Bloggers Note: This site supports the sentiment expressed in the below letter – re/printed with permission – written by Bella Robinson at COYOTE Rhode Island. I also wrote Open Society Foundation (OS) expressing my disappointment with their lack of engagement with U.S. based sex workers, allies and allied activists unless in the form of “Diversion Focused Funding”. LEAD does not empower. It hurts.
November 3rd, 2017
Open Letter To Open Society:
So while I think that it is wonderful that OS is providing grant opportunities in Europe. I wonder why OS in the US is throwing sex workers under the bus. It would be wonderful if OS in Europe’s could help educate them.
My name is Bella Robinson, and I am the executive director of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics Rhode Island (COYOTE RI). COYOTE RI is one of the 6 core organizations in Rhode Island that make up the Alliance to Mobilize and Organize the Resistance (AMOR). AMOR was awarded a grant to support the Immigrants Defense Project through a grant from Open Society. Just last weekend AMOR held a lobsterfest fundraiser to raise money for emergency need immigration attorneys. Our network is growing fast.
Today I am writing you to express my opposition over “Arrest Diversion Micro Grants to Support Equity & Inclusion Application”:
Past impacts of LEAD law enforcement assisted diversion program. It started with a 25k pilot program grant in Seattle for drug offenders and quickly expanded to include sex workers in CA and soon after there was 32 million on the table for diversion programs for prostitutes.
None of these programs will pay your rent or feed your kids, but they do create jobs for privileged people, that have thrown their own communities under the bus. This is an expansion of the prison industrial complex. In fact, we know that no US city has housing available and even the list for temporary transitional housing is years long.
So what started in Seattle with a 25k Open Society grant, was expanded to CA sex workers. We have heard all the false claims that this population doesn’t re-offend. We were also in a phone conference in 2015 with the head of LEAD who admitted that most of the money is spent on case managers that only have access to the same services that are already advertised by calling 211 or 311 (depending on what state you are in)
Watch this video of sex workers testifying in hearings explaining how the cops are robbing raping and assaulting sex workers and the legislators just insist they will use good cops. SB1110 CA LEAD law enforcement assisted diversion testimony
We have documented that the police are not just targeted drug users and street-based sex workers for diversion. They are now targeting online escorts who make several hundred dollars an hour that will only be harmed by police assisted diversion programs. Right now law enforcement assisted diversion is targeting undocumented sex workers, so I wonder how they plan to provide services to people that are getting deported because law enforcement tapped into more funding to run more diversion stings.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to create REAL services and advertise them?
Drug users can’t access a 30-day treatment center unless they have insurance and the only way to access long-term residential treatment is to be arrested and have the criminal justice system court order them to long-term treatment. Wouldn’t it be great if we created services that were available without involving the police?
We found that when service providers went along with the trafficking task force to arrest sex workers under the guise of rescuing them, the sex workers were offered nothing more than a bed in a public shelter. It also creates more distrust between at-risk populations and social workers and service providers who have partnered with the police. You can go to ratethatrescue.org and read the stories of sex workers that have been harmed by these fake rescues, that usually result in arrest and prosecution. Sex workers report that if they won’t say that they are a victim the police and service providers become aggressive and abusive. They do not provide this population of a list of sex worker rights LED organizations that are available to support them. Because they feel the need to separate the good women from the bad women.
Trafficking NGO are already funded at almost a billion a year, just to create awareness about trafficking, when their goal is really about promoting stigma and violence against sex workers.
Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs
Let’s look at the harmful effects of diversion programs for sex workers:
Want the Truth About New York’s Human Trafficking Courts?
The Woman Who Fought and Won
When ICE Shows Up in Human Trafficking Court –
Now let’s look at how diversion programs are harming drug users They thought they were going to rehab. They ended up in Chicken farm.
The Real ‘Modern Slavery’? Inside America’s Court-Ordered Corporate Labor Camps Under the guise of getting addicts treatment, courts are ordering people to do dangerous and unremunerated labor in “diversion” factory farms.
Private diversion programs are failing those who need help the most:
There is tons of funding available for narcotics focused harm reduction while there is no funding available to do harm reduction for sex workers, yet many sex worker rights LED organizations are doing the work, on their own dime:
SWOP Behind Bars:
In an ongoing study of 62 sex workers in Rhode Island, conducted by COYOTE RI and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) at Brown University ( 2014- 2016). Our goal was to measure the effects of the 2009 decision to return to criminalized prostitution codes in Rhode Island.
Our findings revealed that 11% of Rhode Island sex workers reported being sexually assaulted by a police officer, and 15% reported being robbed or assaulted by a police officer. 77% of Rhode Island sex workers reported to the Brown researchers that they had been the victim or witness of a crime they didn’t report to police. 4% reported being arrested while trying to report a crime, and 26% reported being threatened while trying to report a
65 % said they wouldn’t report violence or crimes to the police for fear of arrest, and nearly 15 % reported that they have been to graduate school. These insights into sex workers working in Rhode Island reveal that they are not simply desperate “victims” of evil traffickers. for many, sex work is an important form of work that allows them to put food on the table.
