An Extra Day to #GiveBig & #EndDemand

So, apparently the generosity of Seattle (and other cities also using the same system to donate BIG today) has created technical difficulties so big we have another day to donate to our favorite charities and have our donations met.

From Seattle FoundationsGive Big Website:

Our web site is experiencing BIG volume today! Donation pages may be slow to load. We appreciate your patience as you wait to GiveBIG! Please refresh your browser. Given this delay, Seattle Foundation is extending GiveBIG through midnight tomorrow, Wednesday, May 4.

While I managed to make my donation to the Organization for Prostitution Survivors this morning (which did take a long time to go through), it gives me extra time to mention this great opportunity. First, there are a lot of great organizations you can donate to and be matched on May 3 (and now May 4), and I encourage you to check out the list at https://givebig.seattlefoundation.org/. As you know from this blog, however, #EndDemand and the issue of helping women and girls (and men and boys in some cases) escape prostitution has been on my mind a lot lately.

Seattle, fortunately, has been getting the issue right, and the Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS) has been at the forefront in helping women exit (including support groups, art therapy and most recently a jobs program in conjunction with Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking – BEST), getting local law enforcement and prosecutors to embrace the Nordic Model (offering those prostituted services and creating a “Buyer Beware” program where the men buying attend a 10 week Stopping Sexual Exploitation program OPS created. According to a recent e-mail, after completing the program”95% of men said that they do not think they will buy sex again.”

What convicted sex buyers had to say after completing Stopping Sexual Exploitation

“Keep this program going to educate the community & spread the word.”

“It is just as much our fault as the pimp who forces her on the street.”

“I learned about how prostitution isn’t really a choice and that even if I did treat her nice it won’t stop the pain that she might receive from others.”

“The arrest stopped me. I would have never bought sex again, but the program taught me why I should never buy sex again.”

“I’m going to raise my son differently. I don’t want him to be so angry and depressed all the time like me.”

Definitely a lot of good work being done, and a lot that remains to be done that would be helped by more funds. I encourage you to check them out and #GiveBIG, by midnight May 4, now:
Oh, and the amounts already given aren’t showing, not for OPS or most of the other organizations at this point thanks to the computer problem (which really wouldn’t be an issue if everyone really had given $0 to all these organizations). Will be interesting to see how generous Seattle is once they get that straightened out!
Advertisements

Brothels in Bellevue Busted

So, yesterday 12 brothels operated out of high end apartments were shut down in Bellevue, 12 men and 1 woman arrested for promoting prostitution according to the Seattle Times and 12 trafficked women from Korea freed, with two related websites also shut down.

“Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said King County is the first jurisdiction in the country to charge ‘an organized group of sex buyers’ with promoting the prostitution of women from South Korea, who are brought to the U.S. to work as prostitutes and are shuttled between major cities.”

About the websites KING 5 reports:

Sheriff John Urquhart says two websites — thereviewboard.net and kgirldelights.com — were seized and shut down. The “K” in kgirldelights.com stands for Korean. Police say the websites were used to rate, discuss, and promote the prostitution of women.

“Information shared on the site was used to exploit the foreign-born women, mostly from Korea, who were also being shuttled from one city to the next on a monthly basis. Organizers of the network encouraged sex buyers to consistently visit the most desired prostituted persons advertised so that they would be kept in the Seattle area longer,” said the sheriff’s office in a statement.

Ironically, kgirldelights was set up by  owner of TheReviewboard.net and 50 0f his most prolific posters who formed an invitation only group called “The League” to avoid police notice, according to the Seattle Times. Most of those arrested were members of “The League”.

KING 5 says:

Urquhart said kgirldelights.com was run by “The League,” made up of a group of businessmen. The women were forced into prostitution to pay debts, often being held against their will. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said some of the women were forced to work every day, up to 14 hours, servicing up to 10 Johns per day.

