In the Booth with Ruth – Tara Burns, Survivor of Labor Trafficking in the Sex Industry, Sex Worker and Sex Workers’ Rights Activist

Tara Burns, a sex trafficking survivor, sex worker and sex workers’ rights activist, discusses the advantages of the sex workers’ rights and anti-sex trafficking movements working together.

Ruth Jacobs

Tara Burns

Could you share how you became involved in the sex workers’ rights movement and why it’s so important to you?

There are so many moments that have added up to my becoming an activist. When I was sixteen a District Attorney declined to prosecute my father for abusing me and pimping me out because she thought a jury would not believe a teenage prostitute, even in the face of physical evidence. When I was an eighteen year old stripper I was raped and the police made fun of my dress and threatened to arrest me for making a false report. A decade ago when the Internet seemed young I discovered blogging, and sex worker bloggers like Audacia Ray helped me think critically about sex work and my life for the first time. In 2009 Carol Leigh explained the sex trafficking laws to me and I realized that a lot of…

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Northern Ireland’s Criminalisation of Buying Sex Puts Sex Workers at Risk

Sex workers and allies protest at Stormont. Photo: Matthias Lehmann/Matt Lemon Photography

Sex workers and allies protest at Stormont 
Photo: Matthias Lehmann/Matt Lemon Photography

This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 22 October 2014

On Monday, Lord Morrow’s ‘Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill’ passed the final vote by the Northern Ireland Assembly. An amendment tabled by Sinn Fein to have the law evaluated in three years is simply not enough: sex workers needed Northern Ireland to wake up to the danger of criminalising the purchase of sex now, not in the future.

Lord Morrow claims Clause 6 of his Bill, which criminalises paying for sexual services, will reduce sex trafficking. In Sweden, however, where the purchase of sex has been criminalised since 1999, this has not proven to be the case. In fact, in a Swedish police report that states the extent of trafficking cannot be measured, an increase in indoor prostitution is indicated by the number of Thai massage parlours, known to operate as brothels, in Stockholm and the surrounding area rising from 90 to 250 between 2009 to 2011/12.

Author of the book Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden, Dr Jay Levy, who conducted fieldwork in Sweden over several years on the outcomes of the so-called ‘Swedish model’ says, “There is absolutely no empirical evidence that overall levels of sex work or trafficking have decreased following the introduction of the law in 1999; instead, sex work has simply been displaced off-street.”

Sex trafficking has been used as a smokescreen in a moral crusade to end prostitution. Justice Minister David Ford does not believe criminalising the purchase of sex will reduce trafficking. He believes criminalising the purchase of sex will endanger sex workers. Research conducted by Queen’s University found 61% of the sex workers they surveyed in Northern Ireland believed criminalising clients would make sex workers less safe, and 85% did not believe that it would reduce trafficking. Indeed, UNAIDS has found that criminal laws related to sex work increase danger for sex workers.

“Trafficking is an evil, hateful scourge, let’s get that straight. But the study from Queen’s University showed that most sex workers in Northern Ireland are there by their own free will,” Kate, a Northern Ireland based escort, told me. “So surely they have the same rights as any other workers, to support themselves, and members of their families in many cases, and to work without fear. This law takes that right away. It’s already difficult to go to the police and if clients are criminalised, it would be impossible.”

In 2011, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice (DOJ) held a conference on women involved in prostitution to share information and best practice and identify potential actions, building on their research paper published earlier that year, which investigated the issues faced by women in the sex trade. After the findings were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it was discovered that of the 45 delegates invited to that conference on women involved in prostitution, not one was a woman involved in prostitution.

As well as missing key delegates, the conference also missed key points from their agenda, which included dealing with the high rate of crimes committed against women in prostitution and the lack of reporting of such crimes to the police. Had safety – not ideology – been their priority, perhaps the Merseyside hate crime model would have been passed at Stormont this week. Merseyside leads the UK on conviction rates for crimes committed against sex workers. Their joined-up approach of the police working with sex work projects that offer outreach, harm reduction and help exiting the sex trade has also led to the number of women working on-street in Merseyside being reduced by half.

