Tuesday, January 19, 2016
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL LETTER ON PROSTITUTION
Jody Williams, Founder
Sex Workers Anonymous (formerly Prostitutes Anonymous)
(702) 468-4529 Telephone
Re: Decriminalization of Prostitution Issue
Dear Amnesty International and Public:
Everyone's first reaction to this letter is going to be “but 12 step programs aren't supposed to have an opinion on outside issues” or “enter into public controversy”. But in reality, the issue of how prostitution is viewed as a crime or not IS an “inside” issue in our opinion. So we should weigh in on this point with you. However, to do so would be to “engage in public controversy” as this is a very heated topic at the moment. So what do we do? Do we give you a position letter on the issue from us “officially” or do we not? One thing we do know as a 12 step program however is that we are NOT Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. We are our own unique program and as such the “ultimate authority” is one found through “group conscience”. So we took a “group conscience” and came up with the following letter we'd like to provide you with from the country's oldest, and largest program, of not only sex trafficking survivors, but also of men and women who are exited from the sex industry who do not feel they were trafficked during their time in sex work.
But first of all, we need to clarify a few words. We changed our name from “Prostitutes Anonymous” to “Sex Workers Anonymous” because the sex industry, and thus sex trafficking, can not be strictly defined as sex for money. There are men and women who are working in the sex industry today who are not having even physical contact with their clients, let alone intercourse. Such as those who work in stripping, pornography and/or the webcam industry. There are also men, women and children, who are being bought and sold, as well as pimped, who are also not having intercourse for money either.
Let me give you an example of a case we worked on once to illustrate our point here. There was a webcam company that was incorporated out of Florida, who hired marketing people in Las Vegas, but the house where the female performers was situated in was in Russia. The money was then funneled to owners who lived in Australia. The performers were locked into private bedrooms in a house in Russia where they were drugged daily, not let out of their rooms, and forced to perform on webcam 24/7. These women spoke only Russian. The marketing company in Las Vegas was a group of male actors who would interact with the public in English and pretend to be the female performers so the customers thought they were speaking to these women when in fact they were not connected.
Everything on the outside appeared to be “legal”. Only if you followed these poor women daily would you see them losing weight, the dark circles under their eyes getting deeper, the life starting to drain out of their energy, etc. Only by recording them and then playing it back would you discover these women were never leaving those rooms or going off camera for more than a few minutes at a time to maybe go to the bathroom or change clothes. The bedding in the bedrooms never changed either. But the customers don't do that. They stay a few minutes at a time and then leave. So here you have a situation where sex trafficking is happening, this is clearly the sex industry we're talking about – but these victims are not having sex with anyone nor are they meeting any definition of “prostitute'. But clearly still they are definitely trafficking victims in the sex industry who are in dire need of help.
Anywhere there is legalized prostitution, or sex work such as a strip club, a sex club, a legal brothel, a porn set, or even a webcam studio there is going to be even more cases of sex trafficking then where it's illegal or decriminalized. This was proven to be true in Amsterdam as to why they shut down the windows district in 2007. It's also why we gave a press conference in 2007 about sex trafficking in Nevada where prostitution is legalized. So this is why we are strongly and passionately opposed to it.
So much so that I spent a whole year in 1988 fighting back Joe Conforte from expanding the brothels into California when he tried. So much so that there's now a Mob Museum and an arts district where many men once wanted to expand the legal brothels into downtown Las Vegas. I put every bit of power and resources I had into fighting the legal brothels from expanding on those two fronts because I knew what kind of damage it would mean to the women who worked at those brothels – as well as how it would directly increase the number of sex trafficking victims who would be harmed.
While we don't feel that any prostitute, or sex worker, should be treated as a criminal, we also have to acknowledge that sometimes the only way a victim finds help is through an arrest. I myself was in a trafficking situation in connection with Iran Contra. Which if you look up in your history books you'll see was connected to our own government. Now how am I supposed to get out of this situation or leave when the power of our own government is behind these men? The ONLY way I was able to be extracted out of what I was forced into was by being arrested. Then by having the light shone on me that probation does put upon you – this forced these men to back off and leave me alone. I can also give you story after story of victims who were not able to escape their pimps and/or traffickers UNTIL they were arrested and thus removed from their situation that was trapping them.
