to customers.
  • Sign a contract with customer before each appointment that describe specific services provided.
  • Make the phone log and contracts available to police inspection without search warrant.
  • If she works independently, she must obtain a $500 business license and comply with additional requirements.

Penalties

If a worker is caught in violation of Code:

  • It is a Class B misdemeanor ($500 fine/ 6 months in jail) to work without a permit.
  • Civil penalties of $100 (for first offense) and $500 (the second) are assessed for each “minor” violation.
  • Permit is revoked for any “major” violation, such as failure to pay civil penalty within ten days and accumulating three offense in a single year.
    Other Consequences of the Ordinance
  • Those with the history of prostitution-related convictions will be ineligible for the permit, putting them further “underground” and at the greater risk of being abused or exploited.
  • Those with fewer opportunities to become self-reliant outside of the sex industry will be trapped in poverty and government assistance.
  • When uneligible worker is abused, assaulted or exploited on the job, they will be less likely to seek police assistance.
  • The existence of public registry of workers’ personal information will make it easier for the customer to harass or stalk her.
  • Public record of escort/model permit makes it more difficult for workers to leave sex industry in the future, effectively trapping those who may wish to leave.

Sex Workers’ Wish List

The following is excerpted from Scarlet Letter’s counter-proposal to the city council as to a better way to regulate escort/modeling industry. Of course the City ignored everything we said in this, but it felt good to have a concrete counter-proposal: we aren’t saying that escort/modeling businesses don’t need regulation, but that the regulation proposed by the City was harmful to us.

  • Change the title of the permit from “Personal Escort/ Modeling Permit” to “Worker Permit” so that workers can leave the industry without the scarlet letter.
  • Use the OLCC beverage/food server application as a model of what a work permit application should look like, including the fees.
  • Have escort/models obtain the permit from the Bureau of Licenses and Multonomah County Health Department, instead of Portland Police Bureau.
  • Require escort/modeling business management to have a working relationship with Health Department. Raise the standard of awareness of how to decrease one’s risk at the job site. Require job training that addresses disease prevention, safety issues, and current laws that pertain to sex work.
  • Hold the management accountable for proper security measures at the job site.
  • Remove any unnecessary personal information from the permit application.
  • Issue a certificate instead of a photo ID as the permit.
  • Remove the automatic rejection of a permit if individual was convicted of a misdemeanor (i.e. prostitution) so that they can engage in sex work legally.
  • Police should not be allowed to enter one’s residence without a search warrant.
  • Change the punishment of working without a permit to a fine, rather than a misdemeanor.
  • Remove unreasonable requirements that escort/models keep the customer’s phone numbers in a log for Police to inspect, and sign a written contract with the customer before each appointment.

Timeline of Our Struggles

September 22, 1999 – City Code 14.44 is introduced by Mayor Katz and the Portland Police Bureau. No sex workers are informed of the proposal.
September 29, 1999 – City code 14.44 passes the City Council with no objections.
November 1, 1999 – First meeting of Scarlet Letter. Open only to workers.
November 8, 1999 – Second meeting of Scarlet Letter. Open to all supporters.
November 14, 1999 – Sex Workers’ Masquerade, a fundraiser for Danzine and Scarlet Letter campaign.
November 15, 1999 – Third meeting of Scarlet Letter, to which a Willamette Week reporter showed up to write an article.
November 17, 1999 – Scarlet Letter speaks out at the City Council.
November 23, 1999 – Emi hosts a panel discussion on sex work at Portland State University, which turned into a pep rally for Scarlet Letter.
December 15, 1999 – Lawsuit is filed to block enforcement of the ordinance.
January 26, 2000 – Scarlet Letter presents the “Sex Workers’ Wish List” to the City Council. Emi was almost arrested for holding up a sign in the Chamber. City Council makes a minor modification to the ordinance, but ignores us for the most part. Willamette Week runs a story that is somewhat favorable to sex workers.
February 4, 2000 – First hearing of the lawsuit against the ordinance.
February 22, 2000 – Judge declares the ordinance invalid under Oregon constitution.
March 8, 2000 – Mayor Katz abandons the ordinance. WE WON!!!!