While the police change their focus from enforcement to protection, it has been shown in Merseyside that the trusting relationships developed during outreach lead to exiting. Worryingly though, the documents from the DOJ conference revealed there was perceived risk around providing outreach services, which are essential and lifesaving.

Due to their similar stance on prostitution, there is a lack of outreach and harm reduction provided to sex workers in Sweden. “[Sex work] has been increasingly stigmatised, following through into discrimination from service providers, healthcare providers, and the police. There is additionally considerable opposition to sex worker-targeted harm reduction in Sweden, which is felt to encourage and facilitate sex work and therefore to undermine Sweden’s aims of reducing levels of prostitution,” Dr Levy says. “The legislation has been hugely detrimental in terms of the health, safety, and wellbeing of sex workers. It is very disconcerting that yet another state is pushing to criminalise the purchase of sex.”

Decriminalisation of sex work is the legislation supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, UN Women, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the WHO and Human Rights Watch among other organisations. This legislation ensures sex workers’ rights. Increasing safety should be paramount, so that sex workers can work together from premises, as research shows they are most vulnerable to rape and other violence when working alone.

Justice Minister David Ford believes prostitution and human trafficking should be dealt with as separate issues. Clause 6 of Lord Morrow’s Bill is meant to abolish sex trafficking, but there is no evidence to suggest this will happen. The result will be that both sex trafficking victims and sex workers will suffer. In their effort to make it more difficult for men to procure sexual services, they will make it more difficult for support services and police to engage with women involved in sex work and also to identify and assist victims of sex trafficking. The Queen’s University research found the vast majority of clients would not be deterred by the law from purchasing sexual services. Where buying sex is already illegal in Sweden, sex workers based off-street report there is no reduction in the number of clients.

“This will make life so much less safe for anyone involved in sex work, and will divert resources from vulnerable people,” says Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, sex work law expert and Reader in Psychology and Social Policy at Birkbeck, University of London. “Stormont should be ashamed of itself because there is enough good evidence around to show the failed Swedish experiment for the dangerous sham that it is.”

Supporters of Lord Morrow’s Bill eliminated from their agenda the safety of the very women they claim are vulnerable. They attempted to defame those who do not back the criminalisation of the purchase of sex as supporters of sex trafficking in order to undermine their arguments. They should have properly examined the available evidence and consulted with those to whom the legislation applies: sex workers themselves.

22 Sept Canadian Sex Workers & Sex Worker Activists in London

From The English Collective of Prostitutes

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SAVE THE DATE

Canada’s court strikes down the prostitution laws but the government bypasses its ruling!

Organising to retain & implement our path-breaking victory

 

22 September 2014  7pm-9pm

Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX

In December 2013, Canada’s Supreme Court struck down the prostitution laws because they are ‘dangerous’ for sex workers and infringe their constitutional rights. Given a year by the Supreme Court to address the issue, the government bypassed the ruling, proposing further criminalisation – that of sex workers’ clients.

Sex workers and sex worker activists from Canada will be in the UK in September. They will speak about how they won the Supreme Court ruling and how they are now fighting to get them implemented.

Speakers:

Amy Lebovitch, sex worker and executive director of SPOC – Sex Professionals of Canada, and Plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Bedford v Canada.

Jenn Clamen, member of Stella, l’Amie de Maimie, Montreal’s sex worker rights organisation, and coordinator of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform.

Cari Mitchell, English Collective of Prostitutes, which has been organising against proposals to criminalise clients in the UK.

FFI  020 7482 2496 ecp@allwomencount.net

‘Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden’ – Dr Jay Levy Discusses His New Book

Jay Levy

Can you tell me about your new book Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden?

My book deals with the outcomes of Sweden’s sex purchase law, a law that criminalises the purchase of sex and that has been hugely internationally influential. In the book, I present the results and analysis of fieldwork and research that I undertook in Sweden between 2008 and 2012.