As the Seattle Times notes: “‘Many of the members made comments that indicated they were aware these girls were more than likely trafficked and had little choice in choosing to work as prostitutes,’ say the charges.” Indeed, the KING 5 story includes a link to some of their comments and posts to TheReviewboard.net:

An example:

Since it was her first day I asked if she was nervous. She didn’t understand. I tried, “scared?” Out came the phone as I spelled it, s…c…a…r…e…d. Suddenly a pained look came over her face. I actually thought she was going to cry. “Yes! I scared!” and she buried her head on my chest and embraced me tightly for a moment. Oops maybe not a good question to ask. But soon she looked up at me and said “thank you.” I’m not sure what for but breathed a sigh of relief.

Of course, if you’re to believe SWOP, echoed these days by Amnesty International, the johns and pimps/madams/brothel owners, as well as “sex workers” themselves are supposed to rescued those trafficked. Hmm, that didn’t seem to happen, and there were 22,000 members/johns on TheReviewboard.net board who would have seen these kind of reviews. The reviews of obviously trafficked women should been noticed by the “sex workers” in SWOP themselves as they shared the website.

Wait, SWOP is upset about this. Upset that the review websites have been shut down.  KING 5 says:

In a bizarre twist, prostitutes held a protest in the lobby of the sheriff’s office while he and other law enforcement officials were briefing news reporters at a press conference.

The prostitutes showed up to protest the closing of the website, thereviewboard.net, which they claim allowed them to assess clients and determine who is safe and who is not.

“Sites like this allow us to screen clients and advertise without standing on the street corner,” said Maggie McNeill, who says she is a prostitute.

“’It (the shutdown) increases the odds a sex worker needing to make rent will take an unverified client,’ Savannah Sly, president of the Sex Worker Outreach Project, wrote in an email.”

Of course, these websites weren’t at all safe for the Korean women being trafficking. It’s not clear to me at all from the documents what kind of screening is done of the men (other than in the KING 5 video, it says they were screened to make sure they weren’t cops), although some of the advertisements for the women mention “standard screening” or requiring references. Mostly these sites seem to be for screening the women being sold. I doubt they get to rate the customers.

In fact, as the Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS) says that: “Contrary to misinformed perceptions, review boards such as these are NOT a safety net for women in prostitution. Rather, these boards simply promote the market for commercial sex to a point where women are considered chattel and violence against women is encouraged and promoted.”

As survivor leader Alisa Bernard points out in another KING 5 story “the fact that one of the more prominent sites is gone provides some sign of progress.

‘That means there are 18-to-20,000 men who are not buying sex on that site,’ she said. ‘They have officially lost their victim population.'”

Oh, wait, I almost missed the spin on the local SWOP Seattle site. In addition to stating their concern “about collateral damage the website’s closure will have on adult workers in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest”, they suggest that:

“Migrant sex workers, especially Asian migrant workers, are often inaccurately labeled as trafficking victims,” Savannah Sly, SWOP-USA Board President and former Seattle-based sex worker, said. “I don’t doubt that King County prosecutors will wave this is a victory against human trafficking, highlighting the presence of migrant Korean sex workers on TRB to indicate abuse. Just because a women came to the U.S. and works as an escort does not mean she did so involuntarily. These assumptions are blatantly racist and xenophobic. Many migrant workers in the sex trade, domestic work and agriculture emigrate and work voluntarily. It’s criminalization and stigma of sex work and immigration status that makes these workers so vulnerable, not the work itself.”

Sure. We’re all xenophobic if we’re concerned about trafficking. Women are just migrating because they want to see the inside of a brothel and strange naked men in a foreign country.

 

Abandoning Native & First Nations’ Women

Amnesty International’s lack of concern for the fact the poor and minorities are targeted for prostitution has been particularly disturbing. Especially disturbing regarding Native American and  Canadian First Nations’ women, whose rights were focused on during AI’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign.

