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What Businesses Should Know About Service Animals: A Guide

Date: January 5, 2013

[Download PDF]

Many people are confused about what service animals are, or what rights people using service animals have under Americans with Disabilities Act. This document is intended to help businesses understand what obligations they have to customers and members of the public who have service animals under law.

1. Service animals are not pets.

Service animals are different from pets because they are trained to perform tasks to assist persons with disabilities. Service animals must be allowed to accompany their owners wherever people without service animals may enter, even if the premises do not generally allow pets.

2. There are psychiatric service animals, too.

In addition to guide dogs, seeing eye dogs, and other more commonly recognized ones, some service animals are trained to assist people with psychiatric disabilities. The DOJ guideline lists dogs that are trained to calm people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack as an example of service animals that must be accommodated.

3. Service animals do not need to be trained by professionals.

Some service animals are trained by professionals to perform highly specialized tasks and are certified by established institutions. But service animals can also be trained by their owner, and do not need to receive any certification or license to be recognized as service animals.

4. Businesses cannot require any documentation.

Under ADA, businesses are not allowed to require any documentation for service animals such as a certificate or a physician’s letter. They are not allowed to demand people with service animals to “prove” that they are service animals, or to demonstrate their ability to perform tasks.

5. Tags/harnesses marking the animal as “service animal” are optional.

Some people with service animals put a tag or harness that marks their animals as service animals in order to inform other people, but they are not required. It is entirely optional.

6. There are only two questions businesses can ask.

When it is not clear that an animal is a service animal, businesses may ask: 1. “Is this a service animal?” and 2. “What work does the animal do?” Businesses are not allowed to ask what disability the person has, or to demand a proof.

7. Businesses can expect service animal to be under the control of the owner.

People with disabilities are expected to keep their service animals under control (not barking or making a scene) and on a leash (unless it would prevent the animal from performing the task). Also, service animals must be potty-trained. Businesses can ask a person using a service animal to leave the premise if he or she cannot keep the animal under control.

8. Businesses cannot discriminate.

Businesses cannot charge extra fees for people with service animals, even if they charge extra for people with non-service pets. They cannot isolate or segregate people with service animals from other customers, or treat them less favorably.

9. Fear or allergy are not legitimate reason to exclude.

Some people are afraid of dogs or are allergic to dogs, but these are not legitimate grounds to exclude people with service animals. When appropriate, businesses may need to accommodate both customers with service animals and those with allergic reactions, for example by seating them away from each other.

10. People with service animals cannot be singled out.

When service animals cause damages, it must be treated the same way damages caused by people are treated. For example, a hotel may charge for an extra cleaning fee for a mess made by a service animal if another customer who made a similar mess is also held responsible.

This document is based on “ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals” issued by U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.

(Also posted in System Failure Alert!)

Going Places with Your Service Animal: A Guide

Date: January 4, 2013

[Download PDF]

Many people are confused about what service animals are, or what rights people with disabilities have about bringing their service animals to places like buses, restaurants, schools, and other places. Some businesses violate the law when they refuse service to people with service animals out of ignorance, but we can’t demand our rights effectively if we don’t know them better than they do. This guide is designed for people who are interested in going to places with their service animal.

What Are Service Animals?

Service animals must be dogs (with some exceptions) that have been trained to perform a task to assist a person with a disability. They are different from pets, “companion animals,” or “emotional support animals” because they are specifically trained to do something for a person with disability.

Examples of “tasks” given by the Department of Justice include:

  • guiding someone who is blind
  • alerting someone who is deaf
  • pulling a wheelchair for someone
  • protecting someone who is having a seizure
  • calming someone during an anxiety attack (licking, nuzzling, etc.)

Service animals must be trained to do one of these things (or some other task), but they do not need to be trained by professionals. Some organizations train and certify dogs as “service animals,” but you or your friends and family members can train your own dog as well. There is no requirement for certification or registration for service animals.

What Are My Rights and Responsibilities?