What’s more, “rescue” attempts make matters worse. On October 26, 2016, an awards ceremony was held at the Providence Career and Technical Academy to honor police officers in Rhode Island for their “kindness and community policing.” Among the major achievements highlighted by this ceremony was the crackdown on 15 massage parlors in Rhode Island, which police say were fronts for million-dollar sex trafficking operations. What these accounts of “kindness” fail to mention is that these 15 massage parlors were run by small groups of immigrant sex workers, who worked together and shared this space in order to ensure their safety. Shutting down massage parlors did not result to more safety for these women, but instead, to more isolation, marginalization, and deportation.
This research is innovative because it asks sex workers, as opposed to the majority which has found 1 case of exceptional victimhood and used that to stand in for fundraising, policy campaigns and to solicit funding from our state legislators.
This phenomenon of state violence towards sex workers disguised as a rescue is not unique. Last spring, in the wake of a “human trafficking” sting operation in Cranston that lead to the arrest of 31 people—14 of which were clients—the RI ACLU published a statement to condemn the operation for “having little to do with trafficking, but a lot to do with embarrassing and penalizing consenting adults engaged in sexual conduct for a fee.” The ACLU’s statement contended that operations in the name of “saving” or “helping” victims of sex trafficking have the major effect of stigmatizing sex workers and making their lives more precarious–echoing concerns that sex workers have been vocal about for decades.
As an activist and community organizer, I believe that the people affected should be the leaders. And I believe “When services allow organizing, trafficked workers win”
So harm reduction for sex workers would start with creating safer spaces for sex workers, supporting incarcerated sex workers, allowing sex worker-led organizations to be funded so they can create services for their own people, without the police and do-gooders who keep disrespecting our decision to engage in sex work.
The Erotic Service Providers Legal Educational and Research Project (Bella is a board member and secretary) filed a constitutional challenge to CA prostitution law 647 (b). The case just had oral arguments on Oct 19th, 2017.
9th Circuit oral argument Highlights – a challenge of prostitution law 10/19/2017 ESPLERP vs Gascon (16-15927)
So you might notice that the sex worker-led organizations are not applying for the diversion program grants even though we are desperate for funding because we know it will harm sex workers. However, a few rogue sex workers have applied as it seems that they will go to great lengths to get paid.
Ironically those who are applying have never done harm reduction work, nor do they do outreach. Meanwhile, with very little money Coyote RI provides condom distribution, clean needle exchange, Narcan kits, and HIV & Hep C testing. We also do outreach with “House of Hope” to the homeless including homeless street-based sex workers, with a style of outreach that removes barriers for this population to access services. We use an app called fulcrum that allows us to enter data in real time while we do outreach and as long as we make contact with people every 90 days their names stay at the top of the transitional housing list. We ask about the
harassment by the police towards the visible poor, we are building trust with this population. We track and document the women being arrested for prostitution and we document hate crimes towards sex workers and other marginalized populations. Coyote RI is getting ready to launch a program that would provide feminine hygiene products to RI homeless women. And we have been able to do all of this on annual operating cost of just 5k for
2017. Many of us give thousands of hours of FREE labor a year. But we still won’t apply for diversion grants because they involve the police and it causes more sex workers to be arrested.
We offered to teach these few rogue sex workers who are
applying for the diversion grants and they have no interest in learning.
Part of what we do through the AMOR network is teach our community “13 things to do instead of calling the police. We know when the police come to our neighborhoods there is a good chance a civilian will be killed by the police.
Let’s review some other issues at-risk populations have with the police.
COPS ROB RAPE EXTORT SOLICIT PIMP KILL SEX WORKERS
RAPISTS WITH BADGES GUNS AND HANDCUFFS
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENTS: ASSAULT MURDER SUICIDE
SHOCKING! SCANDALOUS! COPS NEW POLICY: ‘RAPING PROSTITUTES TO RESCUE’ THEM FROM SEX TRAFFICKING!
PEDOPHILES AND CHILD PORN- THE COPS, JUDGES, DAs, FBI AGENTS, SECRET
SERVICE AGENTS AND OTHER GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES WHO CAN’T KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF MINORS
Yet it was US Sex workers have rallied around Celeste Gaup who was exploited by 30 cops in CA. The radio went dead by heavily funded trafficking NGO because she wasn’t the right type of victim. Then the police held a secret award ceremony.
Then after the city of Oakland settled with the victim for 1 million, they dropped all the charges against the police who exploited her.
Sex Worker led organizations have been not just been fighting for the safety and protection of sex workers. We stand up for LGBT, Trans women or color, the undocumented and the homeless. HARM REDUCTION SHOULD NEVER INVOLVE THE POLICE.
My hope today is to have an ongoing communication with Open Society as to how they can create REAL grant opportunities for US sex worker harm reduction. It seems the organizations that have already been doing this work for years and who are sex worker-led, should be on these committees and invited to these discussions. We would appreciate if Open Society in Europe could help educate Open Society in the US.
Bella Robinson (Coyote RI)