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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

My Tikkun article about Uganda and the U.S.-based LGBT activism, plus my Uganda flier

Date: May 10, 2011

Uganda’s pending passage of the anti-homosexuality law is in the news these days, so I thought I’d post a link to the article I wrote for Tikkun magazine about how U.S. LGBT activists and allies are engaging in the whole controversy and what they could be doing instead.

The Uganda Controversy: Solidarity vs. Imperialism in LGBT Organizing
by Emi Koyama
Tikkun magazine, July/August 2010

Also, below is the text of the flier I handed out at the Beaverton, Oregon rally against the anti-homosexuality bill which I talk about in the article above.

North-South Disparities Kill More Gay Ugandans Than Anti-Gay Legislation Ever Could.

Many of us rightfully feel angry and scared about the proposed legislation in Uganda that would prescribe punishments up to death for the “crime” of homosexuality. But when activists and politicians begin calling for economic sanction against the country of Uganda, we must consider its consequence on Ugandan people, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender Ugandans.

Uganda’s economy (like our own) is dependant on foreign trade, and an economic sanction could result in more gay Ugandan casualties than the proposed legislation could ever match: is it truly worth the cost? Who decides? Who put the U.S. in the position to impose its values on others by military or economic force?

And if there were such an outpouring of support for gay Ugandans, where were they when much of the country was (and still is) struggling in poverty, partly caused by the enormous international debt? Where were they when gay Ugandans needed medical treatment and educational opportunities? Or the right to migrate to the (relative) safety in the United States?

In short: are we truly concerned about the rights and lives of our brothers and sisters in Uganda, or are we simply playing our part of the imperialist U.S. foreign policy? If we are, consider the following:

  • Support elimination or deep reduction of unpayable international debt.
  • Support continuation of international aid and economic exchange.
  • Support the expansion of fair trade.
  • Confront American conservative groups that spread hate here and abroad.
  • Strengthen international human rights standards by holding the U.S. government accountable to them (death penalty, overreliance on prisons, etc.)
  • Promote respectful engagement and dialogues with countries whose policies we find objectionable.
  • Expand cultural exchanges (including Southridge High School’s sister school program).

This message is not endorsed by the organisers of today’s rally. We are a small group of activists, students and scholars and we speak only for ourselves. We welcome your responses and opinions at emi AT eminism DOT org

Support Engagement, Not Sanction.

Anti-trafficking group: let’s exploit women more!

Date: May 9, 2011

University of Oregon’s anti-trafficking student group Slavery Still Exists Oregon is promoting the upcoming talk by journalist Sheryl WuDunn, who co-authored Half the Sky: Turning Oppression in to Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Unfortunately for the group, the presentation is titled: “The Greatest Unexploited Resource in the World Today Isn’t Oil or Gold or Wind. It’s Women.” So Slavery Still Exists now wants women to be exploited more rather than less? ;-)

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.

Trimet treats paratransit riders, but not regular bus or train riders, as thieves.

Date: May 2, 2011

Dear Trimet,

I am a LIFT paratransit rider and I am writing to express my concern about Trimet’s recent change of policy or its decision to enforce the previously unenforced policy to require LIFT riders to print their names on the back of their monthly passes and LIFT drivers to verify that the name on the pass matches the name of the rider.

The LIFT driver informed me that the change was made due to a concern that some people are sharing their monthly pass among each other, depriving Trimet of fare. I was further told that I would be reported as not having paid my fare even if I am waving a pass in their face, thereby threatening my transportation in the future, unless I write my name on the back.

I find it annoying and disturbing that Trimet would treat paying riders as thieves and free-riders until proven otherwise, but that is not my main complaint.

My main complaint is that this policy discriminates againt people with certain kinds of disabilities because people traveling on regular route Trimet buses and light rail trains are not burdened with such request. Regular bus riders could share a bus pass among themselves and they will never get caught, or asked to prove that they have actually purchased the pass.

The policy singles out paratransit riders–by definition people with certain types of disabilities–and subjugates them to an increased level of scrutiny that people who do not have these types of disabilities, even though they are equally capable of abusing their monthly passes.

If pass-sharing is indeed a serious problem, Trimet must enforce this policy equally to all of its riders, rather than singling out people with certain types of disabilities. Otherwise, Trimet should terminate the policy and stop putting paratransit riders under greater scrutiny than it does to all other riders.

Please know that I have signed my May 2011 monthly pass as “Rosa Parks,” so it will not match my real name. I will also encourage other people I know who use LIFT to sign their passes as Rosa Parks as well.

A letter sent to a friend re community accountability

Date: April 29, 2011

Dear *****,

I understand that Olympia community has made efforts to hold this person accountable, and they have been unsuccessful. I understand that she may be dangerous and you want to protect members of your community. But I have doubts about banning her from social and activist spaces upon arrival in Eugene.

Eugene has an organised radical and activist spaces in which enough people take sexual assault seriously. I think it’s perfectly reasonable and sensible to warn people about this individual so that people in your community don’t get hurt. But if she is banned from social spaces where people take sexual assault seriously, she would only move on to spaces that do not take similar precautions, where people will not have been warned about her history and are likely to get hurt. And if she cannot enter the Eugene activist scene where people could be warned about her history at all, she would move on to the less organised, less informed cities and communities.

I feel that community accountability is an ongoing process, and even if she has failed to make improvements in Olympia, I don’t think that she cannot be rehabilitated. By banning her from social and activist spaces, we also fail at continuing the gruesome process of community accountability. I don’t fault Olympia community for giving up on her, because they have made efforts and couldn’t continue to let her hurt members of their community. But the Eugene community hasn’t made efforts yet.

Without a commitment to taking risks and making at least some efforts to engage with the offender, believing in her humanity and capacity for change, we are no better than the prison system. Besides, banning her from every social and activist spaces in the entire world is clearly not a viable strategy, as it is impossible and she will eventually find an unsuspecting community in which she can continue to hurt many more people.

We should definitely warn members of our communities about this individual and her violent history, but we need to also give her a chance to be part of the Eugene community–not necessarily because she deserves it, but because excluding her is not the solution. As I said I do not fault the Olympia community for having to exclude her after making serious efforts to hold her accountable, but I worry that excluding her upon arrival would only push her to other cities where nobody knows her history. Community accountability can fail but we cannot fail ourselves before we even try.

Best,

Emi

“Homosexuality, Gender Identity Disorder, and the Politics of Depathologization”–Alternatives 2006 Conference Keynote

Date: April 27, 2011

I was going through my computer, and found this slide from the keynote speech at Alternatives 2006 conference, an annual gathering of mental health client/consumer self-advocates and allies funded by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the federal government (with its baggage–read “Anatomy of an Epidemic” author Robert Whitaker’s experience of being invited, dis-invited, and then re-invited by the conference organizers due to his politics).

It was at this conference my bio simply stated that I was “an advocate” without specifically mentioning what sort of advocacy I do, because words like “intersex,” “transgender,” “queer,” “sex worker,” and others were unacceptable to SAMHSA (at least under Bush administration). Anyway, here’s the slide I used for my talk, which is pretty straightforward…

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!

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