However, there's also the other side of the coin to that. The men who were trafficking me were so scared that I'd turn against them once I was in police custody they tried to have me murdered to silence me. I know of other victims who have been in the same situation such as Margo Compton. When she then testified against her traffickers – her and her twin six year old daughters were slaughtered. So arresting a victim also can stir up the fear of arrest, or exposure, in a trafficker prompting their murder. Jeane Palfrey, the DC Madam, was a trafficking victim. She released her “Black Book” to the media to try and expose her trafficking. I also feel she was murdered for that same reason before she could reveal more names she had intended on revealing – which happened after her arrest also.
While yes this is great on the idea of realizing that many sex workers are in fact victims of force and shouldn't be treated like criminals, that doesn't mean there aren't criminals out there who are posing as prostitutes who “roll” their customers to get money to buy drugs. Also, without arresting a prostitute how do you get any accurate numbers with respect to STD'S like HIV/AIDS, Hep C, HPV, TB, etc. Many prostitutes either are not getting any medical testing done, or they're seeing “trick doctors” who don't report to the CDC, and thus this poses a threat to the public health. However, when a prostitute is arrested they get mandatory testing in most states. Many are refused admittance into drug treatment, or even shelters, unless they're a part of the criminal justice system.
Once arrested – a judge can court order a prostitute not only tested for STD's, but also to attend counseling, Sex Workers Anonymous meetings, drug treatment, parenting classes, diversion, or a whole host of other social programs needed to improve their lives, and the lives of their children, that they might not do without the threat of incarceration on top of them. I also know that it's next to impossible to build a case for the prosecution of your traffickers when everyone is too busy covering their own backside to want to testify for you, or to supply you with evidence. I have seen horrific cases of violence, trafficking, abuse, etc., where the “johns” have just walked away without reporting anything to the police for fear they'll be arrested and then lose their jobs, their marriage, their reputation, etc.
I believe if they weren't afraid of arrest more cases would be finding their way to court against the traffickers if it were decriminalized. However, criminalization is not why many victims don't get rescued. I've spoken to more than one undercover officer who said they have seen women they know are young women reported as missing victims out there during their undercover work that they have NOT rescued, or intervened in to extract, for fear of upsetting their drug case. So I think we're also seeing less prosecutions, and less rescues, not because of whether this is legal – but because the men behind undercover officers are telling them these drug arrests are more important than rescuing the women.
I've also spoken to more than one vice officer who reports to me they aren't given any money to investigate trafficking cases. The end result is they just go out and arrest street prostitutes because it's “cheap, quick and easy”. However, those are usually women of color working the streets. The sex industry itself is very racist. The clients who patronize the strip clubs, the massage parlors, and the escort services prefer women who are light skinned or even Asian. They will refuse to see women of color – relegating them to the streets most of the time. Very few porn producers will even use women of color. Ask yourself when is the last time you saw an African American woman on the cover of Playboy? Check out the catalog of women at the Bunny Ranch. So by criminalizing prostitution – we're stuffing the jails with women of color simply because the industry is structured that way and the money to investigate for sex trafficking isn't making it's way there to the vice cops doing these arrests.
So what's our position on the issue? Our position is we're not asked. We haven't been asked to advise on any of the laws on this issue by anyone. We haven't been asked by your group what we think about this issue. We haven't been asked by Congress. We haven't been asked by anyone despite the fact we formed our program as a 12 step program specifically because as such we can be used as an “alternative to sentencing” under laws already grandfathered into the legal system by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
Meaning we're not even being used as an “alternative to sentencing” any longer despite being right here since the TVRA of 2003 was passed and the “faith based” groups went into competition with us in this field. Despite the fact professor Sharon Oselin did a 10 year study into the top three programs working to help prostitutes leave the sex industry, trafficked or not, and found that not only was ours the most effective, but we're even the only one still operating once her study “Leaving Prostitution” was completed. The faith based programs have an almost 100 percent failure rate since before we formed. Yet despite them not having anywhere the effectiveness rates we do – we can't compete with the power of the Catholic Church or the Salvation Army who bumped us out of alternative sentencing we were offering prostitutes in the 80's, 90's, and up until 2003.
The ACLU v. Catholic Bishops was won, and the Supreme Court even said we can't legally be blocked – but the fact remains that we still are being blocked because we now have a legal system that doesn't even want to say the word “prostitute” anymore let alone “sex worker” in their pursuit of “victims”. So we're hearing now from courts who refuse to refer to us because they want money to build their own programs, or to apply for grants to work with them now instead. In Las Vegas for example, Judge Voy kicked us out of his courtroom 12, locked up the young girls in jail, and then used photos of these teens in jail to try and raise $2,000,000 to build his own 14 bed program. We can't compete with that.
So our position is when we're asked what our position is – then we'll render it. Thank you for listening.