funding

(Photo by Flickr user Javier Morales)

There is significant debate within our sex worker community about whether LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) programming, a pre-booking diversion program for low-level drug and sex work related offenses, is a good or bad thing. The first LEAD program launched in Seattle, Washington in 2011, with private funding from the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Vital Projects Fund, and several others. This pilot program has been championed by law enforcement and drug reform advocates alike and has since launched in several other cities, with slight regional variations—just this Monday, the Baltimore Sun ran a story about the launch of a three-year pilot LEAD program in that city which Police Commissioner Kevin Davis framed as a response to Baltimore’s proposed police reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. A recent evaluation of LEAD programs, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, yields seemingly impressive outcomes for the communities they allegedly serve. Indeed, LEAD programming even names “sex workers” and “drug users” as their “consumers”—a rather misleading label for those in state custody, implying agency where there is none. In truth, LEAD programming does not serve sex workers or drug users, or those profiled as such. Rather, LEAD can be understood as a diversionary program for law enforcement officers and should be analyzed under this lens.

Diversionary programs like LEAD represent the co-optation of harm reduction lingo in the service of criminalization masquerading as social services. While we may rejoice at terms like “sex worker” and “people who use drugs” being used by institutions who typically use other, nastier language to describe these populations, the population they are actually talking about is people living in poverty. Programs like LEAD, which claim to provide case management, public housing, and job training, don’t target drug users and sex workers, as most people who do drugs or trade sex have those needs met. Many, if not most, sex workers and drug users have the social and economic capital to get high or make money in private homes, apartments, or rented rooms in areas that are not under constant police surveillance.

So why do poor people, many of whom lack economic capital because of deliberate, targeted U.S. policies, need a diversionary program? They don’t. Cops do.

Many sex workers I have talked with about LEAD think it is a good way to get desperately needed housing or medication or other necessities, things which traditionally fall under the category of “fundamental human rights.” But we must consider what is gained and what is lost when private funders like Open Society Foundation and other progressive grant-makers support programs in which individuals achieve access to fundamental human rights as a consequence of crimes they may or may not have committed.

LEAD reinforces the logic that people who are trading sex or using drugs need intervention from law enforcement, even if that intervention is a “softer” redirect towards social services. Do we? Increasingly, the answer, as supported by research, is a resounding no.

As prohibitive policies against drug use and sex work are repealed and replaced, law enforcement workers are looking for ways to stay relevant in the lives of those they have hunted, abused, and marginalized for the past few decades. The LEAD National Support Bureau, made up largely of law enforcement, publicly acknowledges an “urgent crisis of mass criminalization and incarceration,” and yet advocates for, well, more police. The logic of LEAD is not much different from that of “community policing,” which made strategies like “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” household names, and redirected billions of tax payer dollars to the justice department and away from education, infrastructure, and health care. Advocates of these policies fail to realize that the issues they want to address, like drug use, are hardly a matter of police and community relationships. Rather, the root of these issues lies in the systematic disenfranchisement of targeted communities.

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

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

Today marks on year since the murder of Petite Jasmine. Reading about her life and death is the most powerful argument we know against the Nordic Model.

Cool, some tourist filmmakers are fundraising to shoot a documentary in Dallas strip clubs. “The project ‘was started because the strip club and stripper industry was one of the few areas I felt created clear camps — men and women,'” OK!

Bitch Flicks writes about Shae on Game of Thrones, picking up on some of the same themes you saw covered here.

An interesting twist to opposition to Canada’s bill C-36: “A Saskatoon man whose money was stolen by people posing as licensed adult services workers says the federal government’s proposed prostitution bill will give ‘free reign’ to such thieves, or even human traffickers, by preventing people from going to the police.”

Looks like thanks to researchers in Brazil, after this World Cup we can finally put to rest the idea that big sporting events are a boon to sex workers. According to one sex worker,

the World Cup has hardly been the boom she hoped for, and that many tourists have come from Latin American countries with weak currencies and haggle over prices lower than what a Brazilian would pay. “The tourists have even less money than we have,” she said dryly.

