News

via Flickr user 401 (K) 2012

via Flickr user 401 (K) 2012

Next Monday is the deadline to sign up for health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), if you don’t already have insurance you want to stick with. Here in New York City, we at Persist Health Project, a peer-led group that connects sex workers with non-judgmental and affordable health care, have been linking our friends and community members up with ACA “navigators” (grant-funded folks who walk you through the application) from Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, our local LGBTQ service provider, to help them through the process. We’ve also partnered nationally with the Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago (SWOP) and HOOK Online to offer anonymous, online chats about the ACA to answer questions, get folks signed up and help them get into care that works for them (the final chat before the deadline is this Thursday, March 27th at 10 pm EST).

In the process of chatting with sex workers about the ACA, people have talked about various roadblocks they’ve had, especially around having to report income, which is one of the essential steps in insurance enrollment. As one community member told us, “The first thing they did was ask about my income. I just quit right there. I still don’t have insurance.” Getting insured and finding health care can be a frustrating process for anyone, but it’s particularly trying when you don’t feeling comfortable sharing how you make money, or may not even be certain how much you make in order to report it. Most people in the US have had some kind of trouble signing up on the Healthcare.gov site by themselves, and it’s also a time-consuming process (they estimate it takes about 45 minutes to an hour and half to fill out everything, and that’s with an ACA navigator assisting you). [READ MORE]

{ 0 comments }

Image via SWOP-Phoenix on Facebook

Image via SWOP-Phoenix on Facebook

We often have cause to complain about media coverage of sex work, but we haven’t had occasion to talk about how good stories can be edited into inadequate ones as they travel from reporter to final outlet. The fate of Jordan Flaherty‘s story about Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited) is a great opportunity to look at what happens when a journalist tries to show the public the whole story but is met with resistance from his employer. 

Flaherty traveled to Phoenix in October to cover ROSE and the accompanying protests by SWOP-Phoenix. ROSE is a “concentrated arrest-alternative/intervention program for adult victims of prostitution or sex trafficking.” In practice, it’s mass arrest sweeps during which those taken into custody on prostitution charges are told they can either go through ROSE, starting with a trip to their headquarters at a church, or they can go to jail. And there are problems with the process, ones Flaherty wanted to make sure his finished work represented. Al Jazeera aired a version of his television segment that eliminated key information about ROSE, so Flaherty has made repeated attempts to get a fuller version of his reporting out to the public. He has encountered difficulty in doing so. I spoke with him last week at a time when his story had been posted on Truthout, but as of yesterday, Al Jazeera America has claimed copyright violation, requiring Truthout to remove the story from their site. The story is still available in a couple of other places. Another cut of the television piece is available although it’s not one Flaherty considers complete, either. This written version of the piece as aired is the only one remaining on Al Jazeera America.

Below is an edited Q&A that took place by phone on Monday, January 6th.

How did you first come across Project ROSE?

The issue of the legal treatment of sex workers is something I’ve been following for a while, especially these kinds of programs that say that they’re helping sex workers but are doing mass arrests. These programs have been getting very positive treatment and I was interested in looking at something like that with a more critical eye. When I heard about Project ROSE it just seemed like an example of the way in which people are conflating sex work and trafficking. [READ MORE]

{ 12 comments }

image via @1real_diamond

image via @1real_diamond

What the fuck, Justin Bieber, here’s the pile of money you dropped at a strip club in Houston last month. [READ MORE]

{ 9 comments }

R.I.P. Dora Oezer (photo courtesy of Cristianos Gays)

R.I.P. Dora Oezer (photo courtesy of Cristianos Gays)

On July 2nd, 24 year old trans sex worker Dora Oezer was murdered by one of her clients. On July 12th, there was a protest against transphobic violence Istanbul, while similar protests were held in Berlin and Eskisehir. Meanwhile, the Turkish sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association held a protest and read a press release in Ankara.  On the 19th, Dora’s murder and the murder of Swedish sex worker Petite Jasmine inspired an international wave of protests against violence against sex workers in thirty six cities across the globe outside of Turkish and Swedish embassies. Kemal Iffetsiz Asyu Ayrikotu, chair of the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, answered some questions about Dora’s murder and conditions for trans sex workers in Turkey for Tits and Sass.

Caty Simon: Do you mind giving us some background on how the laws operate in Turkey re: sex work and what it’s like for sex workers there?

Kemal Iffetsiz Asyu Ayrikotu: Sex work is not illegal in Turkey, at least in theory. The only group of people who are registered are female sex workers who work at brothels which are regulated by a special Charter called “The Charter to Combat Prostitution”. Based on this legislation, several brothels operate in different cities of Turkey. The overall number of brothels and registered female sex workers who work at these brothels has changed in the last 10 years, as many brothels have been closed down. Currently, around 1500 registered sex workers work at these brothels, while the number of brothels has decreased to around 35 – 40. Both cisgender female sex workers and transsexual women can work at brothels as they both hold female ID cards.