Emi’s Final Comments

1. It is frustrating that the only thing that stopped the ordinance from being enforced was the constitution. I mean, we worked with the media, tried to educate the City Council, went to City Hall many times, called up people, and even worked with the Multnomah County Health Department to come up with an effective alternative to the ordinance so that the escort/modeling industry is regulated just like all other industries–and the only thing that actually worked was a judge’s order. I guess that’s how the system works in this lawsuit-obsessed country, but I’m really sad that City Council absolutely refused to think, even for a second, that perhaps the Vice Unit of the Portland Police Bureau may not be the expert when it comes to the sex industry.

2. I’m annoyed by the “sex radicals” who celebrate sex workers as strong independent women (or men, or whatever) while neglecting the real suffering of people who are being exploited or abused within the sex industry. And I’m also annoyed by the radical feminist I spoke with who told me how much money sex industry is costing tax payers and how many abortions are taking place as a result of the sex industry as a way to demonize it.

My goal is to empower everyone working in the sex industry, whether they are engaged in commercial or survival sex so that people who wish to leave can have other realistic options and people who wish to stay can have safer, better working environment. So all sex radicals and radical feminists–stop arguing and do something already.

3. Initially, I thought that this ordinance is about inhibited sex moralists versus us freakish folks. In fact, that’s how all the media reported it. But it was not. The reality is that this is not about morality, but is about business owners versus workers. I realized this as I was talking with the City officials.

In fact, it is not true that the City did not consider the legitimate needs of the industry while drafting this ordinance: they talked with people who run the businesses although not the people who work for them, which makes me think that the interests of the owners and managers–but not those of workers–are reflected in the ordinance.

The ordinance would have made it much more difficult for women to work independently without a pimp–which is exactly what the owners and managers want, because it would wipe out the competition for their businesses. The ordinance was never intended to hurt these businesses; the City was trying to enact a system in which workers are under the control of pimps and pimps are under the control of the Police Bureau.

4. Escorts and models still do not have the protection they deserve within the industry. Now that the ordinance is struck down, City of Portland should join Multnomah County in working with us to develop a real regulation that would protect safety and rights of workers. If they don’t–well, everyone who has ever consumed adult entertainment (which is pretty large number of people) should refuse to vote for the current City Council members when they come up for re-election!

Three new updates to “Interchange” on prostitution, intersex, and trans issues

Date: May 26, 2011

I don’t usually report site updates on this blog, but I’m making an exception because 1) there are three new documents, and 2) people who are reading this blog these days might be interested.

The additions are in the “Interchange” section, which archives my contributions to mailing lists and message boards. It should have been a blog, but I started it long before “blog” was a common word or concept (remember “weblog”?), and content management systems were primitive. Anyway:

Enjoy!

War on Terror & War on Trafficking – A New Zine Released!

Date: May 22, 2011

Just in time for my workshop at San Francisco Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival next Friday, I announce the publication of my new zine/booklet, War on Terror & War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement.

It is a product of my extensive research into the anti-trafficking movement over the last couple of years, in which I expose many premises of the U.S. domestic anti-sex trafficking movement to be false, and challenge how the movement itself has strayed away from feminist principles, and is increasingly aligning itself with the fundamentalist Christian right and contributing to the militarization of our society.

The zine is available for previewing as a PDF file and for purchase at my zine store.

Table of contents looks like this (some items are linked to a previous blog post on a related topic):

Introduction:
Why feminists must confront the anti-trafficking movement

Chapter 1 The Three Most Common Myths
1.0: Why “facts” presented by the anti-trafficking movement are wrong
1.1: Myth #1: Average age of entry into prostitution is thirteen
1.2: Myth #2: 300,000 children are at risk of being sexually exploited
1.3: Myth #3: 1/3 of 1.6 million annual runaways are sold within 48 hours

Chapter 2 Other Myths and Misinformations
2.0 “Pornland” and other problems with Operation Cross Country
2.1: World Cup, Super Bowl, and the Olympics: an international panic
2.2: The censorship of Craigslist: unintended consequences

Chapter 3 Examining Economic Arguments
3.0: “End Demand” approach harms women working in the sex trade
3.1: Does “economic coercion” equal human trafficking?