In her Aug. 12, 2015 blog post, An Open Letter to Amnesty InternationalThe Tuff Muff, an Assiniboine woman, points out the contradiction of AI Canada’s 2004 No More Stolen Sisters report and their subsequent campaign for the Canadian government to take action on the (as of 2012, according to their current online petition) 1,017 missing Indigenous women in Canada and their new policy decriminalizing johns and pimps:

You see, I admire the commitment Amnesty International once had for fighting against oppression towards my indigenous sisters. You fought hard for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women of Canada. You brought this issue to the attention of people around the world. Though your efforts have been largely ignored by the Canadian federal government, they have not gone unnoticed by indigenous women, such as myself, in Canada. However, I am shocked at your recent policy calling for the decriminalization of johns and pimps. I feel dismayed at your willingness to promote men’s right to buy, sell and profit from women’s exploitation. Prostitution in Canada largely affects indigenous women; a reality you so readily acknowledged in your report, Stolen Sisters. Poverty, addiction, homelessness, inter-generational violence and mental illness leave women exceptionally vulnerable to pimps and johns but you knew this already, didn’t you?  Why, I ask, promote an industry that exists off the backs of the most impoverished women? Why choose to stand behind those who profit from the human rights violations that occur in prostitution?

She goes on to point out the racism, classism and sexism of the policy and  the intersectionality (something AI claims to value these days) between those oppressions:

In Stolen Sisters, you pointed out that previous physical or sexual trauma pushes young indigenous people into prostitution. As a front-line anti-violence worker, I am well aware of the profound harm incest and childhood sexual abuse can have on women in prostitution. When the statistics tell us that 84% of prostituted women in Canada have experienced incest or childhood sexual abuse, the connection between the two is crystal clear. Why are you so blind to this reality?

Prostitution is classist, racist and sexist. You’re familiar with those concepts, right? When an institution such as prostitution disproportionally targets poor women of colour, the intersectionality between these oppressions is obvious. With your new policy, however, you’ve decided to side with the rich, mostly white, men of the world who buy and sell women.

In her article in January 14, 2015 The Globe and MailReal change for aboriginal women begins with the end of prostitutionCherry Smiley, from the Native Women’s Association of Canada praises their Canada’s new prostitution law for the decision to “to criminalize johns, pimps, and third-party advertising for sexual services, and to decriminalize prostituted women in most circumstances,” also  providing some “investments in support and exiting services.”

She goes on to point out that:

Some opponents have claimed this new legislation reproduces colonial state violence against aboriginal women and girls by increasing police power. What this analysis fails to recognize is that prostitution is not a traditional activity for aboriginal women and, in fact, is “the world’s oldest oppression.” It is a system, like Canada’s residential school system, that has been imposed on our aboriginal communities. Prostitution is part of the continuum of colonial male violence against aboriginal women and girls, telling us incorrectly that we are disposable in life and that predators can harm us without recourse. The end point of that continuum is the thousands of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, an ongoing massacre that continues to tell us that we are disposable, even in death, with no official inquiry or accountability.

Smiley further points out how indigenous women are especially funneled into prostitution by inequalities and notes that: “In the same ways that those who came before us were funnelled into the residential school system ‘for our own good,’ the attempts to now funnel us into the system of prostitution, and to support the rights of pimps and johns, is also being incorrectly portrayed as being for our own benefit and protection.”

Ironically, AIUSA made those connections between racism and colonialism regarding Native American women in prostitution in a November 2, 2011 blog post New Report on Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota, in the aftermath of their 2007  Maze of Injustice report on sexual violence against Native American women, making the same kind of points that fall on deaf ears now with AIUSA leadership.

Citing The Garden of Truth, by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education“the first study detailing the personal experiences of Native women who have been prostituted and trafficked in Minnesota:

The research team interviewed 105 women to assess the life circumstances that led them to prostitution. The study found about half of the women met a conservative legal definition of sex trafficking which involves third-party control over the prostituting person by pimps or traffickers.