Businesses, government buildings, clinics, and non-profit organizations that other people can enter generally must allow service animals. There are some exceptions, but they are very specific (such as an operating room at a hospital).

Service animals must wear a harness, leash, etc., unless these devices prevent them from working. They must be under control (not barking or making a scene) and must be potty-trained (they are able to hold off until they are in an appropriate place to relieve themselves).

What Are Businesses’ Rights and Responsibilities?

There are only two questions businesses are allowed to ask about someone’s service animal: 1. “Is this a service animal?” and 2. “What work does the animal do?” They cannot ask what disability you have, require documentation of any kind, or make you “prove” that the animal can perform tasks.

Businesses cannot charge extra fees for people with service animals, even if they charge extra for people with non-service pets (hotels, airplanes, etc.). They must allow service animals even if they do not allow other animals (restaurants, grocery stores). They cannot treat people with service animal any worse than they treat other customers.

Businesses can ask people with service animals to leave if the dog is out of control, or the animal is not potty-trained, but not just because someone else is afraid of or allergic to dogs.

Businesses can make people with service animal pay for damages their animals cause only if they would also ask customers without service animals to pay for damages they cause.

What Else Should I Know About Service Animals?

Some people make their service animals wear “service animal” tags, harnesses, or jackets. They are not required, but they might stop other people from questioning if your dog really is a service animal. You can buy them at a pet supply store or online.

This document addresses your rights in most places of “public accommodation.” There are different definitions of “service animal” or “assistance animal” for having service animals in housing (including shelters), or for air travel, which might give you more rights. Talk to your friendly disability justice advocate to find out more!

This document is based on “ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Animals” issued by U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. Download the original document, print out a copy and hand it to ignorant businesses to educate them!

(Also posted in System Failure Alert!)

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?

Announcing SYSTEM FAILURE ALERT!

Date: December 18, 2012

System Failure Alert! Flier

System Failure Alert! is a new grassroots project in Portland, Oregon that empowers street youth and other people by helping each of us share our stories and experiences about “system failures”–problems we had with social service, medical, law enforcement, and other systems that are supposed to help us–and about how we cope with these problems and take care of ourselves. We let people know about these stories through SFA! zines, internet, and public events, and try to make “systems” treat youth and adults better.

We are just starting out! Let us know if you want to get involved, and/or have stories to tell us. We are looking for youth, adults, activists, advocates, students, rogue social workers and medical providers (ya know, the good ones), and others to join! More information & SFA! zine issue #0 are forthcoming!

voicemail: (503) 567-8537
email:systemfailurealert@gmail.com
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SystemFailureAlert
tumblr: http://systemfailurealert.tumblr.com/

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.)

Limits of Harm Reduction: “Managing” Sexual Assault is Not Enough

Date: November 26, 2012

Several days ago, I posted slides from my presentation, “Reclaiming ‘Victim’ and Embracing Unhealthy Coping,” which took place during the Harm Reduction Conference.

Much to my surprise, the presentation was received ridiculously well, like, best responses ever. So many people came up to me to tell me how much they appreciated the presentation throughout the rest of the conference, including many who did not even attend the panel but heard about it from someone who did. One person who attended told me that when she saw her friend immediately afterwards and began telling her about what she had just heard, the friend commented, “you look like you are having ecstasy.” I didn’t realize that it was that good, but it was great to have my work appreciated so much.

I think all the positive reactions (which is still good, despite the fact my presentation was about “negative survivorship”) came about because many of the people in the room were folks who work in harm reduction field (as it mostly relates to working with people who use substances), and also are survivors of violence and abuse or know someone who is. They liked my presentation because I made harm reduction principles (which they are so familiar with) applicable to their own personal coping and survival or that of someone close to them.