Chapter 4 War on Terror and War on Trafficking
4.0: Fiction, Lies, and the militarization of anti-trafficking movement

Conclusion:
How anti-trafficking movement distorts reality and harms women

Here is the full text of the introduction:

Human trafficking is “modern-day slavery,” and many of its victims are women and children. If so, why should a feminist have to “confront” the movement against human trafficking? Let me be clear that human trafficking is a serious problem in the United States, and we need to do something about it.

I first became aware of the issue in the early 2000s at a conference about domestic violence. What I learned at the time was that while Violence Against Women Act (1994) and Trafficking Victims Protection Act (2000) had been enacted, domestically trafficked victims–many of whom are working in the sex industry–could not access services and protections under these laws. I joined the effort to raise awareness about the issue and to expand relief provided through these legislations.

“Human trafficking” was a new term then. While there have been earlier uses in some publication (the earliest mainstream use being a Christian Science Monitor article in 1996), it did not attain the meaning it has now until around 2000, when TVPA passed; when the term was used prior, it frequently meant the same thing as smuggling, which is often exploitative and can lead to trafficking, but is generally consensual).

A search on news article database shows that there were 3 total references to phrases “human trafficking” and “trafficking in humans” before 2000. It was mentioned 9 times in 2000, 41 times in 2001, and entered three digits for the first time in 2005. In 2010, as many as 501 articles found on the database referred to either phrases.

EBSCO search result

I mention the origin of the term “human trafficking” because, as it became obvious after many years, the creation and proliferation of the new terminology was a deliberate rhetorical shift on the part of the U.S. government and its capitalist and imperialist interest to redefine forced migration and labor (sexual or otherwise) from a social and economic issue arising from poverty, economic disparities, globalism, and unreasonable restrictions on migration to an international criminal enterprise comparable to smuggling of drugs and weapons.

And as the U.S. fell deeper into the nightmarish “War on Terror” in the aftermath of 9/11, along with its continued failure in “War on Drugs,” the new “War on Trafficking” gained intensity while copying the simplistic “just say no” attitude of the War on Drugs and “either you are with us, or with the terrorist” mentality of the War on Terror. The anti-trafficking movement today does not resemble what I had supported in the early 2000s anymore.

The battle we as sex workers, feminists and human rights activists are facing is not a simple rehash of the “feminist sex wars” of the 1980s between radical feminists and sex radicals. With its increasingly sensationalistic focus on domestic minor sex trafficking, the anti-trafficking movement we see today in the U.S. is primarily a Christian fundamentalist movement with police, prison, immigration enforcement, counter-terrorism, and other “law and order” interests piggybacking on it. Radical feminists, with whom I have many disagreements over such issues as prostitution, transgender issues, and BDSM, are just as frustrated as we are that the current anti-trafficking movement measures the success of its own activities by the number of criminal convictions rather than the long-term health and well-being of women and children.

But many people do not realize this, either because they do not know enough about the forces behind the anti-trafficking movement or the dubious nature of many of its basic claims–which distorts our conversations about this important topic and misleads public policy. Others may not agree with everything that is happening in the name of ending human trafficking, but do not see any alternatives.

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

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

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

I hope that this booklet contributes to building a more comprehensive and reality-based movement that challenges many facets of social and economic injustices. I hope that readers find the booklet informative, challenging, or affirming of their deep suspicion they have about the anti-trafficking movement. Thanks for reading, and I welcome reader feedbacks at emi@eminism.org.

War on Terror & War on Trafficking: A Sex Worker Activist Confronts the Anti-Trafficking Movement is available for preview as a PDF file and for purchase at my zine store.

