Search This Blog

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

LETTER TO EDITOR OF LA TIMES

Dear Editor:

About Prop. 57 - I was living in LA during the 1980's when cocaine was flooding the country. LA was also experiencing a record # of serial killers targeting prostitutes, a raging HIV/AIDS epidemic was destroying the sexually active, plus we had widespread corruption which became the basis of the infamous Rampart lawsuits in the 1990's.

Money was desperately needed to fund HIV/AIDS services on an unheard of scale. Things were so desperate a Proposition was considered to quarantine the LGBT, addicts and prostitutes on an island. No one was even quite sure how it was transmitted yet. Guards were refusing to come to work for fear of contracting the virus they feared might be airborne. Sex workers were refusing to carry condoms, or have them in their homes, because they were considered “evidence of prostitution”. Condoms then were literally used in court to gain a prostitution conviction.

Sex trafficking wasn't federally recognized then. The term hadn't even been coined yet. It was considered as imaginary as the “mob” used to be considered back prior to Joe Valachi stepping forward to confirm it was in fact real back in the 1960's. It was considered so “unreal” Julie Andrews starred in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” - a musical comedy parodying it in a hit 1968 film.

But I knew it to be real. Further knew calling the police would only result in victims being treated as criminals. So I'd put together a safe house for adults, the first of it's kind in the country, in 1984. Only to find myself arrested for “pimping” because of it. Traffickers upset at the sanctuary sent in a woman to finger me for this to get it shut down. The media couldn't understand why a “brothel” would have such high tech security all over a warehouse so they dubbed me the “High Tech madam”. Of course there was nothing to the charge but it made me realize I needed to go about helping these victims some other way.

With sex trafficking not even recognized as “real” by general society, or our legal system, yet this also meant there was no money for services for these victims. No “reputable” person nor program wanted to be associated with “prostitutes” then whether adult or juvenile. You had doctors such as Patrick Carnes willing to talk about sex addiction – but no one wanted to step up to help prostitutes”.

Through brainstorming with Edwin Meese, the California Attorney General at the time, Mayor Tom Bradley, Sheriff Block and Chief Gates, I proposed if an addict could be released from jail in order to seek treatment shouldn't those forced into prostitution also be given the same opportunity for treatment and rehabilitation? If Patty Hearst had been pardoned for being made to rob a bank by SLA so shouldn't all these prostitutes be given the same opportunity to not be viewed as “willing criminals” also?

Through laws grandfathered in by Alcoholics Anonymous I created a 12 step program we offered as an “alternative to incarceration” for prostitutes – without us having to wait to decriminalize prostitution to do so. In 1987, “Prostitutes Anonymous”, the first hotline and alternative sentencing program was launched. A committee was set up at the Mayor's office where one person from each county office represented - from the police, probation, prosecutor's office, social services, the health department, etc. There was no way the CDC or the Health Dept. were going to be able to get to those infected with HIV, nor to get people to use condoms, as long as they were treated like criminals. This was the first time every agency was working together with one goal in mind – the health and welfare of the citizens of LA. In the first year, over $1,000,000 was saved by the county using our program and put to use helping HIV/AIDS victims who didn't have health insurance.

The guards where the transgenders were being held were so scared of being physically close to these inmates, they were being housed in sleeping bags in the cafeteria. Doctors didn't even want to give them proper medical attention so many were not getting their hormones nor their AZT medications popular then. The transgenders and the pregnant females needing drug treatment were the first to be allowed early release. Those HIV + and pregnant who had other criminal charges other than prostitution were allowed to be sent to a special residential drug treatment program which included “Prostitutes Anonymous” meetings. (Our program's name was changed in 1995 to Sex Workers Anonymous.)

Those the court knew were not out there “by choice” were allowed to come to our program instead of jail or do house arrest along with our meetings. Out of 2000 female inmates 1800 of them were there for prostitution charges. Over 80 % of these had multiple kids who were now in the foster care system because of their incarceration, while for 90 % of them reported this was not their first arrest for prostitution.

Almost all of these had the training to work at “legit” jobs. Many of them even held Bachelor's degree's while others even had nurse's licensing. They all had been offered treatment prior but it had failed because it failed to address their prostitution – whether by force or choice. It was all assumed then if you got them clean they'd stop while never once noticing almost every one of them had been forced into prostitution long before they ever started using drugs or drinking. Tell me how else would you cope with being forced to be in sex work?

Our program was so successful, it was launched officially in multiple states, and informally all over the USA. By 1995, we had a chapter set up working in conjunction with our legal system in every major city. We were almost as large as Alcoholics Anonymous then because of the partnerships we had with the courts, social services, and agencies like the Salvation Army. Programs specifically for prostitutes were set up by then hiring our members to staff their outreach teams and to be peer advocates.

In 1996, there was a massive change in immigration policy. This suddenly required 35,000 people to be in a cell at any given moment in order to create funding to keep this many beds open so that not just inmates, but those awaiting deportation, would have a bed available. ;Combine this with the shift to our country now having more “for profit” prisons than ever before – and you can see why virtually overnight our program was like a house of cards suddenly brought tumbling down.

