Home News

Reporting on ROSE: A Journalist’s Work In Phoenix

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.

The Week In Links: May 13

Police are now suggesting more than one serial killer has been using Long Island’s Gilgo Beach for hiding (female, often sex worker) victims’ remains.

Pictures have been released of two men wanted for questioning about the assault and robbery of two different prostitutes working in midtown Manhattan. (Yes, the article is tone deaf and offensive—yet the Gothamist’s rewrite manages to be even more so—but look at these pictures if you work in New York!)

Audacia Ray is on the Ms. blog writing about amnesty for sex workers and the Long Island murders, while Melissa Gira Grant writes about the consequences of sex worker stigmatization for The Guardian.

Escorts are writing letters of support for their Miami agency owner, who’s been accused of coercing women into prostitution.

This story would be so much cooler if the Christian weatherman refused to work on a day when strip clubs were treated badly in the news.

Salt Lake City is passing new laws to try to stop sex workers from screening clients to weed out undercover cops.

Houston is hosting a strip club-set opera.

Patton Oswalt is pretty much doing Chris Rock’s old keep-your-daughter-off-the-pole routine.

Yes, strippers exaggerated their earnings to get no-doc mortgages. The kicker to this story is so true. Here’s an amazing look at the mortgage brokers’ memos about stripper earnings.

Alix Tichelman’s Trial By Headline

Alix Tichelman. (Photo via the freealixt Twitter acount)
Alix Tichelman. (Photo via the freealixt Twitter acount)

Last month in Santa Cruz, 27-year-old sugar baby and fetish model Alix Tichelman pled guilty to manslaughter in the heroin overdose death of her Google executive client Forrest Hayes, and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Throughout the eight months Tichelman was in custody, the media luridly painted her as “The Callgirl Killer,” “The Harbor Hooker,” or simply, baldly, as a “prostitute,” even though she hadn’t worked as an escort since early in 2012 and actually met Hayes on Seeking Arrangement as a sugar daddy. Meanwhile, no article on the case failed to mention that Hayes was an employee of Google X and a father of five. Despite the fact that this was clearly “an accidental overdose between two consenting adults,” as Tichelman’s lawyer Larry Biggam put it, and that the two were known to have been involved in an ongoing commercial sexual relationship involving drug use, most coverage painted the young sex worker as a heartless killer. All of the media I read made sure to quote Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark’s comment to NBC News that “she [Tichelman] was so callous,” and describe the footage on the yacht’s surveillance video in which she stepped over his body to lower the curtains and sip from a glass of wine.

Few news outlets quoted Assistant District Attorney Rafael Velasquez’s words at the case’s conclusion, belying this presentation of Tichelman as a dope-fiend black widow: “This is a manslaughter case. There was no intent to kill and there was no conscious disregard for human life…She demonstrated an attempt to initially try to help him out, crying while holding him, trying to shake him, trying to wake him.”

These two accounts of the surveillance video are so starkly different that one must assume that a lot of the behavior being touted as proof of Tichelman’s inhumanity represents her reaction before she even knew Hayes was dead, when she thought he was merely in a nod—the typical effect of opiates.

What would have happened to Alex Tichelman had she called the police?

Today in Questionable Strip Club Advertising: Recruiting High Schoolers

Emperor’s Palm Beach is advertising that they’re taking applications from soon-to-be high school graduates. Seems like a questionable strategy, since another location operated by the same owners was sued for allowing an underage dancer to work. It sounds like the club might be a nice stop for traveling (legal) dancers, though. An article in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times points out that the club’s website offers hotel accommodations and “guaranteed funds.” Of one thing we can be sure: This sign undoubtedly reached more Reddit readers than potential strippers.

The Week in Links: July 8

Micheline Bernardini

Rather than backing down in the face of Ashton Kutcher’s attack on its advertisers, The Village Voice is amping up its articles on trafficking hysteria at large. They’ve created a dramatic infographic about actual trafficking arrests, and here’s their publication Seattle Weekly taking a closer look at Kutcher’s “philanthropy consultant.” You can also read their recent condemnation of how journalists crucified Craigslist. (VV’s self-aggrandizement is getting old quick, though. Here’s hoping they can stick to the solid facts and lay off the braggadocio, because it’s just as gross when they make the debate all about them as it is when Kutcher makes it all about himself.)

More on Ashton Kutcher and The Village Voice: Laura Augstin, SWOP-NYC, Belle de Jour, Megan Morgenson.

More on the appeals court ruling on the anti-prostitution pledge.

DSK’s rape accuser is suing The New York Post for calling her a prostitute.

The Irish Examiner, apparently not motivated by Ashton Kutcher being an ass, published its own critique of sex trafficking hysteria. And Argentina’s President, apparently acting without the urging of Ashton Kutcher, has flat-out banned all ads for prostitution.

Annie Sprinkle talks to The New York Times about her career in sex work.

The 25-year-old, unbelievably gruesome murders of two Philadelphia trans women working as prostitutes may finally be solved.

Did you know the world’s first bikini was worn by a professional nude dancer?