Chronic poverty, rape, homelessness, childhood abuse, and racism – elements of the trafficking of women – were clear themes in respondents’ answers. Among the report’s findings:

62% saw a connection between prostitution and colonization, and explained that the devaluation of women in prostitution was identical to the colonizing devaluation of Native people.

One woman stated, “When a man looks at a prostitute and a Native woman, he looks at them the same: ‘dirty’.”

52% had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time of interview, a rate that is in the range of PTSD among combat veterans. Moreover, 71% presented symptoms of dissociation.

92% wanted to escape prostitution.

How did Amnesty International get from their previous Stop Violence Against Women campaign to their current decision decriminalizing pimps and johns?

While AI will deny it (even while AIUSA Board members lunched with SWOP at the Western Regional, and posted a picture on Twitter), it’s hard not to wonder about the memo from British Escort Agency owner Douglas Fox talking about going against AI’s SVAW team in the UK and urging sex worker allies to lobby AI.

Further reading:

Letters from survivors to Amnesty International have just been published in CANCER inCYTES, “a public health e-magazine that discusses the healthcare needs of disadvantaged populations. We educate the public about the link between childhood trauma, cancer, and social injustice.”

http://www.cancerincytes.org/#!v4-iss2moore/cun6

Remembering John Trudell

John Trudell passed into the spirit world this week, on December 8.  Best known for his Native American activism in the 60s and 70s, and in more recent years for his poetry and music.

There is already an excellent tribute to his life in Indian Country Today:

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/12/08/remembering-life-and-legacy-john-trudell-162697

Quote from an F.B.I. memo: “He is extremely eloquent, therefore extremely dangerous.”

One quote of John Trudell especially resonates with me:

HumanBeing

Not only given the state of the world, but especially given the still unbelievable (to me) struggle of the prostitution survivors (and the at least 89% of those currently trapped in the life) to be heard by Amnesty International. That AI would consider the commodification of women (and sometimes men) for sale to (mostly) men acceptable is something I still find incomprehensible.

See the Woman

She has a young face
An old face
She carries herself well
In all ages
She survives all man has done

Rest in Peace, John Trudell. . .

 

Listen to the Survivors #EndDemand

I never imagined Amnesty International would make me aware of and passionate about a human rights issue by being on the wrong side of it. Now that I’m leaving Amnesty International over their “sex worker” policy (which decriminalizes not just those prostituted, who we all agree should not be arrested; but pimps and johns, by any other name), becoming discouraged and finding no hope of change from within, I’m going to start from the beginning (and the ending, for me & AI) with prostitution survivors.

I should note The Feministahood’s What Amnesty Did Wrong is  an excellent starting point on this issue (with several follow up blog posts & articles now listed at the end). I’ll be getting into a lot of those issues in the future, but to me, it comes back to the survivors and the vast majority of those still in prostitution who want to get out and the human rights violations what AI calls “sex work” really involves.

AmnestyDon'tTurnYourBackOnMe

Like a lot of people, I knew nothing of Amnesty International’s proposed policy on “sex workers” until the so called “celebrity letter” in July, just before the Amnesty International International Council Meeting (ICM) in Dublin. Except I tracked down the original letter from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), and realized there were over 400 signatures, most of them from leaders of organizations including anti-trafficking, women’s human rights and, something new to me at the time, prostitution survivor organizations – from as far away as the Philippines and Ireland to as close as Seattle – all trying to help women exit, talking of the real harms involved (in prostitution, not just trafficking, and that they aren’t so easily separated), and calling for the Nordic Model – decriminalizing of those selling themselves, but consequences for the buyers as well as the pimps and brothel owners.