My research was originally for the purposes of my PhD, and focussed on the outcomes of sex work and drug legislation in Sweden, concentrating on what the outcomes of Sweden’s sex work abolitionism and drug prohibitionism have been. The book focuses almost exclusively on the outcomes of Sweden’s sex work legislation, which I felt merited involved exploration, given that other states continue to advocate for the adoption of the ‘Swedish model’. Writing the book provided me with an opportunity to include more verbatim respondent quotations than I had been able to include in my other work to date, and to expand on many ideas and discussions that I hadn’t been able to include in other papers or my PhD.

In my book, I stress that Sweden’s international influence is not well-deserved, since the law has been demonstrably detrimental in terms of exacerbating the harms that can be associated with sex work, detrimentally impacting service provision and harm reduction, increasing stigma and social exclusion, and I also emphasise that the law has failed to reduce levels of sex work, which was the principal aim of the legislation. So, the law has failed to achieve its goal, and it’s been hugely damaging. This probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that criminalising legislation of this sort frequently exacerbates harms and social exclusion, pushing groups into clandestine space, but in spite of this, there are consistent attempts to export and import the Swedish model. I don’t only discuss this particular law, but also other laws that are used to directly target and destabilise the lives of sex workers in Sweden.

What led to your interest in studying the subject of sex work?

Much of my research has focussed on laws, policies, and discourses that socially exclude, stigmatise, and marginalise people, both contemporarily and historically. In my book, I note that “my interests and political perspective had, no doubt, come to shape my academic interests, with these circularly coming to inform my personal interests”. Many of the tools of silencing, controlling, and stigmatising groups are markedly similar, whether we are talking about issues of racism, LGBTQ people, sex workers, or people who use drugs, for example, which have all been research and advocacy foci of mine.

In terms of the focus on Sweden’s sex purchase law, I was particularly struck by the extent to which the law is internationally influential, but in a context where the law hadn’t been involvedly evaluated by the Swedish government and where much work produced on the topic seemed hugely biased, and didn’t include the voices of those to whom the legislation pertains, sex workers themselves, or other key stakeholders for that matter.

Can you share about the research involved and how you went about undertaking that?

I conducted pilot research in 2008, which involved a brief trip to Stockholm and a few interviews. This fed into my Master’s thesis at Cambridge. Following the pilot research, I moved back to Stockholm later in 2008 for several years. I also spent a bit of time in Malmö and Oslo to conduct fieldwork on the outcomes of the Swedish model in the south of Sweden, and the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Norway, respectively. My research methodologies primarily included participant observation and involved, semi-structured qualitative interviewing. I kept a field diary of my observations and notes on my participant observation, informal conversations and interviews, and formal recorded interviews took place throughout my research too. Interviews were pretty involved, and many lasted for several hours and I interviewed some respondents on several occasions. Respondents included sex workers, service providers, social workers, police, and policy makers and politicians, and interviews transcribed at over 400,000 words, so coding/analysing the interviews was hugely time consuming! Given the book’s foci and the importance of methodology, and the fact that I identify methodological faults and failings of some other research, I felt that transparency of my methods was very important. I therefore included an involved Methodology chapter in the book, though this would often be omitted or heavily abridged in a book such as this.

Criminalising the Purchase of Sex: Lessons from Sweden by Jay LevyWhat was your process for writing the book, was every chapter planned in advance, and did you come across any difficulties in the writing process and if so, how did you overcome them?

My primary issue was probably in terms of how to structure the book. The book is structured around the interviews I conducted, and a significant proportion of the word count is verbatim respondent quotations. I really want to position respondents as active and not passive in my work, to allow the words of respondents to speak for themselves, and to respect respondents as experts on their own lives and experiences.

In order to make sure I didn’t miss any significant themes that had come up in interviews, I used what’s sometimes termed a ‘Grounded Theory’ method of categorising data: each interview was rearranged under core themes and headings, and new themes and headings emerged as I went through each interview. The creation of new themes/headings stopped when no new categories emerged from the interviews. This provided they key structure for the book, though there was a constant process of moving things around for the sake of flow of argument etc. Quotations are presented in such a way as to present numerous and contrasting respondent views and analyses on the topic in question.

