In the Booth with Ruth – Meg Munoz, Former Sex Worker, Trafficking Survivor, Ally and Rights Advocate

Former sex worker, trafficking survivor, ally and rights advocate, Meg Munoz, discusses the advantages of the sex worker rights and anti-human trafficking movements working together and why she advocates for decriminalisation.

Ruth Jacobs

Meg Munoz

How did you become involved in the movement against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation?

Following my time in the industry, connecting with the sex worker rights and anti-trafficking movements was just natural. I started escorting at 18, but due to drug and alcohol issues, I took a break after about 2 years. A few years later, I found myself suddenly supporting myself and going to school so I went back. The reality is, I liked what I did. I loved the economic independence and personal freedom I felt. I had nice clients and good money rolling in, but based on social stigma, a lack of real support, and my family upbringing, I felt like hiding everything was my only choice.

About 2 years back into the industry, I had a close friend turn on me. He blackmailed me, threatened me, and literally terrorized me for the next 3 years while…

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More Than 560 NGOs and 86 Researchers Demand Members of European Parliament to Reject Ms Honeyball Report

The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) PRESS RELEASE – 18 February 2014

The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) More than 560 civil society organisations and 86 researchers tell the European Parliament to reject a report on prostitution by Mary Honeyball, MEP for London, which promotes the criminalisation of clients of sex workers, in an upcoming plenary session on February 25th.

An incredible number of 560 NGOs and civil society organisations as well as 86 academics and researchers have signed letters to the members of the European Parliament asking them to reject a report by MEP Mary Honeyball, which asks EU Member States to consider the criminalisation of the clients of sex workers.

The letter from NGOs, initiated by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, a network representing 59 organisations in Europe and Central Asia, denounces the conflation of sex work and trafficking, the disregard for sex workers’ health and safety and the lack of evidence on which the report is based.

Luca Stevenson, Coordinator of the ICRSE commented: “The Swedish Model of criminalisation of clients is not only ineffective in reducing prostitution and trafficking, it is also dangerous for sex workers. It increases stigma which is the root cause of violence against us. It is a failed policy denounced by all sex workers’ organisations and many women’s, LGBT and migrants’ organisations, as well as many UN bodies.”

The signatories include sex workers’ rights organisations but also many women’s rights groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a network of 40 members in Europe, and the National Council of German Women’s Organisations, which represents 50 women’s organisations in Germany.

Mona Küppers, vice chairwoman of the latter, commented: “We think that the systematic criminalisation of sex buyers will not bring the change supporters of this resolution are hoping for. Quite the opposite: the experience in Sweden shows that prostitution does not just simply disappear after introducing the criminalisation of buyers – activities just simply shift underground. This cannot be the solution – particularly not for the women working in the sex trade.”

Marija Tosheva, Advocacy officer of SWAN, the Sex Workers Rights Advocacy Network of Central Eastern Europe and Central Asia explains: “The report fails to represent different realities of sex workers across Europe. It reinforces the stereotypes that all women from Eastern Europe are trafficked in Western Europe, thus labelling all of them as victims, denying their agency and excluding them from the ongoing debate and decision making processes. Some sex workers do migrate searching for better job opportunities, and some get vulnerable to violence and exploitation, but labelling all sex workers as voiceless victims and criminalizing any aspect of sex work is just distracting the focus from pragmatic toward moralistic and repressive solutions.”

A large number of HIV organisations, including the European Aids Treatment Group and Aids Action Group also endorsed the letter. Mary Honeyball barely mentions HIV in her report, apparently unaware that sex workers are a key population in the HIV response. The report quotes the World Health Organisation’s definition of sexual health but ironically ignores that the WHO has positioned itself against the “Swedish Model” as it negatively impacts the lives of sex workers and limits their access to condoms and other measures to prevent HIV.

Another document drafted and signed by more than 86 academics and researchers consists of a letter to MEPs and a counter report analysing the lack and misrepresentation of evidence in Mary Honeyball’s report. The letter states, “We are concerned that this report is not of an acceptable standard on which to base a vote that would have such a serious, and potentially dangerous, impact on already marginalised populations.” It continues, “The report by Ms Honeyball fails to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data. We believe that policies should be based on sound evidence and thus hope that you will vote against the motion to criminalise sex workers’ clients.”  

The counter-report noticed that, amongst other astounding errors, Mary Honeyball completely misinterpreted a joint report commissioned by the City of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ministry of Justice, embarassingly “mistaking” data on coffee shops for data on brothels.

The 560 NGOs and 86 researchers signatories of these letters urge the MEPs to consider the evidence and reject Mary Honeyball’s report on the 25th of February.

Contact Luca Stevenson for ICRSE: info@sexworkeurope.org.

To download the letter signed by more than 560 NGOs, click here.

To download the letter and counter-report signed by 86 researchers and academics, click here.

For more information on this campaign and statements click here.