No one told us anything “officially” but it was like we were wiped out. Instead of using our program to clear out the system – we reverted to the same old system just with different names like something taken right out of the pages of “Animal Farm”. The cheapest way to lock someone up is with a prostitution sting. However now instead of it being called a “raid” it was called a “rescue operation”.

Instead of a “john sweep” it was now called “ending demand”. Instead of going after a pimp – we were now “fighting sex trafficking”.

Prostitutes and “johns” are also considered a very non-violent criminal by the system. Rarely do they shoot back so illegal prostitution became the cheapest, quickest, and most efficient way to fill up cells. You won't see one single “trafficking operation” executed within a legal part of the sex industry. It focuses solely on illegal prostitution. Think about it – stick out a pretty girl on a corner in a bad neighborhood on a Saturday night and you now have a paddy wagon full of men loaded up in an hour to cart off to jail. All “non-violent” criminals mind you. Now instead of trying to get a prostitute to turn on her pimp – you now tell a mother of small children she's going to have CPS take them unless she reports their father is her “trafficker”.

In all of the discussion about Prop. 57 – nowhere do I hear any discussion about the fact prostitution is a “non-violent' crime. For every African American drug dealer I'm seeing released from custody lately – I'm seeing three more people of color going back into these same facilities for three times as long of a term under charges of “trafficking” or prostitution.

How ironic Eliot Spitzer comes out insisting “ending demand” is the way to fight sex trafficking despite every lesson Prohibition taught us. Then a few years later he's got a prostitute fleeing the country to get away from him after a violent episode in a hotel. It's not like she can go the NY cops for help. Especially not after one of NY's finest was caught trafficking in prostitutes. Eliot's tougher “cracking down on buyers” only resulted in more trafficking victims because of “johns” wanting to make doubly sure they weren't seeing an undercover officer now.

Sad because truly the front lines of reporting sex trafficking is the customer who the “end demand” people have now made afraid to come forward with this information because they're now being treated like a criminal. Shame no one bothered to ask us the best way to end sex trafficking – the only people who aren't trying to further their political career, trying to get a federal grant awarded, or holding a fund raiser.

'“End Demand” is nothing more than a smoke screen for rounding up Hispanic men in cheap and fast stings as a way to cart off 30 men a night into custody while looking like “heroes” – many of who are found to be illegal aliens who can't even post bail, let alone have an attorney appointed to them. Celeste Guap just proved our view trafficking victims are not found on street corners, but instead indoors because of the tape which surfaced where she's being advised when to stay inside and for how long by the officers trafficking her. Let's be clear – trafficking by it's definition involves corrupt law enforcement or it would be called pimping instead. Statutory rape doesn't change just because money is involved involved either.

We're in the middle of a national prison strike – some of which is motivated by these who once rounded up in an “end demand” sting, aren't being promptly processed for deportation, denied bail, and then being used for free labor while being held at the cost of anywhere from $75 to $150 a day. If they were rounded up for anything other than an “end demand” campaign there would be national outrage here rather than silence for how these minorities are being treated by our system. I don't even want to think about how much money meant to help save and rehabilitate victims is being used instead simply to round up more people of color under this smoke screen who are being used as slave labor and pharmaceutical research subjects by the police who are the traffickers in this country.

I have personally tried to take a trafficking victim to each “trafficking task force” for help only to find ourselves the ones being threatened and ignored and I can document this. This is after some of these task forces have received millions of dollars to create them and I can't get a return phone call on behalf of real victims reaching out for help.
I haven't been able to get one call answered by anyone about what exactly they plan on doing with those convicted of prostitution, a very non-violent crime, if Prop 57 passes. All attempts to open up a dialogue about reconnecting victims into our program that will keep them out of the revolving door right back into jail, or to sex work, have been rebuffed.

Something isn't thought out well here at all and needs to be before Prop 57 is passed. Not even the AHF is listening when we helped to see the Ryan White Foundation refuse them a $3.8 million dollar grant last year to get their attention they weren't going about reaching the sex workers, not the porn performers, who are the ones having the epidemic rates of HIV + infections, as well no one has even tested juvenile prostitutes for 2015-2016. Rates which then determine funding for the victims which of course are now showing zero because some politician wants to say there's “no such thing” as a “child prostitute” despite the fact a 16 year old CAN and DOES obtain a license to prostitute in Nevada – an age too young to smoke, vote, or drink by the way.

The Taliban are considered “animals” when they execute a rape victim. Yet right now in the USA we're still treating sex trafficking victims as criminals, while making witnesses needed to find and convict their traffickers have to violate their 5th amendment rights in order to help rescue them and convict their traffickers.

All while I STILL can't get an answer out of anyone as to what they intend of doing for an “early release” of those convicted of prostitution into, who are now also labeled as “sex offenders”. From what I'm hearing this means they're going to be now forced to be in housing along with the very same predators who raped them as children. Also, can anyone tell me how a convicted prostitute labeled now a “sex offender” is supposed to get a job other than in the sex industry?

I'm sorry but I think we have a lot more talking to do about this subject before this Proposition 57 can be passed.

Jody Williams
Founder of Sex Workers Anonymous
formerly Prostitutes Anonymous

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.