Send Emi to San Fran Sex Worker Festival!

Date: May 16, 2011

Hello friends,

I am attending the Sex Worker Film & Arts Festival in San Francisco later this month to present my workshop on how sex workers and allies can fight back the conflation of sex work and human trafficking that is propagated by the anti-trafficking movement. Such conflation doesn’t just hurt sex workers; it distorts the society’s understanding of what sex trafficking actually looks like and misleads our society’s response to serious human rights abuses.

As some of you know, I’ve been doing a lot of research about the anti-trafficking movement, attending dozens of anti-trafficking events and conferences in addition to reading lots of materials, and I have been presenting my findings at universities and community groups in the last couple of months. There is also an upcoming presentation about the topic at University of Oregon next week (19th) before going to the Sex Worker Festival (May 27th).

In addition, I’ve been posting lots of materials related to this topic on my blog, and I am putting together a zine.

Unfortunately, airfare has gone up so much recently and my trip to San Francisco would cost much more than I had anticipated. I’ve already fronted the money to purchase the ticket because I was afraid that it would go up even further, but I need your financial support. Please help me with the cost to attend the Sex Worker Festival by making a donation.

You could:

– Paypal me the money at emi AT eminism DOT org. This is the easiest if you already have an account.

– Buy me an Amazon.com gift certificate. You can pick the amount and enter emi AT eminism DOT org as the recipient. This way, we can avoid paying transaction fees to Paypal and I can use it for something I need.

– Go to my online store and order my buttons and zines. This won’t be donation strictly speaking, but part of the payment becomes my income. (Please note that I’ll be busy preparing for the festival and making the aforementioned zine, so

– If you are affiliated with a university student group or department, try to get me invited to give this presentation! I know anti-trafficking groups are very active on many campuses, and they would benefit from a different perspective… plus, the honoraria will help fund my activism and trips to attend activist stuff.

– Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invite me if you work with a community group that doesn’t have funding. I would be happy to give presentations to Portland-area (or wherever, as long as the expenses are paid for) community groups–just email me at the address I mentioned above.

There are BENEFITS to becoming a contributor:

– For a contribution of $10 or more, you will receive a copy of the brand-new yet-to-be-titled zine that examines the anti-trafficking movement, due to be published later this month. (Please send me your mailing address.)

– In addition, I will mail you a sticker that says “Real Feminists and Human Rights Activists Don’t Buy Ashton,” which is a parody of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign.

– I will love you! Yes my love is for sale, which isn’t technically prostitution so it’s legal to say that, I think.

That’s it! Thanks for your support!

Emi

Peer-run support service for sex workers loses funding while more and more anti-trafficking monies pour into incompetent “experts”

Date: May 5, 2011

Yesterday, I posted scanned images of the handout made by a service provider which works with trafficked youth (among others). I pointed out that the set of words and phrases juxtaposed to each other in the handout showed a complete lack of cultural awareness and competency on the part of the people who designed it.

I thought I should also post an example of good handouts. Images below come from the handouts for SAVVY, a now-defunct project that provided peer support and resources for women working in the sex industry (I edited the image to disguise date/time and address, because the group is defunct and I don’t want to mislead people that it’s still there):

*

Text says:

Ladies,

Are you tired… Of police harassment, haters, and the dangers of the sex trade?

Do you need… Free, discreet, non-judgmental assistance and support?

We offer… Confidential support from current and former sex workers; Cute clothes box; Healthcare info and Legal referrals; Condoms and safer sex supplies; Work-related safety tips; Needle exchange; Free. Just drop-in.

SAVVY

The other side of the sheet showed the comic below:

*

There are many differences between the SAVVY material and the handout I posted yesterday, but the main difference is: SAVVY was a peer-run program run by former and current sex workers themselves. As such they know how to reach out to their peers.

SAVVY existed until several years ago, but its funding was cut. In the meantime, more and more public and private monies are pouring into the anti-trafficking groups, many of which are not just incompetent, but clearly out of touch with reality. That is the sad state of the movement right now.