The book begins with an overview of the legal debate and establishment of the law, followed by an exploration of how sex work has come to be constructed and understood in Sweden and in broader feminist discourse. I then move on to the outcomes of the law – and the understandings that justify it – on levels of sex work in Sweden, on service provision and sex workers’ experiences of service provision, and on the lives and experiences of sex workers, including experiences of the Swedish police. All this is preceded by an introduction that discusses Sweden’s history of eugenics, social engineering, and containment and control of various groups, and hopefully contextualises the rest of the book.

Could you describe the target audience for the book?

There are a few target audiences. I hope that the book will be a useful tool for sex worker rights organisations, and for policy makers and politicians who are interested in the outcomes of the Swedish model. It will also be of interest to academics and students in various fields including law, women’s and gender studies, human geography, sociology, and criminology.

What are your plans for the future?

As I mentioned, my work has also focussed on the impacts of drug prohibitionism and the harms that prohibition does to people who use drugs. Some of this research is discussed briefly in my book, which I think helps to contextualise broader issues surrounding social control, stigmatisation, harm reduction, service provision, HIV/AIDS policy and law, and so forth. However, the majority of my research on drug law and policy wasn’t included in the book. I would very much like to publish my research on Sweden’s drug legislation, laws that criminalise the very use of drugs and allow for compulsory treatment of people with drug dependencies; I’m now planning to devote more time to this.

Where can people buy the book?

It’s available on Routledge’s website here, as well as Amazon internationally (UK link & US link), Waterstones, Abebooks, and so forth.

Where can you be found online?

I can be contacted at: j.levy.03@cantab.net.

  • Dr Jay Levy’s video interview on the Swedish sex purchase ban can be watched here.

‘No Human Involved’: Filmmaker PJ Starr Discusses Her Documentary Telling Marcia Powell’s Story

PJ Starr Photograph by Mike Shipley taken during filming

PJ Starr – picture taken during filming
Photo credit: Mike Shipley

Can you tell me about your current project No Human Involved?

In 2009 my friend and colleague Cris Sardina (who is now the co-coordinator of the Desiree Alliance) sent me an email about the death of Marcia Powell in Perryville Prison outside of Phoenix, Arizona. Marcia had been serving a 27 month sentence for solicitation of prostitution and corrections officers had left her out in the sun in a metal cage in searing heat until she collapsed. Soon after, in hospital her life was ended when the Director of Arizona Department of Corrections removed her from life support.

Cris Sardina of Desiree Alliance holding pictures of Marcia Powell Photo credit: PJ Starr

Cris Sardina of Desiree Alliance holding pictures of Marcia Powell
Photo credit: PJ Starr

After reading about what happened, Marcia’s story was always with me.

Later in 2010 at the Filmmakers’ Collaborative at the Maysles Institute in Harlem, NYC, I began to develop the idea of investigating Marcia’s case as a potential documentary film. Many of my peers at Maysles—who were people with a lot of community organizing knowledge already—were quite astounded by the sentence she was serving and what had happened to her. I knew then that documenting what had happened to Marcia Powell could be a vital step in educating the general public about the real harms caused to people in the sex trade by the prison industrial complex.

It was a departure for me to embark on this documentary for a wide range of reasons. In 2010 I didn’t know anyone in Phoenix, I wasn’t acquainted with the organizing there and I didn’t know Marcia personally either. My previous work had always been with folks I had known for years. But my film mentor Carol Leigh encouraged me to try this new step and connected me to several key activists in Phoenix, most importantly with Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch. In March of 2011, I visited Peggy and several other the local activists to ask if they thought the film should be made and if my approach appealed to them. I knew from being involved in grassroots organizing that so often “outside experts” suck the energy out of community to “tell a news story” or make a film and this was something I wanted to avoid doing. Everything fell into place during that first journey, we all were on the same page. People were also beginning to reflect on how Marcia’s death had set a series of events in motion and wanted to talk about that in the context of a documentary.

What do you hope this project will achieve?

