India: Neither Victims Nor Voiceless: Sex Workers Speaking for Themselves

By Audacia Ray, RH Reality Check.
Posted January 12, 2010.

Painting a portrait of people in the sex industry as victims without voices only perpetuates their disempowerment.

Since becoming a part of the U.S. sex worker rights movement five years ago, talking about contentious issues concerning bodies, labor, money, and rights has very much become my calling. In the past year alone, I’ve been quoted on CNN about the value of virginity, talked about South Carolina’s Governor Mark Sanford on WNYC’s The Takeaway, and admonished the Boston Herald for its slurs toward sex workers. Suffice to say, I give my opinion freely and often loudly.

I thought I knew a lot about sex work, rights, and organizing when, in September, I set off for two weeks in India with my colleague Khushbu Srivastava, Program Officer for Asia at the International Women’s Health Coalition. But as much as I am accustomed to being an “expert,” I quickly realized that I knew next to nothing about the nuances of Indian culture and the dynamics of the local struggle for sexual rights and reproductive health. While there are many things that I learned Continue reading

ZAMBIA: PEPFAR prevention approach too narrow – report

JOHANNESBURG, 30 June 2009 (PlusNews) – The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has taken a damagingly narrow approach to HIV prevention in Zambia, ignoring realities on the ground and neglecting the most at-risk populations, says a new report.

Researchers from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), a non-governmental organization that advocates sexual and reproductive health education and services, travelled to Zambia to determine what nearly US$577 million in PEPFAR funding between 2004 and 2008 had achieved.

Their findings are based on interviews with HIV/AIDS organizations, activists, medical professionals, community leaders, policymakers and programme participants. Continue reading

What Obama should do to save lives

YEARENDER: Politics of sex
Posted : Tue, 16 Dec 2008 05:09:24 GMT
Author : DPA

Washington – If you don’t talk about sex, you can’t save lives. But sex is complicated, and when it collides with politics and science it usually generates controversy.

Sexual and reproductive health are uncomfortable subjects – emotionally charged, morally loaded and politically sensitive – because they delve into the most intimate aspects of people’s lives.

Public health experts are clear that all government actions must be based on scientific evidence, but say that for several years, reproductive health policies in the United States have relied more on morality than science.
They hope once president-elect Barack Obama takes office, he will reverse many of the regressive sexual health policies of President George W Bush’s administration, which have damaged the reputation of the US at home and at abroad, and potentially put millions of lives at risk.

“With the election of … Obama … (we) look forward to an end to the Bush administration’s relentless assault on women’s reproductive health and rights,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR), a New York-based legal advocacy group.

“For eight years … we have suffered under the yoke of an administration that has suppressed science to the detriment of health and has done damage to constitutional and human rights value,” CRR wrote in a letter to Obama after his November 4 victory.

Continue reading

The Sex Workers Project Welcomes Increased Protections for Trafficked Persons

PRESS RELEASE

Last update: 12:32 p.m. EST Dec. 12, 2008

NEW YORK, Dec 12, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ — This Wednesday, in the waning days of the 110th Congress, the House and Senate passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, a bill which increases protections for people coerced into all forms of labor, including sex work.

“The bill will ensure better protection and assistance for immigrant victims of trafficking into labor and commercial sex, and will facilitate reunification with their families,” said Sapna Patel, a staff attorney at the Sex Workers Project. “It softens some of the burdensome requirements that trafficking victims must meet to obtain immigration status, making it easier for them to stay in the U.S. free from harm if they choose to.” Continue reading

Perpetuating the Prostitution Pledge: Allegiance to Failure

Anti-Prostitution Pledge Results in Discriminatory Treatment





Sex Worker Rights Are Human Rights

By Juhu Thukral, On The Issues Magazine
Posted on August 28, 2008, Printed on August 29, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/96875/

The idea of sex workers fighting for their human rights is a foreign concept to most people, even those who identify politically as progressives or feminists. Sex workers have lived on the margins of society through most of human history, and despite the prevalence of this work all over the world, sex workers are often treated as less than human, both in cultural attitudes and public policy. In fact, it cannot be said enough: sex workers are people — friends, neighbors, family members, wage earners, and parents — and they deserve the same human rights as everyone else.

What Human Rights?

Feminists and advocates of all stripes have argued that they want to work for the human rights of sex workers, often without an analysis of what human rights for sex workers might look like.