For the record, I experience lingerie every day: Incompetence at an agency receiving City funding to support youth who have been in the sex trade

Date: May 4, 2011

Last week, I attended Take Back the Night rally and march (though I didn’t actually march due to my disability) held at Portland State University. Many organizations were tabling at the rally, handing out candies, pens, and (most importantly) information and resources.

One of the handout materials I found looked like this.

You Need Not Be Alone

Here’s how it looked on the other side when I turned it over.

You Are... / You May Experience…

Four sides of this square were folded in like origami, which can be unfolded to reveal what’s inside. So I unfolded the side with “You Are…” and this is what was below it.

priceless STRONG worthy ABLE Intelligent Survivor STREET SMART RESOURCEFUL Resilient

The message is that “you” (the person who is unfolding it) are priceless, strong, worthy, able, intelligent, survivor, street smart, resourceful, and resilient. Some word choices are a little bit strange, but okay, they are generally positive messages.

Then I unfolded the other side that says “you may experience…”:

EXPLOITATION dancing ESCORT Boyfriend Modeling Sexual Violence LINGERIE THE TRACK Trading choice STRIPPING

WHAT? It appears that the handout is an outreach material for someone who is working in the sex industry, but what does “you may experience boyfriend” or “you may experience lingerie” mean? It makes no sense… and further, if they think that this list of words and phrases appeals to people who are working in the sex industry, for whatever reasons, they are clearly out of touch with the population they are trying to reach out to.

Anyone who actually does outreach or know a little bit about sex worker organizing recognize how ridiculous this handout is. They are putting these words and phrases together without having any awareness as to what specific culturally appropriate approaches they need to take for people working as escorts, or dancers, or lingerie models, or street prostitutes working the track. As a result, the handout appeals to none of the communities that it is intended to.

What is sad about this is that this handout is designed and distributed by an organization that serves victims of sexual assault and abuse, and it is one of the core members of the Portland metro-area CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children) protocol. This organization has also received a new funding from the City of Portland last year to double the number of victim advocates for youth who have been in the sex trade.

How can an organization that has a big program assisting youth who have worked in the sex industry be so clueless about how to outreach to them? I’m afraid that the answer is that the City is basing its funding priorities on ideology (i.e. opposition to prostitution and sex industry) rather than the actual needs of the population being served and the service provider’s competence to meet them.

Memo: Data from FBI’s Innocence Lost Initiative and Operation Cross Country

Date: April 24, 2011

So I was reading up on FBI’s Innocence Lost Initiative and “Operation Cross Country”–somewhat periodic nationwide sting operation targeting prostitution (well the goal is to target commercial sexual exploitation of minors, but a lot of adult prostitutes get caught up in it) in preparation for (you may have guessed it) my upcoming sine about the fraud that is the U.S. anti-trafficking movement. FBI does not publicly release all its data, so it’s hard to understand the full impact of these sting operations.

Below, you will see information about each of these nationwide stings that I can gather form FBI’s own celebratory press releases. I put the data into a table for my own convenience, and I thought I’d share with my readers just in case someone is interested. Data correspond to results of Operation Cross Country I thru V, plus a precursor to Operation Cross Country (labeled “0”).

Spotty Data from FBI’s Operation Cross Country sweeps
Source: FBI press releases

  Date City Rescues Arrests Rescues TD Convictions TD
0 12/16/2005 14 30 19   67
1 6/25/2008 16 21 389 433 308
2 10/27/2008 29 49 642 (73 pimps, 518 pros) 577 365
3 2/23/2009 29 48 571 670  
4 10/26/2009 36 52 700 (60 pimps) 900 510
5 11/8/2010 40 69 885 (99 pimps) 1200 625

Date = Date the operation was announced in a press release. Typically, the stings take place during the 72 hours before the announcement.
City = Number of cities in which stings took place.
Rescues = Number of minors FBI claims to have “rescued.”
Arrests = Number of arrests made. This may include adult prostitutes, clients, as well as pimps (FBI doesn’t fully disclose the breakdown).
Rescues TD = Number of minors FBI claims to have “rescued” to date since Innocence Lost Initiative began.
Convictions TD = Number of convictions FBI claims have resulted from Innocence Lost Initiative.

