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Thursday, October 29, 2015

OPEN LETTER ABOUT THE "NO SUCH THING" CAMPAIGN

Jody Williams
www.sexworkersanonymous.com
Email – sexworkrecovery@yahoo.com
(702) 468-4529

October 29, 2015

Los Angeles Board of Supervisors
Sheriff Jim McDonnell
McCain Institute
California Endowment

Re: “No Such Thing” Campaign

Hello:

An introduction if I may first about who I am to be writing you about this campaign. My name is Jody Williams. If you check the news clips at www.hightechmadam.com you'll see what the news called a “brothel”. In reality, that warehouse was the first safe house for adult sex trafficking victims. The reason it was called a brothel is simple – the world didn't believe sex trafficking was real in 1984. Linda Lovelace had tried to raise awareness about this with her coming forward in 1980. She was denounced loudly and across America as a “liar”.

I had stashed a woman there who was escaping her pimp because at that time no treatment center, domestic violence nor homeless shelter would accept a “prostitute”. Especially because of the fear of them being a carrier of the AIDS virus that was sweeping through the country at the time. The only other shelter in existence for someone like her was Children of the Night. However, they cut off at 18 years of age back in 1984. When the pimp realized he couldn't get through the bars or security we had at the place because we had been alerted by the CCTV surveillance cameras we had surrounding the warehouse – he called in an “anonymous tip” that it was a brothel. It's a long story but I was not convicted of madaming or running a brothel.

The reason was simple. I had set up the safe house because of women who were being sold in connection with Iran Contra. Meaning to defend myself about why I'd set up the safe house – it would involve national security. But the media had already portrayed me as running this “brothel” so they were in a bit of a dilemma back then about what to do with me. So I am not a convicted madam.

I did have to wait until a lot of legal matters were cleared up, and I kept searching for someone, anyone, to have solutions to this problem other than myself. I found none. So in August of 1987 I stepped up on that first talk show stage to promote the first ever hotline for one to call needing help to escape, a 12 step program for one to use for their recovery, and further calling out for this country's system to change. In 1984, if you called the police and spoke about someone being held, prostituted, and sold against their will – they would hang up on you saying “no such thing exists”. When I was having anxiety attacks I sought professional help – who then said “no such thing exists” and then tried to lock me up for psychiatric observation claiming I was hallucinating.

So I started a media campaign of my own saying “yes it does exist” and “this country needs to do something about it”. The Mayor of Los Angeles in 1987, Tom Bradley, received the news of our program with open arms. With the HIV/AIDS epidemic – change was welcome. He put together a board that included the Health Dept., Mental Health Dept., Police, Probation, etc. That board drew up the first alternative sentencing program for prostitutes. It set up the first HIV testing site dedicated not just to sex workers – but one where a trafficking victim could receive immediate assistance to leave her pimp. Why? Because the pimps were forcing men, women and transgenders to keep prostituting even when they'd been diagnosed as positive. He helped an ex-porn star, Sharon Mitchell, become a doctor who then set up the first ever dedicated testing site for sex workers – the AIM Clinic.

He found an abandoned drug treatment center, Via Avanta, and turned that into an alternative site for those who had to be incarcerated who were HIV positive, pregnant, or who were trafficked. Remember the Trafficking Act of 2000 hadn't been written yet – so we just called them “pimped” and “forced” in that day. The program set up in Los Angeles was so successful, that we were asked to help create one just like it back in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That became the “Program for Female Offenders”. From there, everything just exploded until people realized we had to get federal recognition. Which was accomplished with the passing of the Trafficking Act of 2000.

So you see – I'm the founder of the modern day sex trafficking movement. I'm also the director of the largest, and oldest, hotline and program for adult sex trafficking survivors. Because of very disturbing calls I've been receiving from our members here in Los Angeles – I've relocated back here after being in Nevada for a while now rescuing women out of the legal brothels, as well as the streets, there – and doing what I could to stop the legal brothels from expanding outside of the tiny counties they're in now. We defeated them from this expansion the last time at the NV legislature in 2013. We were the only ones who appeared at the hearing to oppose them – so I think that means we were successful.