While many people would agree that access to human rights includes the right to be free from harm, to have access to health care and housing, and to seek safe employment that pays a living wage, there is fierce debate as to what any of this actually means. Some feminists argue that sex work is inherently harmful and that the very act of trading sex for money is a violation of a person’s sanctity or dignity, and is, in and of itself, an act of violence. For these feminists, the story ends there, even when sex workers all over the world speak out, not to ask to be pulled out of sex work, but to demand that their rights be protected as they work.

Others, like the Sex Workers Project, believe that a human rights framework includes active participation of sex workers from different backgrounds and experiences; efforts to combat violence, whether it is at the hands of customers or of the police; advocate for public health programs that promote the autonomy of sex workers, and work to empower sex workers so that they can make the best choices for themselves and their families, assessing their life circumstances as best as they can. These elements are key to any effort to respect the human rights and health needs of sex workers; to properly assist those who want to leave sex work for other work, and to protect the rights and safety of those who continue in sex work.

Another key issue that gets less attention is the fight over the role of the criminal justice system. Some feminists view prosecution and punishment through the criminal justice system as the cornerstone for helping victims of violence. Others view rule of law as one of many important keys toward guaranteeing human rights, but argue that an excessive focus on the criminal justice system is detrimental to many marginalized groups, including sex workers, who have been victimized by the police. There are fundamental clashes between the needs of a criminal justice prosecution, and the needs of a human being who would most benefit from a rights-based approach.

Feminists Line Up Differently on Law Revision

These debates, often centered on agency and autonomy, might seem theoretical and unimportant in the realm of people’s daily lives. However, the debate often plays itself out in concrete policy terms, especially around the issue of human trafficking.

While human trafficking involves the experience of force, fraud, or coercion in any type of labor, such as domestic work, agricultural labor or sex work, it has been salaciously painted as being synonymous with prostitution. The idea that prostitution equals trafficking has been burned into the public mind by lurid headlines that scream of victims rescued from their captors, often without follow-up news items that might explain that the reality is more complicated, and that any number of prostitutes decided to go into that work because it was a way to make enough money to live on and also support their families, who are often in other countries.

Feminists who wish to abolish prostitution entirely have found strong allies in the Christian right and in the Bush administration. The efforts to incorrectly equate prostitution and trafficking as the same have culminated in recent efforts around the federal anti-trafficking law that Congress has been considering for reauthorization in 2008 (final vote still pending in early July).

The House version of the legislation includes a dangerous and unnecessary change to the Mann Act, a federal law that prohibits interstate travel for the purpose of prostitution. This change has nothing to do with human trafficking, and thus far, the Senate has bravely withstood pressure from some feminists and have not included this expansion in their version of the bill, SB 3061.

The federal anti-trafficking law, enacted in 2000, already defines anyone under 18 who is involved in commercial sex acts, and anyone in prostitution who experiences force, fraud or coercion as a victim of human trafficking. Changing the definition of trafficking so that law enforcement does not need to look at a person’s age or experience of coercion (the heart of the trafficking crime) will put the focus squarely on prostitution, rather than on labor and prostitution situations in which people are living under a climate of fear and experiencing genuine human rights abuses.

Are We Listening?

As law enforcement look for more victims, they will inevitably arrest more sex workers, and will lessen their focus on people who are trafficked into sectors other than prostitution. This will lead to untold harms to people who have been trafficked into other labor sectors and who cannot receive the help and attention they deserve; and to those who work in prostitution for reasons as diverse and complicated as any that go into deciding how to make money and build a life. At the Sex Workers Project, we find that most of our clients go into sex work because they can make more money and work more flexible hours than in other industries. In our 2005 study, 67 percent of the sex workers we interviewed did not make a living wage in other jobs such as waitressing, administrative work, or retail. For many, sex work was not their only form of work — 46 percent supplemented their income from mainstream jobs with sex work.

The people we see every day at the Sex Workers Project are just like everyone else — they want to know that if they are a victim of a crime, that they will receive the same attention as anyone else. What they do not want is to be classified as a victim of human trafficking as they go about the complicated business of living their lives and supporting their families as best as they can.

All feminists need to agree that when we hear the voices of sex workers advocating for their human rights, we need to really listen, rather than impose our own views of what life decisions we might deem acceptable.

Juhu Thukral, Esq., is the director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York City. She has been an advocate for the rights of immigrant women in the areas of health, work, and sexuality for fifteen years.

© 2008 On The Issues Magazine All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/96875/