Some comments:

1) If OCC II is any indication, the nationwide sweep affects adult prostitutes in far greater numbers compared to youth on the street, johns/clients, or pimps (642 total minus 73 pimps and 518 pros leaves 51 arrests unaccounted, which I assume are johns).

2) On average, OCC results in the “rescue” of one or two minors in each city where stings are conducted. Sure, that may be “one too many,” but it doesn’t strike me as an evidence for a shockingly large epidemic. Anti-trafficking groups would have us believe that there are hundreds of thousands of teenagers being exploited in the sex trade, but these stings either casts serious doubt in their claim, or FBI and local law enforcement officials are totally incompetent.

3) I’m having difficulty believing that 73 pimps were arrested for trafficking 49 minors, or 60 pimps for 52 minors, or 99 pimps for 69 minors. Are they counting pimps who control adult prostitutes? Or are they labeling friends and family members of trafficking victims as “pimps” automatically–as the legal definition of pimping includes anyone who benefit from the earning of prostitution, even if they are not the traffickers? More disclosure would help me understand this data.

4) In fact, more data overall would be helpful, for example: breakdown of arrests (youth/adult, worker/client/pimp), and what happened to each group of people after their arrest. How many “pimps” are actually minors also? How many people are arrested on drug and other charges during the sweep–which often police officers do to coerce women to testify? How many of the convictions are for pimping and trafficking, compared to johns? (FBI boasts “these convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including multiple 25-year-to-life sentences”–the choice of the word “multiple” leads me to think that they probably have perhaps two or three such victories…)

Does anyone know if it’s possible to obtain more detailed data, including all the above plus the breakdown of different cities? Is there any researcher (i.e. someone who has more professional credibility than I do) interested in submitting a FBI records request (and share the result with me)? Now’s the time to take advantage of your class and social status privilege!

Another myth debunked: why “a third of runaway youth are trafficked within first 48 hours” is NOT true

Date: April 24, 2011

Last July, I debunked the false claim that “the average age of entry into prostitution” is somewhere around 13, which has been in circulation among anti-trafficking groups, politicians, and media.

But that is not the only falsehood that is passed off as a fact about domestic minor sex trafficking. Another oft-repeated claim is found in the 2010 Congressional testimony by Ernie Allen, president and CEO of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, otherwise a legitimate and reputable organization:

Some runaway groups have estimated that as many as 1/3 of teen runaways/thrownaways will become involved in prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.

This “statistics” is often presented without source, or attributed to the National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-2), which has been compiled by Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Depart of Justice.

For example, “U.S. Trafficking Facts,” a document created by anti-trafficking group Love146 states:

Astonishingly, with in the first 48 hours of being on the street, 1 in 3 children are lured into prostitution (National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children/NISMART-2)

However, NISMART-2 does not include any such information. And yet, variations of this factoid are repeated by many other anti-trafficking groups as well.

An estimated 1.6 million children run away from home each year in the US. The average time it takes before a runaway is approached by a trafficker or solicitor is 48 hours (National Runaway Switchboard)
GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services)

It is estimated that it takes as little as 48 hours for a child to be lured into exploitation by individuals promising love, money and lavish lifestyles
Rebecca Project for Human Rights

Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one-third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography (The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
Stop Child Trafficking Now

As many as 2.8 million children live on the streets, a third of whom are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home
Shared Hope International

There are more, but I’ll stop here.

There are some variations: some attribute the data to NISMART-2, while others attribute it to Center for Missing and Exploited Children or National Runaway Switchboard–these two organizations don’t have any report showing this data either. Also, some groups claim that one third of runaway youth are trafficked within 48 hours, while others say it takes an average of 48 hours for someone to be trafficked, or simply that it may only take 48 hours for some to be trafficked.

