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California’s Prop 35: A Misguided Ballot Initiative Targeting the Wrong People for the Wrong Reasons

7:11 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Melissa Gira Grant for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Banner: No Prop 35, Sex Workers are NOT Sex Offenders

No on Prop 35 Banner

California voters hold the power this Election Day to decide if many thousands of people convicted of prostitution-related offenses in their state must now register as sex offenders. These are their neighbors, their friends, their family — whether they know it or not — and many are women: trans- and cisgender women, poor and working class women, and disproportionately, they are women of color.

This attack on women already made vulnerable to violence and poverty is just one of the possible consequences of Proposition 35, a ballot initiative marketed to voters as a tough law to fight trafficking but is instead a “tough on crime” measure backed with millions of dollars from one influential donor, written by a community activist with little experience in the issue. If it passes? Advocates for survivors of trafficking, civil rights attorneys, and sex workers fear that rather than protect Californians, it will expose their communities to increased police surveillance, arrest, and the possibility of being labeled a “sex offender” for the rest of their lives.

Trafficking is a hot-button issue, where even defining what is meant by the term is contentious and deeply politicized — but at a minimum, it describes forced labor, where the force may be physical or psychological in nature. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that nearly 22 million people may be involved in forced labor worldwide, the majority of which does not involve forced labor in the sex trade. In the United States, anti-trafficking law developed over the last ten years has advanced definitions of trafficking. In addition to Federal law, states have passed their own trafficking laws, which overlap with existing laws against forced labor, child labor, minor prostitution, or prostitution in general.

A good deal of advocacy around trafficking is concerned with proposing new laws, with several organizations — such as the Polaris Project and Shared Hope International — focused on introducing copycat legislation state-after-state, focused on increasing criminal penalties associated with trafficking and moving resources to law enforcement. There is little evidence that strengthening criminal penalties and relying primarily on law enforcement are strategies to end forced labor; in fact, advocates who work with survivors of trafficking, as well as people involved in the sex trade and sex worker rights’ advocates, have documented the limitations and dangers of a “tough on crime” approach on trafficking. Still, the “tough on crime” approach has become dominant in what some anti-trafficking advocates now call “the war on trafficking.”

Treating Those In the Sex Trade as Sex Offenders

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Erasing Criminal Convictions for Survivors of Trafficking: One Step in the Right Direction

11:17 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Juhu Thukral and Melissa Sontag Broudo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A photo of a woman as she walks away.

(Photo: d. FUKA / Flickr).


People get involved in sex work for all kinds of reasons, but most often, out of life circumstance and a need to support themselves and their families. This need to seek safety and security is universal, and it says something about how deeply felt it is, given the level of stigma sex workers endure as they do their work. Unfortunately, because so much of sex work is illegal, sex workers are constantly being arrested. This even applies to people who have engaged in sex work who were trafficked and coerced or threatened in some way.

Trafficking in persons is about people experiencing some level of force, fraud, or coercion in their work. This means they are living and working in a climate of fear. But because most people, including the police, have a very specific idea of who is a “victim” of trafficking, they often get it wrong and arrest people involved in sex work without asking or giving them a chance to say they have been forced or coerced. We have worked with people who are transgender and are survivors of trafficking, but have either been unable to report their experience to the police because they are too afraid from past experiences with police, or have faced ridicule or outright disbelief if they do report. Compare this experience to young cisgender women (the term “cisgender” refers to people whose present gender identity matches the sex/gender they were assigned at birth), who generally fit a more commonly understood idea of who is a victim of human trafficking, and are more likely to be believed if they do speak up.

The ideas that inform people’s beliefs about human trafficking, and ultimately determine whether they believe someone is a victim or not, often stem from stereotypes or misconceptions perpetuated by the media. Stereotypes include ideas about the gender of victims or what they look like, what their sexual or other histories are, and the kind of work they do. These misconceptions are compounded by people’s beliefs and fears about victimization, gender, and sexuality. But in order to craft workable solutions on trafficking, we need policies that actually prevent this terrible practice, and support victims in finding their own voice and seeking the help they want and need. Keeping people out of the criminal justice system is crucial, both because it cannot play the holistic and preventive role we need, and because it is itself a place where abuse takes place.
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The Right Time for Change in the Fight Against Human Trafficking

1:56 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Melissa Ditmore and Andrea Ritchie for RHRealityCheck.org – Information, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In 2007, the junior U.S. senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, sponsored a Senate resolution creating the National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness, which we observed on
Sunday, January 11. Human trafficking is rarely on the pundits’ list of priorities for President Obama’s administration, but he knows that early action in this area could have global impact. For starters, he should reconsider the current approach of raids, raids and more raids. It’s not working.

The Sex Workers Project at New York’s Urban Justice Center recently interviewed law enforcement personnel, service providers who have helped hundreds of trafficking victims, and a small sample of immigrant women trafficked into sex work and other forms of labor, including domestic work. We found that while there have been some successes, raids are generally an ineffective anti-trafficking tool, and in many cases are harmful to people who have been trafficked.

Trafficked women reported that they were repeatedly arrested, in some cases up to ten times, in police raids on brothels and other sex work venues, without ever being identified as trafficked. Yet that is the ostensible purpose Read the rest of this entry →