Italiano: http://tinyurl.com/poqmeys
Deutsch: http://tinyurl.com/ntetdhf
Español: http://tinyurl.com/pd9fqpr
Român: http://tinyurl.com/oxrxeud
Polish: http://tinyurl.com/ntuejts
Português: http://tinyurl.com/pngbmvc
Francais: http://tinyurl.com/m9wgu2t
Suomalainen: http://tinyurl.com/q9728m2

Click here for the statement against the FEMM report from the Global Network on Sex Work projects.

Click here for the statement against the FEMM report by the German Women Council.

Action Alert: Stop Attacks, Arrests & Evictions Against Sex Workers

Soho Safer Working Premises ClosuresFrom The English Collective of Prostitutes

Violence against sex workers is increasing. Tragically, two sex workers have been murdered in London in the past three months. At the same time, the police have stepped up raids, arrests and closures of premises where women are working in relative safety. This is despite senior police officers admitting that: “[police] operations to tackle the trade are “counterproductive” and likely to put the lives of women at risk.” 

Eighteen flats in Soho, Central London, have been closed. Most of the women who were evicted are mothers and have now lost their livelihood.

Women are appealing against eviction on 10, 17 and 24 February at Isleworth Crown Court. Please join us in demanding that these closures be stopped.

Please write urgently addressing your letters to:

MODEL LETTER at: http://prostitutescollective.net/2014/02/07/action-alert-stop-attacks-arrests-evictions-against-sex-workers

Background

Last December, 200 officers in riot gear with dogs raided sex workers’ flats in Soho. Some women were handcuffed and dragged out in their underwear in front of the media. Closure notices were issued against 18 flats and closure orders were then confirmed by a district judge in subsequent court cases.

In order to get a closure order, the police have to show that prostitution offences are being committed on the premises, namely “controlling for gain” and “causing and inciting prostitution”. Each court case followed a similar pattern. Women gave evidence that they were working independently and consensually and were not controlled. One woman explained: “Another sex worker told me about the address and that it was a good job . . . I decided to work as a prostitute . . . I wanted a better life and to support my two sons”.

Police claimed in court that women were controlled because they were “required to work certain days of the week, between certain times and charge a specified amount of money for each service”. No “controller” was named or identified.

District Judge Susan Williams found sex workers’ evidence “truthful”, admitted that “no evidence has been put before me of force and coercion” and acknowledged that a maid “is considered essential for safety”. But she rubber-stamped police claims that women were controlled and ruled that the “lure of gain and the hope of a better life” for women who were “desperate to earn some money” was “incitement”. She closed every flat that came before her. Why is women’s poverty and the determination to get out of it being used to justify the closure of safer premises?

Soho is one of the safest places for women to work as they have a maid or receptionist with them and the support of the local community. Of the two women recently murdered one was working on the street and one was working indoors, but alone. Most of the women who were evicted in Soho are mothers and grandmothers. Immigrant women were targeted by the police who took them away and held them for hours despite women protesting they were not trafficked.

Westminster Council backed the raids despite Cllr. Nickie Aiken’s claims that: “Our policy is that if a brothel is just providing a sex service, we just turn a blind eye because we think it is safer for the women and safer for the residents and other businesses around.” 

Met police commander Alison Newcomb initially briefed the press that the raids were “to close brothels where we have evidence of very serious crimes happening, including rape and human trafficking.” But in NONE of the closure order cases has there been any evidence of rape or trafficking. Newcomb later admitted that “no specific number of women were suspected of being trafficked.” Why are these closures going ahead?

The Met Police just got European Union funding to tackle trafficking – were the raids staged to justify this money and get more?

Local people are concerned that the closures are to make way for the gentrification of historic Soho. Actor Rupert Everett, who came to court and wrote about it in the Observer, described what he saw as “a land-grab, facilitated by the police.

Sex workers have been part of the Soho community for centuries. If they can be closed down without any evidence of force or coercion, any sex worker flat anywhere can be closed, in fact any flat – if a friend helps a sex worker design a website, that can be taken as evidence of control and the flat closed. Thirty seven premises were recently closed in Newham. Who will be safe then? How long before LBGTQ people or immigrants are targeted, or in fact anyone who doesn’t fit the ambitions of the land-grabbers?

If the police get away with this onslaught against those of us who have such strong and visible support, then attacks, arrests and evictions will escalate, especially against those of us who work on the street. One woman described the discrimination and degradation she faces at the hands of the police:

“The police wait outside my house to catch me when I leave. It doesn’t matter how I’m dressed, who I’m with, where I’m going, they say I’m loitering. When they stop me they jeer at me, and make jokes at my expense, often sexually explicit jokes. When they arrest me I’m strip searched and they sometimes leave the door open so the male officers can see in. All this is to humiliate me.”

In the name of safety, human and legal rights, and in the name of historic Soho

WE MUST STOP THESE CLOSURES!