Where does the factoid come from? The only document that show some actual numbers is on the website of Gracehaven House, a faith-based organization in Northwest Ohio providing “shelter, security, and rehabilitation” to female victims of commercial sexual exploitation under the age 18. On its “fact sheet” about CSEC, Gracehaven House cites another Ohio group, Huck House. The document states:

Huck House FY 2007
– Served 1,409 youth in 2007
– Approximately 600 girls
– 1/3 will be approached within 48 hours by a pimp
– 200 girls &lt18 approached by a pimp
– 60-90 involved in prostitution

Huck House, or Huckleberry House is an organization in Columbus, Ohio that provides safe place for runaway youth. The one-third figure seem to come from the survey of its client/participant base for FY 2007, which included about 800 boys and 600 girls. Assuming that this report is accurate, here are some things to consider:

1) The one-third figure is often presented as a national data (attributed to NISMART-2, Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or National Runaway Switchboard) but it is based on a survey of participants at a Columbus, Ohio social service agency.

2) It is often claimed that one third of runaway youth are recruited into prostitution within first 48 hours, but the data do not support this. Huck House figure states that one third of girls who came to Huck House have been approached, but if all “runaway youth” are included the figure is close to 14%, not 33%.

3) That one third of girls who showed up at Huck House have been approached by a pimp does not mean that one third of runaway girls are. Here’s why:

If we assume, reasonably, that short-term or casual runaway youth (which comprise majority of runaways) are far less likely to be approached by a pimp or engage in prostitution than those who run away longer period of time or farther distances, many of the girls who are not approached by a pimp and don’t even come close to it go home (or find other arrangements) without showing up at Huck House’s door.

To illustrate this point, let’s imagine that 100 girls ran away from home in a hypothetical city or region. Imagine that 70 of them are casual runaways (i.e. low risk of being exploited), and 30 are high-risk runaways. Pimps generally approach girls in the high-risk group, so let’s say 10 out of the 30 are approached. Once the 70 casual runaways return home or find other arrangements, it leaves 30 longer-term, high-risk runaway youth who show up at Huck House.

Huck House surveys those 30 who showed up, and report that a third of its client base have been approached by a pimp. But you cannot conclude, based on this figure, that a third of all runaway youth (or just girls) are approached: we started with 100 girls, 10 of whom are approached, so the actual rate is 10%.

In short: Huck House, or other groups like it, does not serve a representative sample of runaway youth; they serve those who are part of a higher risk group. Therefore, you cannot take figures from its survey and generalize it to the entire runaway youth population.

4) Even though a third of the girls who showed up at Huck House report to have been approached by a pimp within 48 hours, only 10-15% of the girls (60-90 out of 600) at Huck House are involved in prostitution (and this includes any girl who became involved at any point, not just within the first 48 hours), according to Huck House.

In other words, it is false to claim that one third of the girls at Huck House are “forced into prostitution” or “trafficked,” as some anti-trafficking groups claim; they are simply “approached”–and at least a majority of girls are smart and empowered enough to turn them down.

Further, if we include all youth into the analysis (and there is no reason not to, because anti-trafficking groups claim that one third of all runaway youth are recruited, not just girls), it is 60-90 youth at Huck House among 1400 total. That is 4-6% of the group surveyed, far lower than the anti-trafficking groups’ claim.

None of us wants to see any number of (non-casual) runaway youth, whether 33% or 4%, having to engage in prostitution to survive on the street. But there is a huge gap between the claim that “one third of runaway youth are trafficked within the first 48 hours on the street” and the actual figure of 4-6% over the course of homelessness.

Bad factoids misinform the public about this very important issue and mislead our discussions over what to do about it. Those who traffic fake statistics and launder its true source must stop doing so.

Case in point: just a couple of months ago on this blog, I criticized GEMS for using this fake factoid on its main site. Later, in mid-March, I took a screen capture of the site, showing the line about “48 hours” myth, in preparation for my lecture at Grand Valley State University.

