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.
Social Services made an emergency recovery of the kids, dragging them from her arms within a few hours of the phone call, and then started an investigation. They placed them with the father straight away. During the investigation regarding her parental skills, they told her she was lacking insight into the damage her sex work caused, etc, etc. For such an investigation to be valid it has to be finalized, and then it can be challenged. It was never finalized, as the father filed for custody during the course of the investigation.
Four custody trials followed, the first three pretty much a repetition of each other. Jasmine was never deemed an unfit parent. She was rewarded shared custody, but her ex refused to let her see the kids. At the third trial the judge gave her shared custody but pointed out that it was a problem that she failed to realize that sex work was “a form of self harm.”
Caty: So the judge basically accused her of “false consciousness,” the way radical feminists invalidate the experiences of sex workers all the time.
Pye: Yes. Anyway, that was two years ago, and she was supposed to start seeing her kids little by little, every second week. In the beginning a contact person was to supervise. She only saw them a few times. Then the father complained about the contact person.
And that’s what he did all the time. Threatened, complained, spit in the face of a social worker and put another in a chokehold, and continued to refuse to let her see the kids. In a normal situation, if a parent is persistently not cooperating with the custody arrangement, the other parent will get full custody.
The fourth trial was in February. Again, she was deemed a good parent, yet the court decided that she had now lost contact with the children, and granted him full custody.
After that trial, the only option left was appeal to the high court. The court of appeal, Hovrätten, only takes cases that might change the law, that might change legal practice, and they seldom do custody cases. Yet they gave her date for a trial this autumn.
During the last two years, Social Services realized their mistake and tried to do better, so that also helped. That lead to her having meetings with her children. It was her idea to have the initial meeting with a professional present to help her reconnect with them, as at that point she hadn’t seen them in a year and a half. First she had some meetings with her daughter, and last Tuesday she had the first one with her son. At the meeting with her son, he killed her and stabbed the attending social worker. They met on the bus going to the meeting and the fight started there. Social Services was supposed to pick her up to avoid them being on the same bus, but they failed to do so that day.
Caty: During all this, despite the fact that Jasmine had reported her ex was abusive and despite the fact that he physically assaulted a case worker, the ex was never sanctioned for his violence?
Pye: The police are claiming there was no previous threat to her. He was sentenced for some of his behavior, though. She reported what happened to her (stalking and threats) to Social Services (not to the police, and we know why). That’s why in the last trial Social Services testified for her. It’s crazy. If she wasn’t a sex worker there is no way he would have gotten away with all this, plus have gotten sole custody.
And sex work was all over the trials as well. On her blog, she answered the standard question (would you want your daughter to be a sex worker) by writing, “My children can grow up to be anything they like and I will support them regardless. If they choose sex work, I will warn them of the stigma…” Etc. This was then used in court to claim, “She’s encouraging her children to become sex workers.”
Caty: So Jasmine didn’t report her ex’s threats and his stalking to the police because of their whorephobic attitude, though eventually Social Services did become her allies.
Pye: Social Services only became allies in the end. They were awful for years, and they started this shit. They only became allies after they realized how incorrectly they had behaved. Plus she filed a complaint to the Board of Health and Welfare about them, so that influenced their behavior too. And I must emphasize that Social Services are MUCH worse than the police in Sweden. We don’t really trust them. The social service state is a state that runs on “saving” sex workers.
Caty: To sum this all up, how do you think the Swedish model and the attitudes it engenders in the Swedish government towards sex workers contributed to her murder?
Pye: I’m SURE the added stigma and prejudice fabricated by the Swedish Model played a major role in this whole story. He killed her, but the bloody state gave him the power to think he could.
Caty: If she wasn’t a sex worker, he’d never have had custody of her kids to begin with.
Pye: That’s right. The state took her kids and gave them to her killer. That quite sums it up.
Caty: My understanding is that the Swedish model encourages the state to see sex workers as victims, and any sex worker who doesn’t perceive herself that way must be deluded. Thus, the state saw Jasmine as psychologically unsound because she didn’t agree with their viewpoint on her job—and thus they concluded she was an unfit mother. Is that analysis correct?
Pye: There you go. They basically call us mentally unstable, as sex work is recognized as a form of self-harm.
Caty: What will happen to Jasmine’s children now? Was the father arrested, and will Rose Alliance be attending his trial?
Pye: The children are in the foster care system. Jasmine’s mother is filing for custody, but you never know. The father was arrested and we will attend the trial if we can, but I doubt it will be allowed. Normally they do shit like this behind closed doors.
Caty: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this at a time in which you must be horribly busy and grieving. Just one last question: what can sex workers all over the world do to honor Jasmine’s memory?
Pye: I think sex workers all over the world are already doing what needs to be done. In Europe, there were demonstrations in many cities this week. We lost a Turkish sex worker as well, Tuesday.
I think Jasmine’s case speaks volumes. One crazy person doing a random killing is so hard to do anything about (apart from long term stuff.) But Jasmine’s case has less to do with one lunatic and more to do with structural discrimination and stigma, and we can all relate to that as each and every one of us has suffered from it.
Dora Oezer, a 24 year old trans woman sex worker, was murdered on Tuesday. There was a 100 + person protest vs. transphobic violence in her memory in Istanbul vs. transphobic violence on Friday. The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe is calling on all its member sex workers’ rights organizations to plan further Justice for Jasmine/Justice for Dora protests on the 19th at 3 PM. A particularly large action is being organized in London.