The important issue is unregistered sex workers. These workers face a challenge coming from The Charter to Combat Prostitution, Turkish Penal Code and some laws that has nothing to do with sex work; such as the law on misdemeanors and the law on traffic. The charter gives authority to governorships, the higher local administration which governs cities in Turkey, to carry out investigations on people who do sex work in their apartments, bars, clubs, etc. and to close down these spaces for certain periods of time. The governorships, commissions assigned to combat prostitution under the governorships, and the police are the implementing bodies of the Charter.

The Turkish Penal Code is a big barrier for unregistered sex workers, as several phrases in this law target sex workers, such as the clauses on “obscenity”, “exhibitionism”, “providing a space for prostitution”, “soliciting”, “acting as mediators”, and “human trafficking.” All of these clauses are actively used against male, female and trans sex workers, who end up with their apartments closed down, imprisoned, paying exorbitant fines, etc.

The police are some of the main perpetrators of human rights violations against sex workers, especially street sex workers. They make use of misdemeanor laws to harass sex workers on the streets by charging them with arbitrary fines every night. This is perceived as a strategy to deter people from sex work. Yet, when a sex worker is fined, they are more likely to go back to the street to re-earn the money which was taken away from her/him. Also, the law on traffic is used against those sex workers who drive down the streets to find clients, and they also ends up charged with arbitrary fines.

[READ MORE]

{ 14 comments }

Petite Jasmine, 1986-2013 (Photo via her Facebook page, courtesy of Rose Alliance)

Petite Jasmine (Photo via her Facebook page, courtesy of Rose Alliance)

On Friday, Swedish sex workers’ rights organization Rose Alliance released this statement on Facebook: “Our board member, fierce activist, and friend Petite Jasmine got brutally murdered yesterday (11 July 2013). Several years ago she lost custody of her children as she was considered to be an unfit parent due to being a sex worker. The children were placed with their father regardless of him being abusive towards Jasmine. They told her she didn’t know what was good for her and that she was “romanticizing” prostitution, they said she lacked insight and didn’t realise sex work was a form of self-harm. He threatened and stalked her on numerous occasions.  She was never offered any protection. She fought the system through four trials and had finally started seeing her children again. Yesterday the father of her children killed her. She always said, “Even if I can’t get my kids back I will make sure this never happens to any other sex worker.” We will continue her fight. Justice for Jasmine!”

Rose Alliance coordinator Pye Jakobsson was gracious enough to answer some questions about Jasmine’s struggle with the state and murder for Tits and Sass.

Caty Simon: So, for starters, can you tell us a little bit about how you met Jasmine Petite and what she worked on for Rose Alliance?

Pye Jakobsson: Jasmine contacted me around three years ago, just after the local council took custody of her kids. She was looking for help with this and had been advised to contact us. Her main activism was around her own situation and others like hers, plus a lot of stuff around the Swedish Model.

Caty: The Swedish Model criminalizes the clients of sex workers in Sweden. How does it affect sex workers there?

Pye: The biggest overall result is the increased stigma. Practical results have to do with the police going after clients. Street workers have lost valuable assessment time they need before getting into a client’s car [because the clients are too nervous about arrest to stop and talk.—ed.]  Also, their clients have more control and can say, ” Don’t drive to that spot, I know a better one the police don’t know about.” Police target  indoor workers too, trying to catch their clients. That means the focus is now on making clients feel safe enough to see us, rather than us focusing on our own safety.  In addition, the pimping laws force us to work alone. It’s also illegal to rent out premises to us. Many work from home, and if the landlord finds out, he is forced to evict you. So they want to save us, but they punish us until we are willing to be saved. And if we say we want to be “saved,” all they offer is therapy [rather than economic alternatives—ed.]

Caty: Can you tell us a bit more about Jasmine’s custody battle? In the Facebook statement from Rose Alliance re: her murder, you guys wrote that she had been pathologized for not admitting that her sex work was a form of self-harm, and that her ex was given custody of the kids because she was a sex worker, despite the fact that she’d reported that he abused her. Can you elaborate on how the state justified taking her kids away from her?

Pye: She had kids with the same guy who was abusive towards her, mostly verbal abuse, though he was convicted for physical violence 12 years ago. They had already separated when the second child was born (the children are four and five now). So they had shared custody of the oldest and then she had sole custody of the youngest.

She was doing sex work as a way to stay at home with her kids, but after only a few months of working, a relative of hers called social services to let them know she was selling sex. The relative also called the father of the kids, who also called Social Services, claiming she took clients home, etc. The truth was she only worked in Stockholm, one hour away from the city where she lived.

[READ MORE]

{ 31 comments }