Marcia Powell - Peggy's Chalking

Chalking by Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch

I want people to understand that what happened to Marcia can happen again. The film is not about an isolated, shocking incident (even though the case is horrific), rather it explores an example that exposes the system. As a member of Phoenix Food Not Bombs said at Marcia’s memorial service in 2009, “this has happened before, it will happen again, it happens to men, women and transgender people.” There is a mistaken belief amongst concerned people out there that somehow going to prison can “turn someone’s life around” and help people “escape” prostitution or drug use. So, the first part of the message of NO HUMAN INVOLVED is that prison is not safe, you don’t get comprehensive services there, you are dehumanized. If you are a woman who doesn’t conform to a very narrow set of gender norms set out in prison, you are at greater risk, or if you are trans, or queer, or if you have a mental health issue. The second part is that a web of terrible laws and policies—ranging from statutes to prevent walking and sleeping in public space and surviving through sex work—are sending people to prison for very long periods of time under mandatory sentencing. And to spell out the point, I think there are many, many people in the general public who want women like Marcia to “be helped” but they don’t yet understand the real functioning of the law, how policing happens, what happens to you in the court room and the system that classifies you once you are inside a prison. NO HUMAN INVOLVED unpacks all of this step by step so that audiences can think differently about what needs to change. The film is also raises awareness about the sheer numbers of people being arrested under the current criminalization of the sex trade in Arizona and the sheer numbers of people being placed in jails and prisons for doing what they need to live.

Can you share about the research you’ve undertaken to get this off the ground?

When I first started developing the film idea in 2010 and early 2011, I read a lot of online materials and reports about Marcia’s death. Since then the ACLU Arizona has published some very important documents about the experiences of prisoners that also form background information for the film. Over time NO HUMAN INVOLVED has evolved into very much a community project. Even though I have experience in doing research, finding accurate information relating to incarceration has been a learning curve and I am in awe of what folks in Phoenix can do. A colleague in Arizona has shown me how to request extremely detailed information from Arizona Department of Corrections and my good friend Monica Jones not only explained how the courts function in Arizona but encouraged me to find recordings and video tapes of Marcia’s court appearances. Kini Seawright (of the Seawright Prison Justice Project), has helped me seek out connections in the activist community to find people who personally knew Marcia. Kini keeps me putting my heart into the film. I’ve spoken to scores of people to record background interviews, including some with amazing women who were in Perryville with Marcia who have shared about who she was and how she was treated. I’ve met and interviewed people from the corrections system and a local filmmaker gave me truly vital original footage of Charles Ryan (the director of the Department of Corrections) speaking about the case at a memorial for Marcia organized by activists in 2009. In order to document how the community has responded in the years since Marcia’s death, I’ve attended (and filmed) church services, memorials, meetings at local women’s groups, rallies, actions, I’ve filmed (with permission) in the court and spoken to law enforcement. I’ve seen (and documented) the emergence of SWOP Phoenix as a presence to challenge the policing practices that put Marcia on that path to Perryville Prison.

What stage is the project at currently?

I am working with a very dedicated editor in the NYC area on the second cut of the film. Once we have enough funding, we will refine it, and create the DVD to begin the film’s distribution. As with most films these days NO HUMAN INVOLVED has been a labor of love (ie unfunded) but there are certain things such as mastering the DVD that I need to have done professionally in order to get Marcia’s story the attention it deserves.

Are you looking for people to be involved?

If folks are on social media they should follow/like the NO HUMAN INVOLVED project on Facebook and Twitter or send me an email to get updates as the film is completed and released. Currently I am hosting the first online fundraiser I have ever done to support one of my own creative projects to raise what we need for the absolutely essential things that a really polished documentary needs. Donations are tax deductible and every cent will be going back to support the film.

In the future as we plan actions and connect to campaigns related to the film, there will be many other things for people to engage with so please find a way to get in touch. I am also always happy to share what I have learned with others in the community so if a reader wants support in developing a rights based project related to the theme of NO HUMAN INVOLVED then I am happy to do as much as I can to share information, skills and connections.

Who is the target audience and what message do you want them to take away with them?