That said – I heard about the “No Such Thing” campaign online and became quite upset. Why? Because now I'm hearing once again someone who is not us saying that “we don't exist”. Now I understand the intent of your campaign. I really do. However, if I was to step up and tell the public what to call anyone that I'm not a part of that community – it would be offensive. If I was to step up to Malika Saar for example and tell her that I don't believe she should be called “African American” - there would be a huge backlash because I appear to be white (in reality I am descendant of a freed slave). We were not invited to be a part of this campaign in any way – and after taking a toll of our members they say none of them were invited to input this campaign either. In fact, the campaign was sponsored by the McCain Institute and the California Endowment – NOT survivors.

I also beg to differ with the premise in that in Nevada there are 16 year old girls who can obtain a license to work in the brothel or the strip club. That is too young to drink, smoke or vote. You know why? Because 16 is a “child”. Yet they can become a “child prostitute” at the brothel and they can become a “child sex worker” at the strip club next door. This means “such a thing” DOES EXIST. To ask the public to say it “doesn't exist” is sweeping their existence, and their plight, right under the rug.

Because arrest is the only way they're going to get out of there. Yet they're deprived of that because it's a “legal” brothel. Arrest is the only way I was removed from my captors. In fact, arrest is the only way I was able to be free of my captors when they got arrested and I was free. I wasn't the one who “snitched” on them – someone else did. But if they hadn't of been arrested – I never would have been able to walk away myself. This county can't take care of the kids it's cost within the social welfare system. Might I ask where they are to go when you already don't have enough beds for kids? For some reason you insist on not utilizing Children of the Night for trafficking victims – preferring to say in the media “there are no beds” while Lois has plenty of room. But the ones not labeled as victims are instead put in places like the Youth Welcome Center – which by the way Mr. Thomas I still haven't seen the report promised on that shelter. A shelter where supposedly the pimps are preying on young 12 year old girls like “shooting fish in a barrel”.

I'm hearing reports from mothers that their young daughters are disappearing out of the psychiatric hospitals where they're pimped until they're used up and then dumped back home after a year or so. I've got a report from a boy who was 16 years old at the time telling me his mother was carted out of their home in front of him by two Pasadena police officers when she said she didn't want to prostitute anymore and then slapped with fake prostitution charges. When I stepped in to help her – our attorney and myself were threatened by another attorney and another Pasadena officer.  I STILL don't have anyone from any office answering me about that case either by the way.  

Our program is effective – yet I don't see us being consulted on any of your trafficking programs – not just this one. A ten year study was done by Professor Sharon Oselin verifying our program is what “works” for long term success. I've had three independent journalists out to verify our program's effectiveness – whose clippings are on our clipping site. I just saw a report by Dr. Thomas Naylan that our program's use of “exposure therapy” is highly effective for those with PTSD. So why we're not being consulted nor incorporated into any of your recent trafficking effects deeply concerns us.

But this is the last straw. We will not stand by while those who are not us label us without us. Especially since it wipes away the existence of “child prostitutes” in Nevada where something needs to be done about the fact besides changing the label so it appears they “don't exist”. Especially since removing arrest, in some cases, removes the only way these victims have to get out. Plus sometimes it's the only way their pimp will be prosecuted. Especially since we do not see a system in place that will provide an alternative to find them, help them escape, and provide them with recovery – while you want to just wipe away the only thing that, in some cases, is all we have.

Arrest was the only thing that got me out. When Kathleen Mitchell wrote me from an Arizona jail – it was after being arrested over 50 times. She found recovery through us from that jail – and founded the Dignity Program. When Brenda Myers-Powell had also been arrested numerous times – she was court-ordered to attend Genesis House. A program which has since folded – but she's gone on through Sex Workers Anonymous to become quite renowned for her work with helping victims in Chicago.

I've gone and talked to our members and we are DEEPLY offended by this “No Such Thing” campaign, as well as having very serious questions about the intent behind it. Especially when it removes the one way many pimps will be prosecuted, and removed from harming other children. We also feel it sweeps under the rug a very real problem in Nevada. This was not a “local” Los Angeles campaign – but one that was national in reach. Therefore, it affects them too. An effect I don't see anyone connected to this campaign seeming to really care much about how the survivors in the movement that created this subject started, who belong to the oldest and largest group of survivors in the world feel.

If you'd like to talk to me about this – I can be reached at the above number. My previous attempts to speak to the organizers of this campaign such as Malika, the McCain Institute and the California Endowment having been ignored. Thank you for listening to how WE feel about this.


Jody Williams

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