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(Image via Melissa Gira Grant's twitter account)

(Image via Melissa Gira Grant’s twitter account)

You might recognize this sentiment: the sex workers’ rights movement is funded by “the industry.” We are “the pimp lobby,” whether we’ve ever been in any sort of management role ourselves or not, let alone whether we’ve abused or exploited other workers. You might think it’s pretty easy to laugh at that sort of thing, but if you’ve ever spent any time going through the e-mails that sex workers’ rights organizations receive, you’ll hear a lot of this, even from people and organizations who are sympathetic. They’ll make assumptions about “staff”—”we want to meet your staff”or they want to meet in “your office.”  There are people who try to chat you up about nonprofit careers at events, thinking you have jobs to offer them. And so on. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating, and if people with nasty motives didn’t use these assumptions against us.

It’s human to overestimate the resources of others and to underestimate one’s own. But let’s have some real talk.

Management doesn’t want to fund the sex workers rights movement. They do not have an interest in our vision for social change beyond issues of their own legality. Don’t believe me? This is management in action, or more specifically, strip club managers in action, allying themselves with anti-trafficking organizations. Management-directed organizations want to cover their own asses and reap benefits from the REAL money spigot, the anti-trafficking movement, of the “End Demand” variety, funded by former ambassador and current filthy rich lady Swanee Hunt. You’d see the same from escort agencies if they were legal, and you already do see the same from the legal Nevada brothel industry. As it is, some of the individuals in sex work management give us mild, conditional support, sort of the same way clients do. You know the storythey have many more demands than they do contributions. I have never seen any of them donate money.

Radfems, the “pimp lobby” is pretty firmly on YOUR side on this one.

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Claudette, Swiss intersex sex worker and grandfather, immortalized by Malika Gaudin Delrieu's photography: "I have the sex of the angels, why would I be ashamed of it?" (Photo by Malika Gaudin Delrieu via the Huffington Post)

Claudette, Swiss intersex sex worker and grandfather, immortalized by Malika Gaudin Delrieu’s photography: “I have the sex of the angels, why would I be ashamed of it?” (Photo by Malika Gaudin Delrieu via the Huffington Post)

Amnesty International will be debating their policy on sex work this weekend at their annual meeting in Chicago. (You can sign this petition supporting an Amnesty policy change in favor of decriminalization here.) Unfortunately, the only article we could find on the event is littered with quotes like this one: ” “Virtually all people who prostitute themselves were first prostituted as children…,” [Illinois Attorney General Lisa] Madigan said.” Hmm, wanna cite a source for that, Ms. Attorney General?

Katha Pollitt takes vengeance on our friend Melissa Gira Grant for daring to criticize her valorization of Lean In feminism by lambasting Grant’s new book, asking, “Why Do So Many Leftists Want Sex Work To Be The New Normal?” Maybe because they’re actually listening to us sex workers? (And there aren’t quite so many of them—as far as we’re aware, sex work is still criminalized in the U.S.) Pollitt also managed to very mistakenly characterize Tara Burns’ piece for The New Inquiry as the work of someone too privileged to speak for “the women at the heart of this debate: those who are enslaved and coerced—illegal immigrants, young girls, runaways and throwaways.”

Speaking of Melissa, this subtly whorephobic Telegraph interviewer sure is frightened of her: “Melissa Gira Grant can be quite scary…her fist strikes the table. Every interviewer she has spoken to…has asked her how she became a sex worker—and she’s angry about it. ‘Why do you want to know?” she demands, blue eyes icy with rage. “Why is this important to you?’ ” Those ex-sex workers demanding their right to privacy—they’re terrifying!

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is spending $398,213 on a project studying whether paying male Mexican sex workers for being free of sexually transmitted diseases will increase condom use. Ummm, the results of this research are pretty inevitable, aren’t they?

HuffPo profiled photographer Malika Gaudin Delrieu’s work on Claudette, proud intersex sex worker and senior citizen.

Vice Magazine made us roll our eyes with a piece entitled “Young Native Girls Are Being Sacrificed To The Canadian Sex Trade.” Mmmm, smells like white savior complex. Noticeably absent are quotes from Indigenous sex workers’ rights activists like Naomi Sayers or Jessica Danforth.

Today is the last day to take this Red Umbrella Fund survey on funding for sex worker organizations. The RUF plans to use the survey’s results to advocate for more and better funding opportunities for sex workers’ groups and networks.

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