Free Marcia PowellWith this film I am taking a step out to interface with people who may know a little about the impact of incarceration but who have not yet had a chance to connect the dots about anti-prostitution policies, policing, the prison industrial complex and people in the community who also happen to be engaged (or profiled as engaging) in sex work. And even though as rights based activists we have collectively made enormous strides in explaining all of this, I am sure that there is a very large number of people out there who want to do the right thing by the communities of people mentioned in the film (sex workers, people with mental health issues, people with experiences of incarceration) but need more information. The film is a rights project engaging with the audience to explain that prisons are not a solution and that human rights, not “rescue” by the police, are what work best. The phrase “no human involved” indicates that the powers that be are not interested in investigating violence committed against certain groups of people because their lives are considered unimportant. The documentary NO HUMAN INVOLVED reaffirms Marcia’s humanity and is an investigation of its own kind. Finally, the phrase “free Marcia Powell” (first used by Peggy Plews of Arizona Prison Watch) is repeated throughout the film and will anchor social media strategies in a call for liberation of Marcia’s spirit and all those who are still incarcerated.

What are your plans for the future?

Once NO HUMAN INVOLVED is completed, I will turn my activist attention to ensuring the film leads to the change that we intend. But I am also beginning to work on another project with Monica and some other people in Phoenix.

Where can people find out more about your project?

I am keeping updates flowing very regularly on Facebook and Twitter, and the film is currently fiscally sponsored as a Women Make Movies project.

Recommended websites/further reading:

I highly recommend checking out Peggy Plews writing at Arizona Prison Watch.

The book Women’s Resistance Behind Bars by Victoria Law illustrates how women in prisons seek justice and is essential reading. Victoria is also an advisor to NO HUMAN INVOLVED. Victoria and colleagues at Truthout also provide an instructive commentary on documentary and journalist portrayals of prisoners at a 2014 panel discussion at the Left Forum in NYC. They describe what works and what undermines activism and recommend some excellent films to view as well.

For very honest and insightful information from some one who has worked within the Department of Corrections at a senior level, I recommend the various writings of Carl Toersbijns.

To support the final phase of producing the documentary NO HUMAN INVOLVED click here to donate to the Indiegogo campaign.

In the Booth with Ruth – Jemima, Sex Worker, Writer and Student

Jemima, a sex worker, discusses the advantages of the sex workers’ rights and anti-sex trafficking movements working together.

Ruth Jacobs

Jemima Red Parasols line El Tiradito at SWOP-Tucson’s 2013 International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers Event
Photo Credit: C. Elliott

Could you share how you became involved in the sex worker rights movement and why it’s so important to you?

It honestly was Twitter for me. I was a sex worker, but like most isolated by the nature of the work. Whilst I knew the law as it applied to me I was unaware there were people campaigning to change the laws, or that other countries had different systems, many of which were a lot worse than the UK. I started talking to and reading other sex workers writings, and attended a few events. Realising that I was not alone was such a huge moment for me.

The isolation of sex workers, and the way it feeds into our various oppressions, increases stigma, makes it less likely for crimes…

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Collateral Damage: Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns at Kampnagel, Hamburg

Ruth Jacobs

Guest post by Carol Leigh
http://vimeo.com/98282879

Trailer from Collateral Damage:
Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns

This work is dedicated in Loving Memory to Andrew Hunter, who held my (virtual) hand through this process, encouraged me and provided an abundance of information and material.

FANTASIES THAT MATTER. IMAGES OF SEXWORK IN MEDIA AND ART

a conference in conjunction with Kampnagel International Summer Festival, Hamburg, in collaboration with Missy Magazine

“Beyond the moral and political questions of how to handle sex work, it has also become very clear that the debate is dominated by projections, fantasies and myths.”

Whore Images: Bleeding Hearts and Critical Thinking[1]

by Carol Leigh

I am honored to screen Collateral Damage: Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns at Kampnagel’s sex work issues conference “FANTASIES THAT MATTER. IMAGES OF SEXWORK IN MEDIA AND ART.” The images of trafficking play a particularly crucial role in this crusade. The images

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