But during the questions and answers period, some curious discussion came up: a woman asked how harm reduction principles apply to her work with sex offenders, rather than victims and survivors of abuse. I hesitated, because it’s emotionally difficult to engage with the behaviors of rapists, child molesters, and abusers, even in the abstract. But when I heard someone else responding to her, suggesting that harm reduction could be practiced just the same way for offenders as for drug users or abuse victims in order to reduce the harm they inflict, I had to say something: I had to point out the limitations of harm reduction principle, as wonderful and effective it may be in some areas.

A couple of years ago, I went to a workshop about harm reduction philosophy hosted by a local activist collective. The presenter spoke about one of the best examples of harm reduction-based policies, which according to her was the distribution of condoms to U.S. soldiers stationed overseas: condom distribution prevents sexually transmitted diseases, which is good for both U.S. servicemembers (assumed to be heterosexual men) and locals (assumed to be women), as well as other people.

I immediately thought about stories of rape and other forms of violence committed by members of U.S. armed services against native inhabitants of Okinawa, as in (I’m sure) many other places around the world. Under the diplomatic treaties, it is difficult for local police to charge and prosecute U.S. servicemembers with the crime once they return to the base, from which they sent back to the mainland U.S. quickly. That is not to say that consensual sexual acts don’t happen between U.S. servicemembers and locals–but sexual assault is too frequent and too often concealed by both governments for me to celebrate the distribution of condoms (which, I’m not sure if they do in Okinawa specifically) as “harm reduction” measures.

Condoms do certainly reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, but they do not reduce the number of rapes committed by members of the U.S. armed services, or the size of the Okinawan land forcibly occupied by the U.S. military (about 10% of all of Okinawa, and 18% of the main isle of Okinawa), which is itself a form of violence, a joint product of dual imperialisms of the U.S. and Japan over Okinawa. It is perhaps true that a rape with a condom is less harmful than one without, but making condoms available does not address the worst harm that is being perpetrated; worse, it may perpetuate even more harm by reducing the risk of the behavior to the rapist.

Some people do in fact advocate for “harm reduction” approach to sexual assault. In an article titled “Relapse Prevention or Harm Reduction? (published in July 1996 issue of the journal Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment), forensic psychologist D. Richard Laws wrote:

In this view sexual deviation would be seen as a chronic, well-established disposition to commit sexual crimes, a condition that could not be cured but could be managed, albeit imperfectly. […] A harm reduction perspective with sex offenders acknowledges that lapses and relapses are probably inevitable and that the job of treatment, at the very least, is to reduce the frequency and intensity of these instances, if they cannot be eliminated.

At bottom, our job in managing sex offenders and reducing harm is, in reality, a sort of social policing. What we are really doing is attempting to contain and limit socially undesirable behaviors. This is not unlike the efforts of law enforcement officials to contain gambling, prostitution, or drug dealing.

In the follow-up article, published in July 1999 issue of the same journal, Laws argued:

However, it will eventually prove necessary to normalize some aspects of sexual deviation including some features of sexual offending. We need to normalize sexual offending in the same way that we have normalized other deviant behaviors such as drug dealing, prostitution, or gambling.

I would agree that we cannot, at least for the foreseeable future, eliminate sexual violence altogether. But I am deeply disturbed by suggestion that sexual violence is “inevitable” and can only be “managed,” as well as by the parallel Laws seems to be drawing between non-violent behaviors such as substance use and gambling and sexual violence where there are clear, direct victims who are harmed by the behavior.

An attitude like this, or like that of the workshop participant who stated that harm reduction approach is equally applicable to working with sex offenders as well as their victims, is symptomatic of how harm reduction has turned into a merely more sophisticated form of paternalistic intervention to modify individual behaviors.

But harm reduction is supposed to be more than just reducing or “managing” harms. It is supposed to be a fundamental reframing of priorities for social interventions that places individual and community well-being, as defined by the individuals and the communities that are affected most. I fully endorse a harm reduction approach to survivor advocacy, which includes embracing of negative survivorship, but it would be a misuse of harm reduction principles to simply lower expectations for sex offenders, child molesters, and abusers when they are not the party most directly affected by the harms their behaviors inflict.

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.

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