But when I visited the site again today, I found that GEMS had removed a line about the “one third” figure from its main site. The quote you saw earlier on this post is actually from GEMS’ ning group, because the main site no longer carries this fake factoid.

I don’t know if my criticism had anything to do with this, but good job, GEMS! Please also start verifying other equally questionable factoids on your site too! And please be brave and be more transparent about why you have removed that information, rather than just quietly removing it from the main site, because it will help other anti-trafficking groups recognize the errors they have made as well.

Will the Real Human Trafficking Hub Please Stand Up?

Date: April 22, 2011

“Houston is hub of human trafficking”
The Houston Chronicle, 11/26/2008

“Oklahoma’s position […] makes it a hub for traffickers”
The Oklahoman, 04/15/2011

“Portland a center for human trafficking”
The Oregonian, 01/09/2011

“Las Vegas: ‘Hub’ of Human Trafficking”
Las Vegas Tribune, 04/10/2011

“California […] is a hub for both international and domestic traffickers”
Oakland Tribune, 01/09/2011

“Toledo’s reputation as a hub for enslavement of people for the sex trade”
The Blade (OH), 01/04/2009

“Chicago is a major ‘hub’ for human trafficking”
The Chicago Sun-Times, 04/23/2006

“Atlanta is the east coast hub for human trafficking”
WALB News (GA), 03/30/2011

“North Carolina’s location makes it an increasingly attractive regional hub for human trafficking”
Gaston Gazette (NC), 04/08/2011

“The city [San Francisco] is a major hub on the global trafficking network”
San Francisco Chronicle, 03/09/2007

A response to the “economic coercion” argument that equates all prostitution with trafficking and then with slavery

Date: April 21, 2011

An “economic coercion” argument often invoked by anti-trafficking/prostitution activists holds that, even though many prostitutes and other sex workers appear to be making a free choice to engage in their work without “force, fraud or coercion,” they are nonetheless victimized by the sex industry and should not be viewed as freely choosing to do what they do because they have little or no other means for self-sufficiency and are therefore “economically coerced.”

I do not disagree that freedom to choose one’s occupation is severely restricted for many sex workers as well as for others who occupy low-end of the American workforce. Under capitalism, we all have to make choices under economic constraints (unless one is super-rich), although some of us have more and better options to choose from than others do. The “choice” to engage in sex work is often (but not always) made by people who do not have very good pool of options to begin with.

But it is not useful to talk about “choice” and “free will” in abstract or absolute terms, or to equate one’s difficult decision to choose the “least bad” option available to her in a pool of bad options with “coercion” in a more traditional sense.

Instead, I suggest that we start from this simple question: “If a better opportunity or option comes up, is she free to take it?” Below is a chart demonstrating why this is a more useful approach.

If a better opportunity or option comes up, is she free to take it?

  “Yes” “No”
Why is this person in prostitution? because it is the best option among what is available to her because she is not allowed to choose something else
What will benefit the individual? more and better options within and outside of the sex industry freedom so that she can make decisions for herself
How will “rescue” action impact her? possible criminal record; forced to choose among inferior options freedom, provided that appropriate support and services are provided
What should society do for this person? no persecution; make more resources and options available intervention to restore her freedom; resources to rebuild her life

I made a PDF version of the above chart available for download so that you can share it with others.

What this chart demonstrates is that we must reject the equation of so-called “economic coercion” with “force, fraud or coercion” that involve another actor (i.e. the trafficker) because there are very significant differences between the two, and conflating them leads to wrong policies and interventions that harm sex workers.

That of course does not mean that we should not address the fact that many people “choose” sex work under dire economic constraints. It just means that we need to understand the problem correctly and intervene in ways that are actually helpful rather than harmful. We must work toward reducing economic desperation among women, homeless youth, immigrants, queer people, and others by enhancing programs that ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met, and creating better and wider range of educational and employment opportunities for all.

Yes, “economic coercion” exists. But the problem is not selling and buying sex; it is the lack of options. Let’s actually address the problem, rather than depriving the “least bad options” from the already disadvantaged population.

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Next