Those survivor organizations started to speak out more as AI’s vote at the ICM in early August in Dublin came closer, from an op-ed in the Seattle Times co-written by Debra Boyer, the director of Seattle Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS) to a press conference in Dublin by SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment). As Rachel Moran from Ireland points out in the video below “I think that Amnesty, if they were looking at this issue coming truly from a perspective of human rights, they couldn’t possibly arrive at this position…”

A couple quotes from Bridget Perrier, a First Nations woman from Canada especially stood out to me:

“Prostitution is very sad. It picks the girls. It picks the girls who are fractured.

“For me, it wasn’t work. It was abuse.”

Bridget was quoted also in an article in the International Business Times: Sex trade survivors: ‘Amnesty wants to decriminalise every human rights violation intrinsic to prostitution’ just before the ICM vote:

Bridget Perrier is the co-founder of public awareness organisation Sextrade101. A First Nations woman from Canada, she was lured into prostitution at the age of 12 and trafficked across the country for 10 to 12 years. She says prostitution places Canada’s indigenous women at risk.

“I was the perfect candidate for prostitution, based on my race and gender, and I was under pimp control for 10 years,” she says. “I live in a country where aboriginal and indigenous women are going missing and being murdered by the droves. I have seen serial killers targeting women specifically because of their high-risk lifestyle and their involvement in prostitution. Decriminalising the commercial sex industry does not make it any safer.”

Sadly, Amnesty International did not listen, and  passed their DECISION ON STATE OBLIGATIONS TO RESPECT, PROTECT, AND FULFIL THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF SEX WORKERS in language so vague many are still hoping it doesn’t really call for the decriminalization of pimps and johns.

These questions are further answered (and the reality covered up) in their Q&A: POLICY TO PROTECT THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF SEX WORKERS.

Our policy is not about protecting “pimps”. Third parties that exploit or abuse sex workers will still be criminalized under the model we are proposing.

But there are overly broad laws, like those against “brothel keeping” or “promotion” that are often used against sex workers and criminalise actions they take to try and stay safe. For example, in many countries two sex workers working together for safety is considered a “brothel”.

So AI is for decriminalizing third parties (which generally means people like pimps and brothel owners), but only to protect “sex workers” accidentally accused of pimping or brothel owners and somehow there will be laws to distinguish third parties that exploit and abuse workers will still be criminalized.

The johns? The ones who drive the whole trade, including underage and trafficked women (or men)?  They also have to be decriminalized supposedly to protect the women (totally misrepresenting the Nordic Model):

Even though sex workers are not directly criminalized under the Nordic model, operational aspects – like purchasing sex and renting premises to sell sex in – are still criminalized. This compromises sex workers safety and leaves them vulnerable to abuse; they can still be pursued by police whose aim is often to eradicate sex work through enforcing the criminal law.

In reality, laws against buying sex mean that sex workers have to take more risks to protect buyers from detection by the police. Sex workers we spoke to regularly told us about being asked to visit customers’ homes to help them avoid police, instead of going to a place where sex worker felt safer.

I didn’t quit in August, as there was hope we could change things through internal process at AIUSA (and ultimately AI, at the next ICM).

That was not to be with the “sex workers” union SWOP and the other “sex workers” having their own panel and being well organized (and having the ear of AIUSA leadership) and student groups, whether lobbied or it’s what they’re teaching in college, buying into it.

I couldn’t help but think being a “rent boy” who gets to choose your customers by whether they’re cute or being an American Courtesan (again selecting customers) is not the norm for the vast majority trapped in prostitution (the most conservative estimate I’ve read is 89% would leave if they could). I also couldn’t help but notice that even their three panelists has all either been initially trafficked or underage, and sadly one serious account of violence by a john (somehow blamed on End Demand/The Nordic model, not on the violent customer).

Survivors were there as well, and have something to say:

There’s a lot more to say on this issue, and it’s sad that AI is not the one championing those really trapped in prostitution, instead pressuring us to leave if we want to speak out. I will not be silenced. I joined AI to speak out for human rights, not for their prestigious name.